A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from March 25, 2013
Window-shopping

Store window displays are often elaborate and are intended to attract the attention of people on the sidewalk. “Window Shopping” has been cited in print since at least 1875, when it referred to the holiday displays in Philadelphia store windows.

The term “window whopping” (or “window-shopping") eventually came to mean people who look into store windows, but who don’t intend to purchase the products (for lack of money or for other reasons). A 1916 magazine article explained:

“"Window shopping, according to the women, is the king of outdoor sports. Whenever a woman gets down town and has 2 or 3 hours and no money to spend, she goes window shopping. She gives the Poiret gowns and the thousand dollar furs the double O and then kids herself into believing she’d look like Lillian Russell or Beverly Bayne if she had ‘em on. It’s great for developing the imagination and one of the great secrets of conserving the bankroll.”

Another definition of “window shopping” is “shopping to purchase windows,” but this is usually not what’s meant by the term.


Wiktionary: window-shopping
Noun
window-shopping
(uncountable)
1. (idiomatic) The browsing of shop windows without any intention of buying.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
window-shopping adj. and n.
1955 D. Davie Brides of Reason 32 And at our back His eye augments our window-shopping greed.
1956 D. M. Davin Sullen Bell xi. 72 The old, innocent pleasure of window-shopping in Regent Street.

14 December 1875, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, pg. 4, col. 2:
WINDOW SHOPPING.
We do not remember to have seen such a holiday display in Philadelphia as our storekeepers are making this season.

21 May 1897, Riverside (CA) Daily Enterprise, pg. 4, col. 4:
Window shopping is poverty’s fair.

Google Books
27 January 1916, Motor Age, pg. 5, cols. 2-3:
“Window shopping, according to the women, is the king of outdoor sports. Whenever a woman gets down town and has 2 or 3 hours and no money to spend, she goes window shopping. She gives the Poiret gowns and the thousand dollar furs the double O and then kids herself into believing she’d look like Lillian Russell or Beverly Bayne if she had ‘em on. It’s great for developing the imagination and one of the great secrets of conserving the bankroll. I’m going window shopping at the show myself.”

OCLC WorldCat record
“Window shopping” at Christmas
Author: Charles Hall Davis
Publisher: [Petersburg, Va. : Charles Davis Hall, 1921]
Edition/Format: Book : English

OCLC WorldCat record
Window shopping : (Just to be alone with you)
Author: Billy Baskette; Ed Rose
Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Olman Music Corp., ©1933.
Edition/Format: Musical score : Songs : English

Google Books
What Makes People Buy
By Donald Anderson Laird
New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.
1935
Pg. 6:
Your wife will verify the “thrill” of shopping — even window-shopping.

Google Books
September 1938, The Rotarian, pg. 23, col. 1:
Most men mistakenly assume that you look into show windows to find something to buy. Women know better. They enjoy window-shopping for its own sake. Store windows, when you look into them with pleasure-seeking eyes, are strange places full of mental adventure.

Google Books
The Nelson Contemporary English Dictionary
Edited by W. T. Cunningham
Sunbury-on-Thames: Nelson
1978
Pg. 589:
window shopping n gazing at the goods in shop windows without the intention of buying.

Google Books
Give Him Time
By Charles G. Fuller
Bloomington, IN: CrossBooks
2009
Pg. 167:
Window-shopping is an integral part of most people’s life-style. We browse and daydream while looking, knowing that there are just some things we cannot afford.

NBC Sports
Cowboys window-shopping extends to Michael Huff
Posted by Darin Gantt on March 25, 2013, 7:46 AM EDT
The Cowboys don’t have enough salary cap room to sign a free agent, but they do have needs, so they’re going to continue to shop.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityWork/Businesses • Monday, March 25, 2013 • Permalink