Have you heard of Swedish Mannequins.com? I had not heard about these world famous mannequins until yesterday when my boyfriend told me about it! WHAT!? This is the story about not only about more shapely mannequins in Sweden, but about the possible effects of social media. As you may have observed, mannequins used in retail stores do not necessarily represent the typical human figure. For me they are such an abstraction of the human form that I see them more as glorified hangers rather than a tool that shows how a garment fits the body. Let’s be real here, when the mannequin is smaller than the smallest size offered at the store (look closely you can see pins in the back to make the clothes fit better on the form), there is a problem. Of course, this is why this single photo of mannequins being used by the Swedish department store called Ahlens (which have been using these since 2008) became so popular on social media forums.
Swedish project manager and blogger Rebecka Silverkoon saw the more shapely forms and snapped a photo of the ‘fuller-figured” mannequins and posted it on her blog (becka.nu). At that point, the post lay dormant until March 2013 when the photo was picked up by Women’s Rights News and posted the photo on their Facebook wall. From there it started to go viral via social media. In just a short time, the photo had more than 1 million likes on Facebook (through various re-posts), and continues to grow internationally through other popular press channels…including the local radio station, into my boyfriend’s ears, and then onto me.
Because of our awareness of how mannequins, runway models, and images in magazines/ads do not reflect our personal body shapes, a debate has been stirring about how this type of imagery and marketing is negatively affecting consumer body image. It is so atypical to see a mannequin/model/ad that reflects a more average body type, it is noteworthy and newsworthy.
The mannequins pictured are either a size 10 or size 12. When people look at them they think ‘plus-size’ but in fact plus sizing does not typically start until size 14 or size 16. So the discussion here is not centered around plus sizes (unlike the refinery29 article which automatically goes to a discussion of the plus size market), but rather it is centered on projecting a more realistic image of the human form (both male and female) that we can relate to.
This is a problem plaguing both the retail floors, but is also a problem at the manufacturing end with dress forms. Apparel manufacturers have slowly started to see a change in dress form silhouette and proportions to reflect their target population. This directly affects the fit of clothing (ever wondered why that pencil skirt never fits quite right?). If you model mass produced clothing off dress forms that do not reflect actual human bodies, then nothing will fit…and now we have uncovered why nothing fits. It is not your body that is the problem, it is the fundamental way we develop clothes. BUT there is hope. Some dress form manufactures like Alvanon, with offices in NYC, uses a body scanner to take measurements from real people to inspire a more realistic body shape, reflected in their dress forms. I say ‘inspire’ because this is still an average of measurements, and not a perfect science. For design houses who have the means to use forms like Alva, their designs and patterns can work towards a more realistic fit (or better fitting clothes).
The trickle goes both ways. It is trickling up from social media and movements like the single photo of Swedish Mannequins, but also we see trickles in a downward motion from the manufacturing side of things. From either polarity, it is still a trickle. From a glass half full perspective: it is a start and there is clearly interest at the consumer level, the project manager, and dress form maker levels. Hopefully it is a start and can gain some traction (this time around).