A Look Back at the History of Mannequins

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You don't have to search very hard (or long) to find real-life examples of mannequins being used. Taking a stroll to your nearest retail apparel store or shopping mall will yield tons of mannequins, set up in a wide variety of different designs. Of course, there's a good reason for their popularity: mannequins have been proven to improve sales, shopper satisfaction, and the overall aesthetics of the store in which they are used. But there's a long, rich history leading up to the modern-day application of mannequins that not many people know about.

The truth is that no one knows when exactly mannequins first appeared. Their use gradually grew over the years, with store owners realizing their positive effects. Once is become common knowledge that mannequins can help deliver higher sales, they became a staple item in a store's visual merchandising toolset.

While there's still some debate regarding when mannequins first appeared, historians believe they derived from the use of dress forms back in the 15th century. During this time, dressmakers in fashion houses would use fake bodies to help create and tailor their dresses. These "fake bodies," also known as dress forms, helped dressmakers improve their products, as they could see exactly how a dress looked on the human form.

It wasn't long before these dress forms turned into full-body mannequins. Once full-body mannequins were being created, store owners began using them to display their dresses and other garments to shoppers. Dress forms will effective at boosting sales for store owners, but mannequins opened up a whole new world of promotional opportunities. Using them, store owners can show shoppers how a particular garment looks when worn, which subsequently encouraged shoppers to purchase the promoted product.

Fast forward to the mid-18th century and wickerwork wirework mannequins entered the pictured. It became almost an art form in itself to produce these mannequins, with professionals investing countless hours of hard work into constructing the "perfect" mannequin. The methods and materials used to build mannequins has changed over the years but their primary purpose remains the same: to present garments in the most appealing and relatable manner possible.

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  • George Blitzer
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