There are records as early as 1300 BC of mannequin forms in ancient Egyptian tombs. There were life-size, miniature and oversized replicas of the human form. Some imitated kings and others the forms of gods. The purpose of these was obviously not the display of clothing, but rather they held deep religious and historical significance. Though these tomb vigils were not designed for the purpose of clothing, other very early mannequins were used exclusively for tailoring and storing clothing items. Though they were not used for display purposes, these early mannequins of wood, wire, wicker, leather, and fabric were very close to the purpose of their descendants.
As human development and commercialism progressed the need for sales displays grew. Charles Worth created the first recorded mannequins for the use of display in Paris, France, sometime in the 1840’s. His goal was to make mannequin forms that resembled his customers so that they could truly observe the clothing from an exterior vantage. These developed into mannequin forms made from wax, wood and heavy fabric that were kept standing by heavy iron feet, planting them to the floor. Sometimes they were shaped with papier-mch or filled with sawdust. These forms were costly to produce, but as the market for expensive clothing climbed, so the production of mannequins increased and became the center stage for clothing display.
By the 1930’s, plaster sculptures were being developed for department stores in New York City. Mannequin forms grew hair or wore glasses to create realistic portrayals, while other less detailed versions drew more attention to physique. As large glass display windows and expensive store lighting became a common trend, mannequins became an essential part of retail window shopping as well as centerpiece displays, and so display mannequins evolved again into fiberglass models that could be easily mass produced. In the 1960’s, detailed and lightweight mannequin forms were manufactured by the thousands. This abundance allowed some manufacturers and designers the freedom to create abstract forms and styles of all shapes and sizes.
Today, the mannequin is an essential part of any retail store display. Shoppers expect to see clothes modeled by these unspeaking models to show them the vision of today’s fashion. Like many things, mannequins have developed from the human desire to create and copy and have developed into a vital part of modern commercial society.
Mannequins are among the most effective sales tools in a retail clothing environment. But mannequins dont just sell the clothes they are wearing. They are actually important tools for selling all of the clothes around them as well. Mannequins show customers what the store is all about and they create an image within the mind of what to expect from the clothes the store carries.
The biggest thing that mannequins provide is a beacon to certain areas of the store. Mannequins dressed a certain way tell people who are in tune with that particular style that this area of the store is for them. They also are the most visible elements of the store from the outside. This is especially important in large malls where window shopping is the name of the game.
It is important that retailers think of their mannequins as an element of interior design within the store. Mannequins are important tools for all clothing retailers because they contribute to the stores overall ambience and personality. More than any other element of the store, the way mannequins are positioned and dressed tells passersby and shoppers what type of customer your store caters to. Be sure that the mannequins appearance supports the mood and flavor you seek to create in the store.
Mannequins have been around for thousands of years but their use in store display is more recent. Kings and Queens who were concerned about their appearance, like the ancient pharaohs, would have a dress form made to their body dimensions. The court dress maker or tailor would use the dress form to display and make the clothes thus avoiding any royal embarrassment during the course of a fitting.
The evolution of this ancient crude dress form through the middle ages and up until just before the industrial revolution is unknown because there are so few written records and no museum examples to study. Wickerwork mannequins were certainly around in the late 1700s and were probably filled with stuffing and leather. Wire-framed versions came into existence in 1835 but mannequins were still not in use for store display. The invention of plate glass, the filament lamp and the sewing machine were the catalysts that put mannequins in the store.
In the 1880s window panes began to be installed in retail establishments and street lights started to appear. The improvement of sewing machines enabled ready to wear clothing to be made in large quantities. The industrial revolution also created a new middle class with money to spend on what was previously only available to royalty and landed gentry – fashionable clothes! More retail stores opened and the store owners needed mannequins to display the latest fashions.
These early mannequins were made of wax, wood or heavy fabric and because they needed to stay upright their feet were made of iron. To give them shape papier-mch and sawdust were used. Consequently the result was an expensive, hard to maintain and very heavy object. However such was the interest in fashion that by the turn of the century the mannequin was already the center of a fledgling industry called ‘window trimming’ which later became known as ‘visual merchandising’.