Friday, 28 October 2016




Mannequins may be a strange object to focus on, but they are used in many museums to display clothing to visitors. As display tools, they are quite useful to portray how clothing looks on humans.

That being said, when presenting historic clothing, mannequins often need to be in specific shapes. This can cause some ethical issues for the modern museum worker.

Modern Ethical Issue #1: Mannequin Size
Historical clothing was built for individuals living during specific time periods. During these historic time periods there were different factors that affected the way individuals' bodies grew and looked (such as diet, exercise, and beauty standards). 

Personal Photo Credit: Hayley Mae Jones
These historical individuals may or may not accurately represent the way people look like today. They also may not represent the variety of different body types. This raises a modern ethical question: should museums change their mannequins/clothing to adequately represent diverse modern body types? or should they maintain the historical integrity of the clothing and not be inclusive to different body types?

Modern Ethical Issue #2: Gender
Mannequins often come in one of two body types: male and female. This doesn't adequately represent the variety of different gender identities people can posses, and outwardly express. The development of different genders (other than male and female), is a relatively new concept that is not necessary represented in historical clothing displays. That being said, we don't necessarily know how historical individuals felt about gender. Which brings me to the second ethical question: Should museums draw more attention to the concept of gender within historical clothing?

I cannot answer whether or not museums should become players in the body image and gender debate. In addition, buying a variety of new mannequins that represent modern body types may be financially unrealistic.  That being said, if a museum chose to partake in this debate, mannequins can be altered and modified. This was seen this past summer through Rachael Thiessen:

"This summer while interning at Discovery North Bay I came across a crucial museological issue; the lack of a male manikin. The museum did have two male manikins, but they were already being used in another temporary exhibition. The only other manikin was a female manikin that was very well endowed.

However, I needed a male mannequin, so I had to use what was available. With ethafoam, tissue paper and a great amount of determination, a co-worker and I stuffed the female manikin to hide her natural curves. In the end, it worked out quite well, and not even my supervisor could tell that our voyageur display was in fact the museums rarely used, but beloved, female manikin."

Personal Photo Credit: Rachael Thiessen
I would love to know what you think about these issues, please feel free to leave comments!

1 comment:

  1. Great work on this Friday post Hayley! I certainly wonder if androgynous mannequins are the answer in some cases. When it comes to historical clothes there would be no question of changing them or altering them to hang or be displayed in a way which would unnecessarily stress the material. In fashion, clothing is usually meant to compliment the body. In a museum setting, we instead consider the reverse.