Mannequins go back to ancient times. When King Tut’s tomb was opened, in 1923, Howard Carter found a mannequin which matched the Pharaoh’s measurement dating back to 1530 B.C. The European fashion doll was the beginning of the modern mannequin. These dolls ranged from a foot tall to life size and were beautifully clothed and sent abroad to show the fashions of the day. These dolls also had porcelain faces. These models of fashion were so popular that they received protection and safe passage across borders, even during times of war.
After the French Revolution, these fashion dolls were replaced by drawings and dress forms made of wire, leather and wicker. They were often headless. Fortunately, the French came back to life and introduced the full body mannequins in 1870. It was at this time that window shopping became a form of entertainment.
The mannequins of the 1890’s had full bosoms and broader hips. Waists were wasp thin and, even in those days, many women were willing to have their lowest ribs surgically removed to achieve this illusion.
When a mannequin modeling a corset appeared, a religious group tried to banish mannequins completely, but they were unsuccessful. Because of their efforts, though, many cities passed laws to forbid the dressing and undressing of mannequins without first covering the store windows. The law remained in effect until the freewheeling 1960’s.
Mannequins in those days were partially made of wax. Because of the heat, and later, electric lights, they would sometimes melt. The mannequins of WWI, looked decidedly different than the 1890’s. Knees were shown and bust lines became modestly flat.
In the 1920’s the mannequins reflected the art deco style. These mannequins were made of papier mâché, which made them much lighter in weight. On the downside, however, papier mâché shrank and, whenever a storeroom flooded, any mannequins that became wet dissolved into a soggy mess. It was at this time that store dummies attained the title “mannequins”.During WWII the country and the mannequins changed. Bright colors were replaced with somber ones. With downcast eyes, expressions became serious. Yet, after the war, smiles reappeared on the mannequins’ faces. They were now radiant and noticeably voluptuous. Plastic mannequins became popular and some manufactures started to use fiberglass for their molds, which was neither safe nor easy to use produce.
After the 1960’s, mannequin makers produced the first of many ethnic figures. They also had personalities and some looked like they were laughing, which gave them character.
It is important to note that mannequins reflect the time and the look that goes with that time. Whether it’s the flapper of the 20’s, Rosie the Riveter of the 40’s, the effervescence and free spirited 60’s, mannequin manufacturers will try to appeal to the audience of that time.
As a photographer, I try to find things that intrigue or resonate with me. One day I was in an antique store, and I noticed all of these mannequin heads nestled among the merchandise. I loved how each mannequin had her own look and expression, and so I started photographing mannequins. Art imitates life and mannequins reflected the social ideals and expectations of their times.