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Big Bottomed Mannequins Make the Retail World Go Round

October 26, 2007

Commentary by George Anderson

The move away from "size zero" models on runways and in ads has made its way to the retail sales floor. According to a U.K. mannequin supplier, Displaysense, an increasing number of merchants plan to remove rail thin models from stores and replace them with fuller figured versions.

A recent press release from the firm discussed the growing demand for mannequins designed with big booties.

James Crawford, sales director at Displaysense, said, "It seems that curves are back in. It is quite amazing how much power a mannequin can have over the weight conscious people of this country."

Displaysense points to Sir Mix-a-Lot's 1992 hip-hop hit Baby Got Back as the major factor in promoting the "more junk in the trunk" movement. The song and the societal fascination with big bottoms received a boost with Donkey's (Eddie Murphy) performance of the tune in Shrek.

It is almost certain that Jennifer Lopez (aka J.Lo) devotees and fans of the legendary classic rock band Queen will take issue with the Displaysense assertion. Avid fans of Ms. Lopez, or those who simply did a quick search on Wikipedia, know that she began dancing in rap videos in 1990. Fans of Queen know the band released its Fat Bottomed Girls in 1978.

According to the press release, the average dress size for women in the U.K. is 14. Displaysense said that it would begin shipping its "big booty" female mannequins early next year. If successful, the company expects to follow up with a male version. While not mentioned in the release, it seems logical that a male companion to the "big booty" mannequin would emphasize a spare tire and love handles in the "keeping it real" approach of Displaysense.

Discussion Questions: Do you believe mannequins that better reflect the look and sizes of the shoppers in stores make for a more effective display than those designed to reflect some type of thin body ideal? How does this display translate to actual sales?

Discussion Questions:

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Instant Poll:

How strong a push will there be at retail for mannequins that reflect the sizes of real people?


As you all have no doubt noticed, more and more mannequins in stores today are not actually fully formed human figures with body types and ages a la 1960, but rather "ideas" or outlines of a form. These are created in Lucite, Plexiglas, aluminum, stainless steel and other modern materials that scrupulously avoid size, and racial identity issues and make it much easier for the merchandise dresser to display wares on them.


Retailers should be careful to not swing the pendulum too far. A mix of mannequin sizes is best, reflecting the mix of sizes on the racks. It would be nice to see a size 10 outfit on a size 10 model and so on. A truer picture of what the clothes will look like on shoppers of many sizes is the goal. Imagine being able to really have a clue what an outfit might look like before you drag it all into the fitting room, only to be extremely frustrated and disappointed.

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Anne Howe, Principal, Anne Howe Associates

I think the dimensions of the mannequins should reflect the social-economic level of the customer the store serves. That being said, discounters, off-price stores, and maybe big box apparel retailers would have large framed mannequins, while department, specialty, and boutique retailers would retain the usual pencil-thin look.

I think the reflection of a customer who is either vain, on one hand, or realistic and wants the clothes they consider to look good on them, is the difference. Few women (or men for that sense) can fit into the look that the typical mannequin wears. Maybe this is a generalization, but the discounter or big box customer is realistic and understands what they look good in, with a larger body size. Trying to make the comparison between the mannequin or body form, and your own body is sometimes difficult.

The customer in the higher end store, in my opinion, is a little more vain, egotistical, and unrealistic, thinking they can fit into that slim style, or believing that by buying those clothes, it will make them look slimmer.

It is the difference between perception and utilitarianism.

I don't mean to offend, but maybe there is some truth to this idea which could be researched.

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Jerry Gelsomino, Principal, FutureBest

Mannequins help shape a store's image (ha-ha!) I doubt that Abercrombie & Fitch wants big-bottomed mannequins with love handles. For many people, shopping involves fantasizing. Catalogs show products in ideal settings. Window displays are generally neat. Very few people live perfectly put together lives with always neat houses, just-washed cars, and perfect coifs. So there's a market for big-bottomed mannequins, but it's unlikely to be the most popular.

Mark Lilien, Consultant, Retail Technology Group

It is about product and price. People race through stores and do not window shop or stop and admire displays anymore. If the goods are right and properly displayed and communicated, subtlties like "booty" size are irrelevant to the process.

Michael Tesler, Founding Partner, Retail Concepts

I have a different take than some of the other panelists. How many times have you heard a customer look at an outfit on a rail-thin mannequin, and say, "I could never wear that! That would never look right on me." I know I have heard it many times. How effective was that display?

I remember a time many, many years ago when department and specialty stores employed saleswomen who were extraordinarily skilled at working with their customers to assure them that the items they were trying on were right for them and really looked good on them. Those saleswomen were extremely successful and had a loyal clientele.

Those days are obviously long gone, but the customer's desire to be assured that the things they are buying are really going to look great when they put them on, remains. Retailers ever since have tried to develop compelling display techniques to convey the message that these items look great together and that you'll look great in them.

Mannequin displays are part of that effort. Mannequins that are size appropriate for the target customer, without being off-putting, contribute to assuring the customer that those items will look great on her. And unless and until you convince her of that, somehow, someway, you won't make a sale.

Ted Hurlbut, Principal, Hurlbut & Associates

Too funny! So we may see more "well rounded" mannequins. Hmmm...will this work? This goes away from the concept that a consumer looks at a display and has the illusion of looking just as good when they put on those same clothes. No one looks at a display and says "Oh, the model looks frumpy, that's how I want to look!" Good luck with that!

Susan Rider, President, Rider and Associates, LLC

Queen sang “Fat bottomed girls you make the rockin' world go 'round." But, Led Zeppelin sang "I don't know but I've been told, big leg woman ain't got no soul." Ahh, who to trust?

This is a cute idea, and will become popular when anorexic runway models are replaced by more normally-sized women. Don't hold your breath. But if it happens, husbands will be able to duck the dreaded question, "Does this make my rear look big?" The mannequins will already have provided that information.

M. Jericho Banks PhD, President, CEO, Forensic Marketing LLC

This is a fallacy. People who shop for clothes want to see how they would like to look in them. Purchasing, showing and positioning fashion is marketing a dream, not marketing a reflection of reality. Fashion embraces our perceptions of how we want to be seen, not how we are seen. When we purchase fashion, we buy into the dream. Larger mannequins are not in fashion's future.

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Kai Clarke, CEO, American Retail Consultants

As Dove's Campaigns for Real Beauty and many magazines have seen, women are sick of being held to an unreachable ideal and appreciate realistic body images. Models are fainting from malnourishment and eating disorders are at an all time high. The designers all say "clothes look better on very thin women" and continue to feed this unhealthy trend as we worry more and more about our daughter's (and personal) self perception.

That said, Jerry's points are great. Model the mannequin after the target market but understand what each demographic WANTS to see as reflecting an ideal body...not what the designers want to see.

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Laura Davis-Taylor, EVP Customer Experience, MaxMedia

Average dress size is 14?! Isn't it equally unhealthy to encourage people to be overweight as it is unhealthy for people to be persuaded into thinking they should be underweight? Not that mannequins of a more "healthy" size shouldn't be considered, but I think it a little ridiculous to try to cover up our problems with weight management with terms and phrases such as "keeping it real."

I agree with the comment that storefronts try to represent an ideal and an image of near perfection. This is done through having the mannequins in the size that they do, at this point in time at least. Another example would be how women's shoe sizes that are put out on display in most stores are in smaller sizes such as a 5 or 6. The size may not fit, but it sure does look a lot more feminine and appealing in a smaller size since that fits with our beliefs on how a woman, traditionally, should be perceived. It's just psychology.

Anyway, I think that there is an appeal in creating mannequins with different measurements, but when it comes to making ones that are more on the unhealthy size, either underweight or over, I don't see why that should be encouraged.

vanessa Webster, Student, FIDM

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