A couple of weeks ago, Topshops’ Facebook page burst into flames due to a very critical comment of a UK consumer regarding the thinness of a mannequin in a Bristol store. Over 5,200 people liked the comment and it was shared 650 times. Social pressure was so high that within a matter of hours the British retailer communicated the decision to stop any further orders of this mannequin style.

Screenshot of one of Topshops' answers to Laura Berry on FB
Screenshot of one of Topshops' answers to Laura Berry on FB
Of course, whether Topshop places mannequins with the idea of displaying what a female body should look like can be further discussed but not confirmed. Is a 187cm height fiberglass figure reflecting a real woman on the street? I would say no. Is a slim figure representing the physical aspiration of a high percentage of fashion-aware women? I would answer yes. It might sound too wild and politically-incorrect, especially being a man –let me first explain myself before being judged as a numb savage: without entering an in depth debate on how the current beauty canon is established –was it the fashion or the film industry that first elevated slender figures up to a cult status?-, truth is that various successful phenomena have demonstrated that ordinary citizen aim increasingly to achieve a healthier body: running- and fitness tracking apps like Runtastic, CrossFit, Zumba, the hype around green smoothies and athletic clothes are enjoying a wider acceptance than ever… just to name a few.

Penther Mannequins
Penther Mannequins
Accordingly, I believe that it’s fair for big chains and certain independent fashion retailers that are catering for the mass to bet on slim mannequins and this way attract a majority of these body-conscious consumers. In addition, we shouldn’t forget that fashion is after all an image-driven business. Exhibiting slim and tall figures on shopping-windows has less to do with the fact of setting body standards in society to me and more with steering store visitors’ attention towards products, trends and possible outfit combinations. Extraordinary or abnormal shapes and poses of these figures just aim to draw attention to the garments –which are the revenue generators after all and not the mannequins.

Hans Boodt mannequins
Hans Boodt mannequins


Let’s focus more on Topshop’s reply to the incident: do dimensions have an influence on how easy you put on clothes on a mannequin, as the retailer stated? John Penther, owner at Penther Mannequins, identifies the pose as a key element: “The handling of the mannequins depends more on the pose rather than the height or size.” Size and weight are two further determining mobility factors identified by Cor Monteban, international business manager at mannequins’ manufacturer Hans Boodt: “Mannequins can be a little heavy and sometimes difficult to move. The bigger or taller the mannequin, the more difficult it will be to move it. For example, a mannequin is heavier than a torso and a male mannequin is heavier than a female mannequin. To make the use of our mannequins easier, lighter materials are being used during our development process. Besides that we also introduced our exclusively designed Flexfit program ensuring more usability and better quality. Making visual merchandisers lives a lot easier.” Both companies also emphasize the fact that they offer customized mannequins to their clients. “The brand itself determines the height of the figure for customized mannequins. The own dimension tables or Hohenstein Institute guidelines are often used as template” explains Penther. Monteban from Hans Boodt also identifies a new demand within the industry: “Plus size mannequins are in our collections, which we see is an upcoming trend.”

Each fashion company has its own target and depending on the concept visual merchandising’ strategies may vary considerably. While I’d catalog Topshop’s clientele as females between 15 to 35 years old, other brands out there do cater for all genders, ages and sizes. That’s the case of Düsseldorf-based international retail chain C&A, who introduced XL mannequins besides the classical ones in 2005 and uses them consistently ever since. Big female mannequins have a EU44/US14 size and measure 179cm. “We sell clothes for the whole family and we want to tell it through our mannequins. People are not only confronted with average children, men and women. That’s real life!” told Thomas Ahlers, spokesperson of the fashion house, to SI. In the main collection the female and male mannequins measure EU36-38/179cm and EU48-50/184cm respectively. The family-owned company carries out serial measurements with body scanners every couple of years usisng two different channels: both internal studies and also in collaboration with the Hohenstein Institute. The number of participants in these studies hasn’t been disclosed though.

C&A store in Düsseldorf (Instagram: @ca_europe)
C&A store in Düsseldorf (Instagram: @ca_europe)


I’d like to share with you a metaphor: Fashion is like a piece of art. Observers mostly don’t comment on the technique used or the size of the work, but rather on the emotions that the artist manages to awake in the viewer. At best, store visitors should also pay attention to the clothes and garments being displayed by a mannequin rather than the figure itself.