Last week I went window shopping, not for clothes, but for mannequins. I strolled along London’s Oxford Street to see what messages fashion mannequins give us about body posture and movement.
There is a special language of mannequin movement, and this became obvious as I looked in one shopfront after another. Female models only ever wear high heels or stand on tiptoes. They never have their fibreglass feet flat on the ground, so back pain must be endemic among the mannequin community. This applies whether they’re dressed for the beach, a night out, in casual flats or running gear – they’re never balanced solidly on the floor. Male mannequins, on the other hand, are always grounded, in flat shoes or bare feet.
The men have a military bearing, whatever their activity. Often they face straight out of the window, in a no-nonsense fashion. Or if they’re moving, they’re purposeful, going somewhere. They mostly have heads with no features or hair, topped off occasionally with a jaunty hat or sunglasses. Their hands hang down by their sides.
Female shop models are more complicated. They often have groomed wigs, full make-up, a range of uncomfortable body positions, and a variety of hats and bags. Two distinct female poses were repeated along the shopping street. In the first, they held their arms by their sides, wrists bent, hands facing away from the body. This is something we practise on our training to help release the wrists, but it’s not a pose from everyday life, so I’m unclear as to its purpose in mannequin world.
In the second, they stood with one leg crossed in front of the other, throwing them off balance, making movement difficult, and also affecting their breathing. One window display had larger models than anywhere else, but while the proportions seemed closer to those of most women, the crossed legs remained, making sure they stayed where they were. A female runner, dressed for the part, was balancing over backwards, going nowhere.
One department store is worth a mention. This was Debenhams, which had splashed out for its Tropical Fiesta beachwear windows. Their three-quarter length mannequins stood out from the crowd – yellow, with interesting articulated arms that gestured in a human way. Their heads were poised. They balanced fruit head-dresses, in line with the tropical theme, and used their bodies like real people. I warmed to the store and wanted to turn up the volume and join the party.
The usual criticism of mannequins is that their dimensions are unrealistic, diversity is lacking, and they give women in particular an unattainable image of how they should look. This time I was struck more by the poses the models, particularly the women, were placed in. Some were unusual, but many of them looked like many of us – off balance, pulled down or twisted, restricted in breathing, bags dragging down one shoulder, shoes cramping our feet and hurting our backs. We don’t see good body use in the aspirational showcase windows on the high street, so how can we know what it looks like?
Photos taken in shopping streets in London in May 2017