The History of the Mannequin

Mannequins have been used as a tool to fit and display garments for centuries. They are integral to human culture, changing and evolving as we do. But where did they come from? And how have they changed over the years to become what we see and know today?

The origin of mannequins

The word ‘mannequin’ originates from the Flemish term “manneken,” commonly interpreted as ‘figurine,’ but its literal translation is ‘little man.’ The origin of the term ‘mannequin’ can be traced back to France and refers to a model or dress form representing the human body. 

When were mannequins invented?

Noone really knows when or where mannequins were first invented. There are records of mannequin type forms dating as far back as 1300 BC in ancient Egyptian tombs! These forms were replicas of the human figure and varied in size, ranging from life-size to miniature and even oversized. Some of these mannequins were crafted to imitate kings, while others took on the forms of revered gods. Unlike the modern usage of mannequins for clothing display, these ancient versions held profound religious and historical significance.

Although the primary purpose of these early mannequins was not related to clothing, there were other instances where mannequins served exclusively for tailoring and storing garments. These early mannequins, made from materials such as wood, wire, wicker, leather, and fabric, may not have been intended for display, but they closely foreshadowed the purpose of their descendants.

The Industrial Revolution and the Catalyst of Mannequin Marketing

The 19th century brought a significant transformation in the world of mannequins. There are no records of mannequins being used in a retail space until the beginning of the industrial revolution, however the advancements in materials during this time allowed for the production of realistic and finely detailed mannequins. Paris, being the fashion capital of the world at the time, played a pivotal role in shaping the modern mannequin. French artisans and designers were at the forefront of creating exquisitely crafted mannequins, revolutionising the way clothing was exhibited.

From Wooden Forms to Realistic Representations

In the early 20th century, mannequins underwent a remarkable makeover. Materials such as paper-mâché and wax gained popularity, allowing for a more lifelike appearance in mannequin sculpting. Mannequins began to embody the idealised beauty standards of their time, reflecting the changing perceptions of fashion and aesthetics.

Mannequins in the Age of Consumerism

As the fashion industry boomed and consumerism surged during the 1950s and 60s, mannequins became indispensable tools for retail businesses. This is when visual marketing was born. Department stores and boutiques prominently displayed mannequins dressed in the latest fashion trends to attract attention and entice shoppers. Their ability to evoke desire and aspiration made them powerful marketing tools in the competitive world of fashion retail.

Contemporary Art and Avant-garde Mannequins

In recent decades, mannequins have transcended their commercial roles and entered the realm of contemporary art. Artists have used mannequins as mediums for self-expression and social commentary, blurring the lines between art and fashion. 

Mannequins as Historical Tools

They are also used as historical tools, showcasing artefacts in museums in a captivating and engaging way for their visitors. They can even come in different shapes and sizes to reflect the era in which the artefacts they are displaying come from.

The Future of Mannequins

As technology continues to advance, the future of mannequins holds endless possibilities. We may witness the integration of interactive features, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence, providing a more personalised and immersive shopping experience.

From their humble beginnings as sacred artefacts to the sophisticated and influential figures we see today, mannequins have evolved alongside human culture, fashion, and society. As they continue to shape the way we interact with clothing, one thing remains clear: mannequins will forever remain as mirrors of the ever-changing world of fashion.

Proportion London and Mannequins

Proportion London have been creating mannequin-like forms since the opening of its founder company, Siegel and Stockman, in France in 1867. Since then, we have grown to the global brand we are today, hiring and selling ranges of mannequins to retail stores and museums, as well as designing and manufacturing bespoke creations that meet our customers’ requirements.

Contact us today to learn more about our products and discover how we can help you.

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