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How Dress Form & Mannequin Design Evolved in Time

by George Blitzer August 21, 2016

How Dress Form & Mannequin Design Evolved in Time

We all know how dress forms and mannequins look and are used today. But, have ever wondered how were their appearance and how were they used in the past? Well, we are about to find out some of the spectacular facts about dress forms and mannequins’ fashion from the Second World War and post-war period.

Dress forms and mannequins in Second World War period

It is a known fact that the World War II had a big influence over the people’s lives. This unfortunate event had negative consequences over the fashion too. During the World War II shop windows became “faded”, because of the kind of the clothes they were displaying.

In this period, colorful and bright clothes were replaced with those in grey and dark, which were used to express some sort of patriotic duty sense. The World War II period was also the time when the first plastic dress form and mannequin appeared. Even though this was a novelty for that time, it was not so successful because of the display windows.

Display windows and light were responsible for some sort of chemical reaction which made the plastic dress forms and mannequins to turn green. Eventually, the company which produced these plastic dress forms and mannequins had to take it off the market. Another important change regarding dress forms and mannequins’ style was produced by the fact that during war time people had to ration their goods and materials.

This crucial fact made the dress form’s silhouette to become slimmer and the mannequin to be made shorter than the ones produced before. Second World War influenced fashion in such a way that changed the way people saw the ideal body till then. Some researchers have compared modern dress forms and mannequins to the ones used in the World War II period and discovered some interesting differences regarding measurements.

They discovered that hip, thigh and arm circumferences of dress forms and mannequins from that time were bigger that those of the modern ones. The end of the war and the home return of the troops made also the return of the voluptuous dress form and mannequin possible.

Dress forms and mannequins in post-war period

The period after the Second World War, especially the 50s, was a very prolific time for what we call today “the US consumerism”. Therefore, this was the moment when dress forms and mannequins became more uniform expressing the ideal female body shape in the apparel stores all over the country.

The model for the most dress forms and mannequins which were displaying clothes was the perfect hourglass figure of Marilyn Monroe’s body. So, this ideal body shape is characterized by a defined waistline, perfect rounded hips, large and high busts and also sloping shoulders. The ideal body shape of the time gave Mattel Inc. the perfect idea of a doll worth manufacturing. So, at the end of the 50s, the famous Barbie doll was born, creating a shopping frenzy along kids and parents, a magic number of three dolls being sold every second.

In the 60s dress forms and mannequins’ beauty standards were very much influenced by the so-called sexual revolution. Even though they were different than the ones before, they did not give up the idea of the perfect body shape. We have to mention the fact that this period is considered to be the “supermodel” era.

If soon after the Second World War the companies which were producing dress forms and mannequins decided to sand its nipples off (considered to be overtly sexual), in the “supermodel” era, these are brought back. Also, it is the period when the materials of dress forms and mannequins change from plastic to fiberglass.

This new material was considered to make it lighter and more solid. That was the time when Adel Rootstein, the famous British mannequin designer, made her mannequin copying all body measurements and facial features of the well-known model, actress and singer of the 60s, Lesley Lawson, also known as Twiggy.

The 70s brought another turn in dress forms and mannequins’ style. The glamour of well-known celebrity-mannequins was replaced with dress forms and mannequins which were more abstract, minimalist and even faceless.

This sudden change was mainly caused by the fact that media discovered that most of the models were suffering from anorexia. The death of Karen Carpenter, the American singer and drummer from the Carpenters duo, caused by anorexia, was a decisive factor in changing the way people saw mannequins’ body shape.

The dress forms and mannequins of this period are painted in black, white and grey. Another important moment is the introduction of the so-called “petite” mannequins, created for displaying clothing for women of shorter height.

The 80s was the period when dress forms and mannequins got more toned and realistic features. This change was perhaps caused by the emerging trend of home-video exercise-tape. This was the time when people could see dress forms and mannequins displaying sport clothing, mainly from companies like Nike.

The most popular sport of this period was tennis and a lot of people started to dress like a tennis player, wearing sweatbands, leg warmers and Nike branded clothing. In order to match the continually growing fitness trend, mannequins and dress forms started to acquire realistic backbones, abs and even belly buttons.

The 90s are dominated by the so-called “heroin-chic” trend. The ideal woman’s body shape is again that of a supermodel like Kate Moss. Interesting enough is the fact that during this period larger dress forms and mannequins started to appear on the market, resembling much better the size of the average woman.

Even though the stick-thin trend continued to grow in popularity, the narrow hips and the straight shoulder line, describing a toned body, also became popular. Plus-sized dress forms and mannequins made their appearance at the end of the 90s. That was considered a step forward, even though the producers of plus-sized mannequins and dress forms were accused of not accurately representing plus-sized bodies.




George Blitzer
George Blitzer

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