Pop culture – some people find them fascinating while others believe they are frightening. The French word mannequin initially refers to the jointed figures that artists use as models of the human body; the word came from the Flemish word manneken, meaning “little man” or “figurine.”
In English, mannequin is sometimes used interchangeably with “dummy”– as in the crash test dummies utilized in automobile safety testing. Although mannequins are commonly associated with the fashion industry, they have many other uses in the 21st century and have an intriguing history as well.
Historically, artists used mannequins to draw draped figures. Garments arranged on a mannequin could remain still indefinitely, which was not the case with live models. Also, in the Battle of Yongqiu in 765 BCE, the Chinese military hung mannequins in the form of scarecrows over castle walls. These decoys attracted enemy soldiers who shot the mannequins with arrows that the Chinese used to replenish their own diminished supply.
Fashion mannequins were created with papier-mâché in Paris by the mid-19thcentury but were later made of wax to appear more life-like. In the 1920s, wax mannequins were replaced with more durable plaster mannequins. The fashion industry most commonly used mannequins made of plastic and fiberglass in the second half of the 20th century. Today’s clothing store mannequins are often less realistic than those of the past– they may be in different colors with featureless faces and abstract body types.
Technological uses for mannequins include computer simulations, in which they are used to simulate behaviors of the human body. Mannequins have also been seen in art and pop culture since the 1900s.