The Mannequin Defined

Gucci Store Window at Union Square May 7, 2013
Gucci Store Window at Union Square May 7, 2013

The word mannequin came from the Dutch word “maneken” which means little men.

Today, there are two accepted spelling for mannequin – “mannequin” which is the one we have adopted here at FashionWindows, and “manikin” which is nearer the original Dutch word.

In French, the word mannequin can also mean a “live model” as the fashion models you see on the runway.

The more common reference though for a mannequin is the “model of human figure” that is used in store windows.

The “Dictionary of Costume and Fashion” by Mary Brooks Picken defines mannequins two ways –

Model of human figure for display of garments, hats, furs, etc.

Dressmaker’s assistant who wears new costumes to display them for sale in dressmaking houses

The first definition refers to all forms of mannequins – from full models ranging from realistic to abstract mannequins, to body forms – such as the torso, leg, hand, and head.

These items are collectively called mannequins, but visual merchandisers usually use the word “mannequin” to refer to the full model of the human figure. All others, they will use the name of the appropriate body parts.

The second definition “Dressmaker’s assistant who wears new costumes to display them for sale in dressmaking houses” refers to a human being.

But this is very general definition though. If we use this definition, then Giselle Bundchen will be considered a dressmaker’s assistant and John Galliano will be a dressmaker.

And of course, that does not sound right, knowing that Giselle Bundchen is a highly paid catwalker, not a dressmaker assistant; and John Galliano is a well-respected fashion designer, not a dressmaker.

The second definition came from the history of fashion. Before the time of Charles Worth, the first fashion designer, everyone was a dressmaker. And the dressmaker assistant is the “model” or the mannequin. The catwalk is the dressmaker’s salon.

But that was over a hundred years ago, and times have changed. Selling clothes is no longer as simple as it was.

Although fashion models are sometimes referred to as “mannequins,” it has actually become a misnomer.

A “living mannequin,” is actually a model who acts like a mannequin – one who stands still for hours, and “copies” the pose and facial expression of fiberglass mannequins. Life imitating art, in a manner of speaking.