DALLAS, Mar 2, 1999/ FW/ — The term Visual Merchandiser did not become popular until 1970. From the late 1800s up to the 1920s, visual merchandisers were called window trimmers. During that time, window trimmers are almost always male and their job was to decorate store windows to show off the merchandise.
By the late 1920s, the window trimmers were called display men, as a counterpart to the suave term ad men for the advertising industry. The term being gender specific was not an accident. Although women could already vote that time, the 1920s up to the 1930s still follow and believe the post-Victorian association of men with production and women with consumption.
The term Visual Merchandiser was coined during the 1940s, but it did not come into general usage until the 1970s. During that 30 year period, the industry was still male dominated.
Women were discouraged from entering the profession because of:
- the physical requirements of the job (mannequins weighed over 100 pounds during that time)
- the constant movements (VMs move from store to store, and did not stay in one location)
- climbing ladders and “hauling” fixtures and props were part of the everyday task
working late is the norm (windows were usually changed during night time)
It literally took a woman to break the gender bias in Visual Merchandising. When Candy Pratts came to power at Bloomingdales in 1974, the fact that she was a woman and a very slight one may have accounted for the change in the industry. Her shock tactics in window displays received much publicity and her being female was as shocking to the industry as well.
The term Visual Merchandiser reflect the gender neutrality of the profession. A lot of women work in the industry, so do a lot of men. One thing of note, male visual merchandisers are predominantly gay. But that is a subject for another article.