The Magic of Marshall Field’s Holiday Windows

By Brian J. Failing on December 19, 2011

TOURSDAILY

Christmas in Chicago just wouldn’t be complete for many of us without the thrill of viewing the fantastic holiday windows on State Street.  It’s an American tradition that began here in Chicago well over a century ago and continues strong today, including on our annual Holiday Tour of Drinks, Daleys and Dead Guys.

Historic Image of Marshall Field's holiday Windows

Origins of Holiday Windows

In the 1890s, retail pioneer Marshall Field’s had a novel idea. Hire a theatrical set designer to transform his store’s display windows.  Gone were the windows that shoppers were used to, crammed with as much merchandise as could possibly fit.  The Field’s windows were mini theater sets – pared down, dramatic and thematic.  The previous chaotic arrangement became passe’, and this new style affirmed Marshall Field’s position as trend-setter of the high class. And these windows worked retail magic: dazzled passersby were drawn into the exciting experience of shopping at Marshall Field’s.

At no time was this more powerful than at Christmas. Field’s State Street holiday store windows, with their clever and Touring Chicago's Christmasbeautiful – and eventually animated – displays became a major draw for locals and tourists from all over.  A trip to Field’s at holiday time to see the windows – as well as the Great Tree in the Walnut Room – became a tradition for many generations of Chicagoans and still elicits feelings of nostalgia for many.

One window designer, John Moss, created a special character named Uncle Mistletoe. He competed with Montgomery Ward’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Uncle Mistletoe had his Field’s window debut in 1948 and became a favorite for Chicago children. Other characters featured in the holiday windows over the years include Cinderella, Pinocchio, Harry Potter, The Grinch, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Snow White, and Mary Poppins.

Holiday Windows in the Macy’s Era

As of 2006, Marshall Fields was no more. Macy’s officially bought them out.

But Macy’s continues the holiday window tradition.  Underneath the 42 trumpets protruding over State Street are seven large windows, decorated with a new theme each year. We visit Macy’s on the Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour and discuss the innovative window designs. We love when locals come on our tours and share their own personal stories. One guest told of her fond memory of going to Marshall Field’s as a little girl to get a red velvet dress and how she felt like such a princess!

— Wendy Bright, Tour Guide

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