On Thursday night at a literary launch I talked the ears off the team from Arcade Publications about my "What Fat Chicks Used To Wear" project, and today Dale Campisi pointed me to this article that appeared on the front page of yesterday's Age. It's a pretty stock-standard iteration of the "mannequins are getting larger to reflect real women" argument that gets trotted out every so often.
I am emphatically not interested in these repetitive debates over body size/shape in fashion, and it never fails to annoy me that commentary tends to get split between "Yay! Finally retailers are interested in their customers' actual sizes", "It's a good start but it's only a token gesture; they need to go further", and "We're in an obesity crisis so anything that encourages people to normalise fatness is a bad thing".
The thing that annoys me about these responses is that they transform the mannequin, the inert fibreglass form, into a mimetic reproduction of the customer's own body, whereas the actual role of a mannequin is to display the clothes attractively enough to make you want to go into the shop and try them on. It is a visual merchandising tool just like a rack or a showcase, and there are no moral panics suggesting that people feel inadequately green next to a green-painted dummy, or worry about having heads because so many mannequins are headless.
But I am interested in the relationship between the mannequin and the clothes on it, which is about fit, which in turn is about the shape of the body under the clothes. I'm not sure when this happened, but Review has got rid of its iconic petite, wasp-waisted mannequins. Those mannequins used to say to shoppers, "This shop sells an old-fashioned, girlish kind of glamour".
What would be far more interesting than the size of mannequins would be their shapes and proportions. From the little reading I've done on the history of mannequins, their shapes seemed to follow those of the prevailing fashions: slim during the Art Deco era and sturdier during the 1940s. Here's the collection of vintage mannequins in the window at Circa Vintage Clothing.
Image: Circa Vintage
It might be worthwhile to examine if, historically, mannequin makers have produced ones in larger sizes for the older or plumper consumer. But actually, I'm worried that this talk of mannequins is getting off-topic.