The history of mannequins is as much a history of fashion as an overview of the 20th century. Over the past hundred years, figures change to reflect the advents of window shopping, subversive androgyny, women's liberation, wartime rationing, Barbie doll fetishism, fiberglass, and Twiggy, to name a few. Art deco and Salvador Dali cross the storefront's path. Shapes rotate from poles to hourglasses and back. Nipples are a subject of debate! There's even legend of a mannequin celebrity. 

Up to the present, mannequins reflect changing attitudes towards the female form, patterns in consumer behaviour, and developments in materials and technology, acting as epitomes for each era.

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 1.

Leighann Morris

Author

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 2.

Rachel Nosco

Illustrator

 

 

1900-1910

The evolution of the mannequin from a headless doll to a figure modelled on the complete human form is synonymous with the industrial revolution, a period in which the readily available manufacture of large plate-glass, sewing machines, and electricity transformed the shop-front into a performative space. This period marks the beginnings of “window shopping” as a bourgeois activity, and mannequins modelling the latest fashions take centre stage.

   

The 300 pound industrial woman

MATERIALS: false teeth, glass eyes and real hair (there’s an air of taxidermy about them) feet of iron, legs and arms of dense wood, torsos and heads of solid wax. Mannequins break easily, are hard to clean, and melt under lights. 

— TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY MANNEQUINS are clumsy and heavy, weighing 300 pounds. Mannequins also include realism; it isn't only the period's ideal body shape that was represented (Pierre Iman made mannequins that were up to a size 18).

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 3.

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 4.

1909 storefront of Auerbach's department store in Salt Lake City, UT

Image via Collectors Weekly

Detroit’s Elliott, Taylor, & Woolfenden department store, c. 1905, shows a limited range of early poses and appendages.

Image via the Library of Congress

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 5.

Mannequins Are big busted, with three poses (left foot forward, right foot forward, together) and waists wasp thin to model corsets.

The tail-end of the Victorian period marks the beginning of the decline of straight laced figures and censorship of the female body. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union protest against stores with mannequins modelling corsets and lobbied hard to banish them. Because of this, some cities pass laws that forbid dressing or undressing mannequins without first covering store windows. The law remains until the 1960’s.

The average price of a mannequin in the early 1900’s: $15

Source: Omaha World-Herald

 

 

1910-1920

With the onset of the First World War in 1914, women undertake laborious factory jobs in industries such as weapon manufacturing, replacing men conscripted to the front line. Mannequins, reflecting this social change, shed their hats, unlace their corsets, expose knees and ankles, and flatten the Victorian mono-breast. As women became practical, mannequin shapes follow suit.  

   

War demands practicality

Following WW1, mannequins become more relaxed, with movable limbs– rather than stiff Victorian poses. 

Mannequins become more realistic and varied (but never could they be mistaken for the real thing).

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 6.

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 7.

A Mannequin created by the artist Pierre Imans France, 1911

Source: stephone60 on Ebay 

Storefront window from 1918.

Source: Pixelbread.hk

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 8.

 

1920-1930

By the 1920s, the formal, straight-laced, and big-busted Victorian woman is gone, rejected, and replaced by the easy-going, boyish and androgynous flapper who favoured a slender, straight figure with a flat chest. Mannequins of this period emulate this transition of preference, and simultaneously reveal the influence of art deco and art nouveau movements with their geometric renditions of the human form.

   

Gender-bending modernism

NEW MATERIALS: Siegel & Stockman introduce papier maché mannequins. Figures shed 100 pounds and become heat-resistant.

US prohibition leads to a debauched look. Flapper fashion ushered in the informal woman, with a reckless, easy-going style. With the rejection of the Victorian era comes boyishness, androgyny, and exposed ankles, knees, and legs.

Mannequins embrace the more slender female form, often with Mannerist-like elongated necks.

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 9.

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 10.

Siegel ‘La Rosa’ Mannequins, displayed at the 1925 International Exposition of Decorative Arts in Paris.

This extravagant 1928 window display for Atwater Kent radios shows the heightened realism of many mannequins following World War I.

Image via the Library of Congress.

Pierre Imans mannequin modeled after Josephine Baker (right) Photograph courtesy Marsha Bentley Hale

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 11.

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 12.

Art deco and art nouveau influence styles, with straight uncorseted figures and minimal breasts, creating clean lines.

Pierre Imans takes the mannequin to new heights with modernist figures, new poses, and some of the first mannequins with darker skin tones, modelling a mannequin after dancer, singer, and actress Josephine Baker. Some are even subversive, showcasing a lesbian couple at the “Streets of Paris” exhibition at the Moulin Rouge in the 1920s.
(IMAGE: ON THE LEFT)

 The French mannequin company Siegel & Stockman creates abstracted, simplified, geometric, abbreviated renditions of human form, which are featured at the 1925 International Exposition of Decorative Arts in Paris. (IMAGE: ON THE RIGHT)

   

“The old mannequin, too realistic to respond to the abstract form assumed the architecture and decoration, could no longer fit into the window display with its effective and sober luxury as it is now conceived. This basic conviction prompted me to make an appeal to a new form of expression in order to bring about a timely rejuvenation and modernization.” (Siegel, 1925)

Source: Tove Hermanson, Worn Through

“In the 1920s, realistic dolls with sculpted wax heads and glass eyes became “mannequins” as we know them today. Their poses were sophisticated, their bodies stylised, and their manner elegant. Their shape reflected ideal figure at the time, which was straight-up and boyish.”

Oriole Cullen, V&A

 

 

1930-1940

With the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s, a more conservative approach to fashion displaces that of the 1920s. Mannequin makers such as Lester Gaba makes his models (aka "Gaba Girls") reminiscent of Marlene Deitrich and Greta Garbo, with thin bodies and regal poses modeled after real New York socialites.

   

Depression and wealth; conservativism and wacky PR stunts

NEW MATERIALS: Austrian dollmaker-turned-mannequin manufacturer, Kathe Kruse, devises a metal skeleton that is covered with a skin-like material, enabling a variety of positions.

Mannequins become softer and take on glamorous features like high cheekbones and oval faces. 

They take on a wider variety of poses and expressions, rather than one anonymous “ideal."

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 13.

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 14.

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 15.

↑ Lester Gaba and Cynthia mannequin, Broadhurst Theater in NY at Madame Bovary, 1939

Source: Thread for Thought

 Pedestrians window-shopping at Ritts, a women's clothing store, at 97 Rideau Street, Ottawa, Canada, 1938

Window shopping at Simpsons department store. Toronto, Canada, 1937

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 16.

As a PR stunt, Lester Gaba designs the lifelike Cynthia (modelled in 1932 after wealthy socialite Cynthia Wells). Cynthia weighs 100 pounds, had realistic imperfections and freckles, with a perpetual seated pose and cigarette in hand.

Gaba takes her out for several public dates, garnering so much attention that they get a spread in LIFE magazine, and the pair become celebrities. Gossip columnists begin writing about Cynthia as if she were a living, breathing socialite; Tiffany’s even sends Cynthia jewelery to wear, foreseeing a unique PR opportunity. She's invited to a royal wedding and receives copious amounts of fan mail. (At the end of the period, Cynthia slips from a salon chair and smashes, and she is no more).

In 1939, surrealist artist Salvador Dali is commissioned to create a window display at the New York department store Bonwit Teller. Basing it on Narcissus complex, Dali lines a bathtub with black Persian lamb skin, and fills it with darkened water, sprinkled with narcissus flowers. Disembodied wax hands reached out from under the water holding mirrors towards a 1890s wax mannequin, her body clad only in feathers, her head topped with a blonde wig crawling with fake bugs, and blood-red tears streaming from her eyes. The display is quickly removed due to complaints from shoppers. When Dali hears the news, he returns to the display and pushes the bathtub through the glass plate window and onto 5th Ave, an enraged act for which he is arrested by the police.

“[In this period] shoppers were familiar with mannequins as abstracted versions of perfection.”

Hunter-Oatman Stanford, Collector’s Weekly

 

 

1940-1950

The shop window during the Second World War becomes subdued. Bright clothes are replaced with sombre expressions, evoking a sense of patriotic duty. 

   

Duty and rationing 

MATERIALS: The wartime period sees material advancements; Wolf&Vine become the first company to create a completely plastic mannequin. Display windows, however, cause a chemical reaction in the new material, turning it a green colour, forcing its manufacturer to take it off the market.

Due to wartime rationing, the dress silhouette becomes slimmer and less embellished, and the mannequin is made shorter than its predecessor to preserve precious resources.

The war marks a turning point for body ideals. In 1992, a study by two researchers Minna Rintala and Pertti Mustajoki, compared Italian, Japanese and Malaysian mannequins from the 1920s to the 1960s. They found that “arm, hip, and thigh circumferences of modern display figures were two to three cm, eight cm, and four to five cm less, respectively, compared to those of figures from before the Second World War.”

Source: Herizons Magazine

As troops return home in 1945, the full-figured, voluptuous mannequin – along with its smile – returns.

Théâtre de la Mode exhibit of doll-like mannequins wearing 1946 French couture clothing and accessories.

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 17.

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 18.

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 19.

Many French couture designers closed their shops during the German occupation in World War II, including Chanel and Vionnet.

Source: Fashion Technology: Today and Tomorrow, Nirupama Pundir

 

 

1950-1960

The 1950s marks a boom in US consumerism, and mannequins become more uniform in shape and size, embodying the period’s ideal notion of the female form in stores across the country. 

   

Boobs and Barbies

— IN THE 40S AND 50S, American companies sanded the nipples off the older mannequins, which were deemed to overtly sexual, according to mannequin expert Dr. Marsha Bentley Hale.

— LIKE MARILYN MONROE, the most popular movie star of the period, mannequins have tiny, defined waistlines, rounded hips, high busts, and sloping shoulders: the perfect (and, for most, unattainable) hourglass figure.

In 1959, the first Barbie doll, with her hourglass figure, is manufactured by American toy company Mattel, Inc. Three dolls are sold every second.

Source: BBC

   

Barbie’s waist in 2013: 16”. An average American woman’s waist in 2013: 35”

Source: Daily Mail

↓ Store Window Display, Nighttime, Jordan Marsh, Washington Street, Women's Clothing Display 1954

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 20.

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 21. 

 

 

1960-1970

Mannequins in the 1960s embody the changing beauty standards of the sexual revolution, and, although appearing different in style from the decade previous, still ignore the shape and size of the average consumer. This period marks the “supermodel” era, during which stick-thin Twiggy reigns supreme. 

   

Supermodels and superlight mannequins 

NEW MATERIALs: Fiberglass makes mannequins lighter and sturdier

Nipples return!

Adel Rootstein's mannequins introduce sex appeal, high fashion, and mannequins made to copy celebrities– so much so that Adel Rootstein makes Twiggy her own mannequin, mimicking her miniscule body measurements (5ft5) and copying her facial features. Twiggy becomes Rootstein's most famous manequin. 

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 22.

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 23.

↑ Chair by Allen Jones, 1969

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 24.

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 25.

During the Civil Rights Movement, Rootstein produces the first well known ethnic figure, Donyale Luna. Her likeness was consistently positioned in feline-like poses that reaffirmed the animalistic and overly sexualized stereotype for women of colour.

French mannequin company Siegel & Stockman creates abstracted, simplified, geometric, abbreviated renditions of human form, which were featured at the 1925 International Exposition of Decorative Arts in Paris.

   

“The old mannequin, too realistic to respond to the abstract form assumed the architecture and decoration, could no longer fit into the window display with its effective and sober luxury as it is now conceived. This basic conviction prompted me to make an appeal to a new form of expression in order to bring about a timely rejuvenation and modernization.”(Siegel, 1925)

Source: Tove Hermanson, Worn Through

“In the 1920s, realistic dolls with sculpted wax heads and glass eyes became “mannequins” as we know them today. Their poses were sophisticated, their bodies stylised, and their manner elegant. Their shape reflected ideal figure at the time, which was straight-up and boyish.”

Oriole Cullen, V&A

 

 

1970-1980

As opposed to glamorous, recognisable celebrity-mannequins of the 60s, mannequins of the 70s become increasingly abstracted and faceless– morphing slowly into the headless drone-like figures which gain runaway popularity in the 90s. 

   

Faceless drones

The stick-thin figure, made popular by supermodels such as Twiggy, receives negative associations by the 70s, as mainstream media coverage of anorexia among celebrities emerges. The death of Karen Carpenter from anorexia proves particularly poignant.

Mannequins are typically painted in solid black/grey/white colour.

Adel Rootstein designs the Sayoko mannequin, after Japanese model Sayoko Yamaguchi. 

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 26.

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 27.

The 1970s sees the introduction of petite mannequins, designed to model clothing for women of a shorter height (typically 5 ft 3). However, as journalist Helen Burggraf noted in Crain’s New York Business, petite mannequins are “universally several inches taller than the women for whom they were designed… because ‘clothes simply look better on taller figures.’”

"A size 12 in the 1970s would be equivalent to an 8 today"

Oriole Cullen, V&A

 

 

1980-1990

Rejecting the unhealthy attitude to body image which takes centre-stage in the 60s (the devastating consequences of which become apparent in the 70s), the 1980s - and particularly its home-video exercise-tape trend - gives rise to a brief focus on health and fitness. In response, mannequins emerge with realistic, toned features.

   

Aerobicized bods

— Dressing like a tennis player becomes cool: It’s a period of velour, sweatbands, and legwarmers, and Nike branded clothing

In 1987, Kim Cattrall stars in ‘Mannequin’, a romantic comedy in which the male protagonist - an underemployed artist - falls in love with a mannequin who only comes to life for him. “I did a lot of bodybuilding because I wanted to be as streamlined as possible,” Cattrall commented after the film. “I wanted to match the mannequins as closely as I could."

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 28.

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 29.

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 30.

By April 1989, Nike's sales revenue had grown 372% over seven years.

Source: WARC

Mannequins acquire realistic backbones, bellybuttons, and abs (matching fitness trend)

   

In the '80s, 69% of Playboy magazine models weighed 15% less than a healthy average weight for their size.

Source: The Changing Portrayal of Adolescents in the Media Since 1950,
Patrick Jamieson, Daniel Romer

“It’s almost as if they were saying: Our men are back. Let’s catch them while we can,” Marsha Bentley Hale, leading mannequin historian,

via Mannequins Madness

 

 

1990-2000

The 1990s marks a “heroin-chic” trend, a decade during which the unattainable stick-thin figure of supermodels like Kate Moss prevail as the ideal female form. During this period, plus-sized retailers and fashions gain popularity, and accordingly, larger models emerge on the market, that are closer in size to the average woman (a size 14).

   

Stick figures

A toned body with narrow hips and a straight shoulder line becomes popular. Bodies become softened and realistic, though the trend is stick-thin. 

By the end of 90s, plus sized models emerge. Interestingly, even plus-sized mannequins are accused of not accurately representing plus-sized bodies. Bust magazine reported in 2013 that, historically, “most mannequins for larger clothes were made by just magnifying the general proportions of smaller mannequins.”

Source: Bust Magazine

   

1991, 81% of US 10 year olds were afraid of being fat

Source: National Association of Anorexia and Associated Disorders

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 31.

 

The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. Image 32.

 

2000-today

   

Twenty years ago, models weighed, on average, 8% less than average American women. By now, they weigh 23% less.

Source: PLUS Model Magazine

How will mannequins change in the future? Unlike the early 20th century, the large majority of mannequins we see in shop-fronts are now a standardised 8-10 – much smaller than the size 14 of the average woman. And fashion companies don't show signs of changing their models anytime soon. “Clothes look better on tall, thin, abnormal bodies,” Bloomingdale’s visual director Roya Sullivan has said in a 2007 interview with the Chicago Tribune. 

For the most part, today’s commercial mannequins have departed completely from realism or variation, instead having transformed slowly into faceless, block-coloured drones over the last 100 years. “Visual display has turned into a corporate, cookie-cutter kind of reality” says ChadMichael Morrisette, a mannequin collector and director of visual merchandising company CM Squared Designs.  

Women, too, have begun to attain more cookie-cutter design through plastic surgery, which mannequins have begun to mirror as well. In Venezuela, where cosmetic procedures are considered the norm (doctors performed 85,000 breast implants in 2014), mannequins adapt to mimic the exaggerated shape that an exceptionally large proportion of the country’s women go under the knife – both legally and illegally – to achieve. Venezuelan mannequin maker Eliezer Álvarez transforms his naturalistic mannequins into big-busted, tiny-waisted, pert-buttocked fiberglass fantasies, which become the standard in most department stores. Is this a case of art imitating life, or life imitating art? “The transformation has been both of the woman and of the mannequin”, Álvarez’s wife and business partner explains.

More than 10 million surgical and nonsurgical procedures were performed in 2014, costing over $12 billion. Women had more than 9.6 million procedures.

Source: 2014 Report, American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery

In contrast, some European consumers – aided by online platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and 38 Degrees  – begin to question the unnaturalistic size of department-store mannequins,  specifically the negative message they relay about body image in an advertising culture already guilty of bombarding women with divisive visual language. In 2011, GAP receives a serious online backlash after blogger Alice Taylor posted a picture of an anorexic-sized mannequin modelling the store’s “Always Skinny” range. The photo’s caption reads: "I'm wondering what the internal project name for this was at Gap HQ: 'Death-camp chic'? 'Ana pride'? 'Famine fashion forward'?”.

Unlike GAP, some department stores have adapted their mannequins to reflect the size, shape, and changing attitude of the average consumer. In 2010, blogger Rebecka Silvekroon posted an image of Swedish retailer Ahlens’ fuller-figured mannequins, praising them for their naturalistic shape. Three years later, the image was picked up and posted by the Women’s Rights News Facebook group and went viral, receiving over a million likes. Following suit, in the same year UK retailer Debenhams (who receive 42% of profits from size 16-18 garments) introduce a size 16 mannequin into it stores.

This week, 71,111 people signed a petition to remove Protein World’s ‘Are You Beach Body Ready’ ad for aiming to make women feel “physically inferior”. We’re living in a period of resistance, and once again mannequin shapes will change to adapt to the attitudes of the time.

 

Mannequins now 

   

2014: American Apparel Manhattan adds pubic hair incident to its mannequins, sparking outrage on Twitter

IN 2007: Spain’s Ministry of Health bans companies from using mannequins smaller than a size 38 (size 6 in the U.S.) 

Mannequins are 6 inches taller and 6 inches smaller than average women

Most female mannequins we see in the shops today are typically a UK size 8-10, 5ft 11in (1.80m) tall, 34B bra, 24/25in (61/64cm) waist, 36in (91cm) hips and 32in (81cm) inside leg with a 3/3.5in (8cm) heel, according to Tanya Reynolds, creative director at mannequin manufacturer Proportion London.

There are many different types of mannequins at Topshop, but they all wear a size 8-10 and are about 6ft tall. We’ve received complaints about petite mannequins on occasion, and Philip Green ordered us to rid of Schlappi mannequins we were using due to complaints that they looked like aliens.

Visual merchandiser, Topshop

IMAGES via Library of Congress (1, 7), Collectors weekly (2,5,), http://threadforthought.net/ (3), tumblr.com (4), Marsha Bentley Hale (6), Wikipedia commons (8, 10, 11, 19), www.time.com (9), Flickr (12, 13, 16, 17), ChadMichael Morrisette (15), Kinopoisk.ru (18)