Pasqual Arnella

History of Mannequins: From their origins to the present day

19 January 2024

Nowadays, no one is surprised to see a mannequin in a shop window or inside a shop. They are such everyday items for us that it is hard to imagine how clothes were displayed before they existed. But do we know when mannequins were actually invented? Before you continue reading the article, let’s make a mental wager and think about what era you think they were created in.

Mannequins are essential in today’s fashion industry, as their primary use is to display clothes and accessories attractively so that people can visualise how the garment would look on them. They are also frequently used in museums and exhibitions, an aspect more focused on art and design. However, they are not a recent invention: The ancient Egyptians were the first to use human figures to fit garments for the pharaoh. How have they evolved since then?

Mannequins in Ancient Egypt

Yes, mannequins have their roots in antiquity. In Ancient Egypt, wooden or clay figures were already being made and were used by the tailors of the time to test their clothes. Later civilisations, such as the Greeks and Romans, also adopted this practice. However, the fall of the Roman Empire marked a decline in the manufacture of mannequins, and it was centuries before they re-emerged in medieval Europe.

Mannequins in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, mannequins were again created, but they were simple miniature models that imitated the human torso. These torsos were made with rods to show fashion to customers, so they bore no resemblance to the aesthetics we know today.

However, it is believed that it was in this historical period that the origin of the word mannequin was coined. The word “mannequin” comes from French, derived from the Flemish “manneken“, meaning ‘little man’.

The renaissance of mannequins: from 15th century miniatures to life-size models in the 18th century

As mentioned, the first versions of mannequins were basically miniatures to show the latest fashion trends. But the European Renaissance brought with it a resurgence of interest in fashion and couture. During this period, more realistic mannequins emerged, as the growth of the fashion industry created an increasing demand for more versatile and aesthetic figures.

The most notable innovation of this period was life-size wicker mannequins. In addition, this era marked a significant change in their functionality and aesthetics, reflecting the silhouettes and fashion styles of the time.

Later, during the Enlightenment era and the Rococo period, mannequins became symbols of luxury and sophistication, coinciding with the birth of the concept of ‘Haute Couture’, or ‘Haute Couture’, in France. Tailors and dressmakers at the royal court began to use more detailed mannequins to design and display luxurious clothes, reflecting the status and wealth of their clients.

Mannequins in the 19th and 20th centuries: Innovation and Realism

As the 19th century progressed, mannequins evolved further. Materials such as wax and glass began to be used to create more realistic figures, for example, by adding glass eyes to mannequins that mimicked the appearance of the human eye. These mannequins were especially popular in the haute couture houses of Paris, where the creations of renowned designers were displayed. And it was precisely in France that the first female mannequins, made of papier-mâché, appeared.

Gradually, the mannequins began to take on a more detailed and realistic appearance, with defined facial features and limbs. This helped to present fashion more convincingly in shops and to boost clothing sales. During the 19th century, the artistic function of the articulated mannequin underwent significant consolidation, as technological advances began to further the evolution of window mannequins.

Similarly, in the 20th century, these technological advances changed the way mannequins were made. Materials such as plastic and fibreglass were introduced, allowing for greater durability and ease of mass production, as well as a reduction in the cost of production, making mannequins accessible to more shops and designers. It is also the era of prêt-à-porter, literally “ready-to-wear”, which marks the birth of mass production of patterned garments.

Another notable change is that mannequins diversified to represent a wider range of sizes and ethnicities, reflecting the growing awareness of diversity in society.

The present and the future: a development marked by sustainability

So far, we have seen that the historical transformation of mannequins reflects changes in art, fashion, technology and even society, expressing the vision of the human body at different times. Nowadays, the main aim is for mannequins to represent reality as faithfully as possible, not only in terms of size, but also in terms of social and cultural diversity, leaving behind representations of stereotypical ideals of beauty. But, in this new era, one significant trend stands out: the growing concern for the environment.

Consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions, which in turn has led to a change in the fashion industry: we are talking, among other things, about slow fashion, reducing packaging, recycling and reusing and, of course, looking for materials with a minimum environmental impact, such as the paper paste used by Pasqual Arnella to make mannequins.

The more sustainable option: Recycled paper mannequins

Paperpaste is made from recycled paper, and the mannequins made from it actively contribute to the circular economy from all perspectives: production process, materials used, supply chain and local manufacturing in Europe. As a result, we can claim that our mannequins are most sustainable ever.

Since the first presentation at ISPO Munich 2019, our mannequin continue to collaborate with the trade fair, showcasing the products of brands honored with ISPO AWARD. In addition, our mannequins have recently been nominated for the Green Product Award 2024, demonstrating our commitment to sustainability. Let us know your thoughts!

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Pasqual Arnella
PASQUAL ARNELLA S.L. en el marco del Programa ICEX Next, ha contado con el apoyo de ICEX y con la cofinanciación del fondo europeo FEDER. La finalidad de este apoyo es contribuir al desarrollo internacional de la empresa y de su entorno.

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