Industry News

Mannequin – My Friend

May 28, 2015 | 0 Comments

I have been known to talk to mannequins on more than one occasion. I often give them names. They are a merchandiser’s best friend after all. 

Where would retail and visual merchandising be without mannequins? These body forms are the integral link between product story telling and the consumer. A world without mannequins would be – well – lonely.

I set out to do some research about the history of mannequins. Turns out they have been discovered to have existed way back to the times of King Tut. It was, however, The Industrial Revolution, which took place during the mid-nineteenth century that drastically changed manufacturing in the U.S and around the world. And textile production was part of this drastic change. Clothing was largely if almost exclusively made in America. There were advances in machinery and power that led to the growth of a flourishing labor market. Life was rapidly changing for the American worker.  There were advances in glass manufacturing that in turn led to the development of store display windows, which in turn led to the need for display figures.

At first, mannequins were made from material like wax, papier-mâché and wire.  You can imagine with wax figures in windows with hot lights the figures would melt overnight. The advance of electricity helped solve the melting problem. But soon more progress was made and plaster was found to be a stable material to fashion mannequins from.

The economy was growing during this time, which meant that people had more income and window shopping became somewhat of a pastime at night – what with all the new window displays and mannequins showcasing new products. Shoppers could now picture themselves enjoying and needing these products during this prosperous segment in American history.

Some early examples of mannequins. Courtesy of


Photo via Library of Congress 

Collectors Weekly has a great article about the history of mannequins – where I did most of my research for this post.  In it they note that Wizard of Oz” author L. Frank Baum “..edited a display magazine called “The Show Window,” and in 1900, he published a book “The Art of Decorating Dry Goods Windows and Interiors.” Baum advocated the innovative use of mannequins to sell the “romance of Merchandise and Merchandising” by creating scenes that lured customers into a fantasyland.”

And throughout the ages, mannequins have changed with the times. As fashions went from corsets to mini skirts, mannequin manufacturing reflected those trends. And they still do today. Now we have plus sized mannequins, mannequins that run, do yoga and can even be posed to be skiing or snowboarding.


Mannequins are an integral component to successfully selling a lifestyle. Sure they are nameless, faceless beings – but to me – I couldn’t do my job well without them. They are the workhorse of retail today. And they are my friends – so be nice to them, please.

To learn more about the world of mannequins you can visit where you can read an epic history of mannequins published by The Smithsonian Magazine.



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