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Mannequins in a clothing shop in Canada
A mannequin in North India

A mannequin (sometimes spelled as manikin and also called a dummy, lay figure, or dress form) is a doll, often articulated, used by artists, tailors, dressmakers, window dressers and others, especially to display or fit clothing and show off different fabrics and textiles. Previously, the English term referred to human models and muses (a meaning which it still retains in French and other European languages); the meaning as a dummy dating from the start of World War II.[1]

Life-sized mannequins with simulated airways are used in the teaching of first aid, CPR, and advanced airway management skills such as tracheal intubation. During the 1950s, mannequins were used in nuclear tests to help show the effects of nuclear weapons on humans.[2][3] Also referred to as mannequins are the human figures used in computer simulation to model the behavior of the human body.

Mannequin comes from the French word mannequin, which had acquired the meaning "an artist's jointed model", which in turn came from the Flemish word manneken, meaning "little man, figurine",[4] referring to late Middle Ages practice in Flanders whereby public display of even women's clothes was performed by male pages (boys). Fashion shops in Paris ordered dolls in reed from Flemish merchants. Flanders was in terms of logistics the easiest region to import reed dolls from, as the rivers Schelde and Oise provided easy routes from Flanders to Paris. As the Flemish wrote 'manneke(n)' for 'little man' on their invoices, the Parisians pronounced this as 'mannequen', hence shifted to 'mannequin'. A mannequin is thus linguistically masculine, not feminine.


Shop mannequins are derived from dress forms used by fashion houses for dress making. The use of mannequins originated in the 15th century, when miniature "milliners' mannequins" were used to demonstrate fashions for customers.[5] Full-scale, wickerwork mannequins came into use in the mid-18th century.[5] Wirework mannequins were manufactured in Paris from 1835.[5]

Shop display[edit]

The first female mannequins, made of papier-mâché, were made in France in the mid-19th century.[5] Mannequins were later made of wax to produce a more lifelike appearance. In the 1920s, wax was supplanted by a more durable composite made with plaster.[6]

Modern day mannequins are made from a variety of materials, the primary ones being fiberglass and plastic. The fiberglass mannequins are usually more expensive than the plastic ones, tend to be not as durable, but are significantly more realistic. Plastic mannequins, on the other hand, are a relatively new innovation in the mannequin field and are built to withstand the hustle of customer foot traffic usually witnessed in the store they are placed in.[7]

A lay figure by Albrecht Dürer in the Prado Museum

Mannequins are used primarily by retail stores as in-store displays or window decoration. However, many online sellers also use them to display their products for their product photos (as opposed to using a live model).[7]

Use by artists[edit]

Renaissance artist Fra Bartolomeo invented the full-scale articulated mannequin (more properly known as lay figure)[8] as an aid in drawing and painting draped figures. In 18th-century England, lay-figures are known to have been owned by portrait painters such as Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, and Arthur Devis for the arrangement of conversation pieces.[9] [10]

Medical education[edit]

Anatomical models such as ivory manikins were used by doctors in the 17th century to study medical anatomy and as a teaching aid for pregnancy and childbirth. Each figure could be opened up to reveal internal organs and sometimes fetuses. There are only 180 known surviving ancient medical manikins worldwide.[11]

A medical student performs an eye examination on a mannequin in Mauritius

Today, medical simulation mannequins, models or related artefacts such as SimMan,[12] the Transparent Anatomical Manikin or Harvey[13] are widely used in medical education.[14] The term manikin refers exclusively to these types of models, though mannequin is often also used.

In first aid courses, manikins may be used to demonstrate methods of giving first aid (e.g., resuscitation). Fire and coastguard services use mannequins to practice life-saving procedures. The mannequins have similar weight distribution to a human. Special obese mannequins and horse mannequins have also been made for similar purposes.

Over-reliance on mass-produced mannequins has been criticized for teaching medical students a hypothetical "average" that does not help them identify or understand the significant amount of normal variation seen in the real world.[15]

Representation in art and culture[edit]

Abstract and anatomically correct lay figures form a contrasting tableau vivant

Mannequins were a frequent motif in the works of many early 20th-century artists, notably the metaphysical painters Giorgio de Chirico, Alberto Savinio and Carlo Carrà.[16][17]

Shop windows displaying mannequins were a frequent photographic subject for Eugène Atget.[6]

Mannequins have been used in horror and science fiction. The Twilight Zone episode "The After Hours" (1960) involves mannequins taking turns living in the real world as people. In the Doctor Who serial Spearhead from Space (1970), an alien intelligence attempts to take over Earth with killer plastic mannequins called Autons.[18][19]

The romantic comedy film Mannequin (1987) is a story of a window dresser who falls in love with a mannequin that comes to life.[20] The romantic thriller film Bommai (2023) is the story of a person who works in a mannequin factory and falls in love with one of the mannequins, imagining it as his childhood crush.[21]

Military use[edit]

Military use of mannequins is recorded amongst the ancient Chinese, such as at the siege of Yongqiu. The besieged Tang army lowered scarecrows down the walls of their castles to lure the fire of the enemy arrows. In this way, they renewed their supplies of arrows. Dummies were also used in the trenches in World War I to lure enemy snipers away from the soldiers.[22]

A Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report describes the use of a mannequin ("Jack-in-the-Box") as a countersurveillance measure, intended to make it more difficult for the host country's counterintelligence to track the movement of CIA agents posing as diplomats. A "Jack-in-the-Box" – a mannequin representing the upper half of a human – would quickly replace a CIA agent after he left the car driven by another agent and walked away, so that any counterintelligence officers monitoring the agent's car would believe that he was still in the car.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 1902 Pall Mall Mag. XXVII. 119 Another salon ornamented with tall mirrors in which were reflected the slender elegant figures of several mannequins, most of them exceedingly pretty and all arrayed in magnificent dresses... 1939 M. B. Picken Lang. Fashion 97/2 Mannequin model of human figure for display of garments, hats, furs, etc. "mannequin". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  2. ^ "Nuclear Test Mannequins". Seattle Times Trinity Web. Seattle Times Company. 1995. Archived from the original on 15 January 2012.
  3. ^ Trivedi, Bijal P. (15 July 2002). "Archaeologists Explore Cold War Nuclear Test Site". National Geographic News. Archived from the original on 18 August 2017.
  4. ^ "mannequin". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Houghton Mifflin Company. 2004. Archived from the original on 2009-08-10. Retrieved 2009-08-07.
  5. ^ a b c d Steele, Valerie (ed.). Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion. Vol. 2. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2005. p. 377
  6. ^ a b Steele, Valerie (ed.). Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion. Vol. 2. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2005. p. 379
  7. ^ a b The Mannequin Guide Archived 2013-10-02 at the Wayback Machine and The Ultimate Visual Guide to Choosing the Right Mannequin by The Shop Company
  8. ^ https://www.oed.com/dictionary/lay-figure_n?tab=meaning_and_use#39517536
  9. ^ Polite Society by Arthur Devis, Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, 1983, p.67
  10. ^ "lay figure". Oxford Reference. Retrieved 2024-03-08.
  11. ^ Jennifer Ouellette (27 Nov 2019). "CT scans confirm 17th-century medical mannikins are mostly made of ivory". ars Technica. Archived from the original on 30 November 2019. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
  12. ^ "SimMan". Laerdal. Archived from the original on 2006-12-30. Retrieved 2007-01-13.
  13. ^ "Harvey: Major Changes". Gordon Center for Research in Medical Education. Archived from the original on 2007-03-28.
  14. ^ Cooper Jeffery B, Taqueti VR (December 2008). "A brief history of the development of mannequin simulators for clinical education and training". Postgrad Med J. 84 (997): 563–570. doi:10.1136/qshc.2004.009886. PMC 1765785. PMID 19103813.
  15. ^ Jacobson, Ella (20 May 2019). "Too Human". Real Life. Archived from the original on 2019-05-27. Retrieved 2019-05-27.
  16. ^ Holzhey, Magdalena. 2005. Giorgio de Chirico 1888–1978 the modern myth. Koln: Taschen. pp. 42–43. ISBN 3-8228-4152-8
  17. ^ *Cowling, Elizabeth; Mundy, Jennifer. 1990. On Classic Ground: Picasso, Léger, de Chirico and the New Classicism 1910-1930. London: Tate Gallery. p. 54. ISBN 1-85437-043-X
  18. ^ "Spearhead from Space". BBC. Archived from the original on 2 May 2015. Retrieved 21 April 2015.
  19. ^ Mulkern, Patrick (14 September 2009). "Spearhead from Space". Radio Times. Archived from the original on 27 April 2015. Retrieved 21 April 2015.
  20. ^ McQuade, Dan (4 December 2013). "Why Mannequin Is the Best Movie Ever Made About Philadelphia". Philadelphia. Archived from the original on 7 March 2018. Retrieved 21 April 2015.
  21. ^ "Bommai Movie Review: Another psycho act by SJ Suryah in a film that's a treasure trove of cliches". India Today. Retrieved 15 July 2023.
  22. ^ "List of strategies". Archived from the original on 2012-10-27. Retrieved 2012-10-27.
  23. ^ Royden, Barry G. (2003), "Tolkachev, A Worthy Successor to Penkovsky. An Exceptional Espionage Operation", Studies in Intelligence, 47 (3), archived from the original on June 13, 2007

Further reading[edit]