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June Rowe

Published date
29 May 2019

Sculpting Beauty: A Cultural Analysis of Mannequin Design and Fashionable Feminine Silhouettes

College: Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon
Supervisors: Professor Eileen Hogan, Professor Amy de la Haye, Professor Jane Collins


The mannequin fulfils many roles as an object of material culture combining developments in technology with a vernacular and representing the conceptual with the utilitarian. In its history it can be read as an iconic symbol of femininity and of cultural taste and also as a form for the categorisation of clothing trends and silhouettes.

This thesis will examine how the mannequin has fulfilled a number of cultural roles in its embodiments of femininity and fashionable display. It will consider the representations of feminine ideals and the shifts in features of contemporaneous fashion silhouettes including the commercial sophistication which was developed in the manufacture of the models to promote new forms of display and engagement with the consumer.

Context and background

The mannequin is part of a process in fashion which has shaped concepts of identity and consumption but whose features express subjective and social metaphors. The mannequin has not been evaluated as an object in the framework of an interdisciplinary analysis such as the type of enquiry which informs fashion studies yet in the context of modern life it reflects cycles of cultural change and visual metaphors of fashionable ideals and feminine identities. Its forms are part of a material and aesthetic cycle, which reveal a mirroring of beauty reinterpreted in modernity as part of a cultural calibration of gender and social identity.

Aims and objectives

  • In the enquiry the research will critically review the theoretical concepts which underpin the debates on the nature of the mannequin as a representative form and cultural artefact.
  • The research also will provide an interpretative analysis of archival sources which link the aesthetic design of mannequins to the broader cultural narrative of fashion iconography in a British context thereby distinguishing a British history of the mannequin.