By Adam Welsch
Mannequin heads, that is.
Recently, I found myself in my local, suburban mall trying to make a dent in my holiday shopping responsibilities. My long list directed me to pass by, or stroll into, most of the complex’s 125 or so shops, an eclectic collection of discount and high-end department stores, mass merchandisers, and many of the small chain stores commonly found in malls across America. Of course, all of the clothing stores in general, and those carrying lingerie in particular, featured mannequins displaying their merchandise. But what struck me as odd is that, except for those charged with hawking sunglasses, hats, or scarves, none of the mannequins – including those displaying lingerie – had heads.
I could be wrong, but my sense is that this is a relatively new trend. When I was a kid, accompanying my mom as she shopped, I remember being fascinated by all of the different mannequins in the many stores through which we passed. That fascination stemmed from their realistic appearances, so they must have had heads. Later, as a restless teenager hanging out at the mall with my friends, I remember placing hats and sunglasses on mannequins not meant for such displays, indicating that they too must have had heads. So what’s going on – why the sudden use of the guillotine?
There are several possible explanations. First and foremost, of course, is cost. Though there’s a seemingly limitless variety of mannequins, varying in size, shape, color, construction materials, flexibility, and completeness, and comparing the costs of two different styles is like comparing apples to oranges, it seems safe to assume that adding a head to any mannequin adds to its price. After all, more materials are needed, and if someone’s likeness is used as a reference, the model must be compensated. Furthermore, the design and construction of the mannequin becomes more complicated. And while the additional cost might not be prohibitive for an independent lingerie boutique that needs only a handful, imagine how much more costly it would be for a department store, or specialty lingerie retailer, that has hundreds of locations around the country requiring a virtual army of fiberglass troops.
Second, a school of retail-merchandising thought says that shoppers want to envision themselves wearing clothes before they buy them. That’s why, in addition to verifying fit, many people like to try on clothes in dressing rooms with mirrors. Since heads are what give humans their most identifiable characteristics, mannequins with heads, according to the theory, prevent customers from envisioning themselves wearing lacy pairs of panties or extra-firm control torsettes. Headed mannequins, therefore, cause sales to suffer.
Third, more body parts provide more chances for distraction. The purpose of mannequins is to highlight how well apparel items look once worn. Bras, panties, and most styles of shapewear target very specific parts of the body. Whether made for the bust, midriff, or lower torso, lingerie doesn’t address any needs of the feet, forearms and hands, or head. Since retailers have only a few seconds to get the browsing shopper’s attention, they want to draw all of it to the product, not to the mannequin. A head, the thinking goes, might consume that precious attention and thwart the retailer’s primary goal of making a sale.
Of course, all of this assumes that the use of mannequins in generating sales is effective. Is it? Yes and no. They certainly can help shoppers see what lingerie looks like when filled out by the body. This, in turn, helps busy shoppers weed out what should and should not be taken into the fitting room. Such displays can also serve as substitutes for the fitting room altogether when time is at a minimum. Mannequins also function to highlight new styles, or any garments the retailers want to push, by placing them on their own stages apart from what can be unnavigable seas of intimate apparel racks.
But how often have you caught yourself standing and admiring a bra or pair of panties on a mannequin? Don’t you usually just stroll by and head for the racks or tables instead? How often have you seen other customers doing the same? And how important is it for shoppers to judge, from an external perspective, the look of bras, panties, and shapewear when they’re likely to be hidden from everyone’s view the entire time they’re worn?
The next time you go shopping, spend about five minutes looking closely at your favorite store’s sales floor and its use of headless mannequins. If you’re like most consumers, you’ve never taken the time to do this before. You’ll probably be struck by how funny it actually looks, and won’t be able to resist thinking up some jokes that explain what happened to all the missing heads.CC Image courtesy exquisitur on flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/exquisitur// CC BY 2.0 CC Image courtesy jetheriot on flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/jetheriot// CC BY 2.0