Straight out of my high school art class, I was hired by the local department store in my hometown of Alameda to not only hand paint the signs which advertised the clearance and sale items. From there it was an easy jump to being the resident window dresser.
The mannequin’s view from the inside of the window is of course quite different from yours looking inward. Their job is to show off the clothing, and do it in such an appealing manner that the passing “window shoppers” can’t bear to stand outside another minute without that particular outfit. It is a proven fact that mannequins are a spur to helping customers buy more clothes.
These are stressful times to be a mannequin. She’s under pressure to do it all—she needs to show off the latest beach wear, be more athletic, glamorous, businesslike, and even ready to rope a calf. Fortunately today’s mannequins come ready to be rearranged into more believable positions. Arms and legs are detachable, head and neck positions can be screwed into different positions.
For decades store mannequins were eerily headless, then bald and featureless. Now certain companies have magnetic lips, eyelashes and nails which are changeable to reflect the latest in makeup colors.
An artist friend working freelance, used to draw the figures for the newspapers for a number of years. The earliest use of mannequins in a retail setting dates back to the 1800’s with some being made of papier mache, wicker or having wax heads and glass eyes. Their use climbed with the rise of store windows in the 1900’s. In the late 1940’s more durable fiberglass began to replace plastic and allowed for more realistic features.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s faceless and headless mannequins became more prevalent. They didn’t require professional makeup artists and hairdressers. One factor was cost; mannequins sell for $750 to $900 each, and even an average size store is now using them throughout the stores various departments. A large store like Nordstrom may use 2,000 mannequins throughout the store. Clothing today doesn’t have much hanger appeal; you need a body inside to give it shape and show off the cut. Even a table full of folded colorful sweaters benefits from having a mannequin wearing an outfit featuring one of the sweaters.
My life as a window dresser picked up again later in life with a successful display business begun with one other woman. The lure of the shop window has never left me, and today I sometimes become more entranced with how the window is displayed than with the merchandise inside it! The holiday windows were by far the most fun and creative. Macy’s in San Francisco, in conjunction with the animal shelters, for several years showed puppies and kittens for adoption in the windows. Remember that the window display, whatever it may be, just gets people into the store. After that they’re on their own!