David's Bridal dressmaker Noel Belancourt works with a plus-size mannequin in New York. The company a few years ago scanned thousands of women's bodies and tailored those measurements to its first mannequins. (Bebeto Matthews / AP)
The one-size-fits-all mannequin is getting a much-needed makeover.
Wings Beachwear’s mannequins in Miami sport flower tattoos like some of the women who shop there. The mannequins at American Apparel’s downtown New York City store have pubic hair peeking through their lingerie. And at David’s Bridal, mannequins soon will get thicker waists, saggier breasts and back fat to mimic a more realistic shape.
“This will give (a shopper) a better idea of what the dress will look like on her,” says Michele Von Plato, a vice president at the nation’s largest bridal chain.
Stores are using more realistic versions of the usually tall, svelte, faceless mannequins in windows and aisles. It’s part of retailers’ efforts to make them look more like the women who wear their clothes. That means not only adding fat and hair, but also experimenting with makeup, wigs and even poses.
This comes after two decades of stores cutting back on mannequins to save money. Many have been using basic, white, headless, no-arms-or-legs torsos that can cost $300 compared with the more realistic-looking ones that can fetch up to $1,500. Now, as shoppers are increasingly buying online, stores see mannequins as a tool to entice shoppers.
Indeed, studies show mannequins matter when shoppers make buying decisions. Forty-two percent of customers recently polled by market research firm NPD Group Inc. say something on a mannequin influences whether they buy it. In fact, mannequins ranked just behind friends and family in terms of influence.
“Mannequins are the quintessential silent sales people,” says Eric Feigenbaum, who chairs the visual merchandising department at LIM College, a fashion college in New York City.
Stores for over a century have played with the look of their “silent sales people.” Until the early 1900s, most were just torsos. But with the rise of mass production clothing, full-length mannequins became popular.
The first ones were made of wax and melted in the heat and had details like human hair, nipples and porcelain teeth. By the 1960s, stores were investing in hair and makeup teams devoted to taking care of the mannequins. That decade also started the trend of mannequins being made in the image of celebrities.
The late Adel Rootstein, founder of mannequin maker Rootstein, created a mannequin based on elfin model Twiggy in 1966. A year later, it made the first black mannequin based on Donyale Luna, the first black cover girl.
The next decade or so ushered in an era of hyper realism, with mannequins showing belly buttons and even back spine indentations, says ChadMichael Morrisette, an expert in mannequin history. But by the late 1980s, the trend moved away from realistic mannequins and toward torsos or mannequins without faces. Now, retailers are doing another about-face.