The Dudes in the Shop Window: 1892

inman male mannequin c 1930-40

LAY FIGURES MADE OF WAX.

Dudes With No Consciousness of Being in a Shop Window

The four most elegantly attired gentlemen in Washington have regularly two new suits of clothes every week. They have plenty of time for dress because they do no toil of any sort for their living.  At this season of the year they may be seen at all hours playing croquet, reclining in hammocks in pajamas and otherwise amusing themselves appropriately to the character of the weather. In winter they spend their time in promenading, clad in the richest of fur coats, when they are not in evening dress at suppositious parties or receptions. It is the misfortune of these persons–for such chronic gorgeousness and ease were never intended by nature to be the portion of real human beings–that they are not alive. They are merely dummies, set up in a window on a Washington business street for the purpose of showing how far the costume will go to make the man, notwithstanding hackneyed assertions to the contrary.

The first thing that strikes the casual observer about these individuals is that they represent a distinctly foreign type. One might imagine that they belonged to one of the legations here. They are palpably Frenchmen, which is very natural, inasmuch as their heads were made in France. Their bodies were manufactured in New York city, but art in this country has not yet been applied successfully to the modeling of heads and hands for such dummies. Accordingly these latter are imported from abroad. It is the same way with dolls. The heads are cast in wax and painted in alleged flesh tints, the hair being human, both that of the scalp and the mustaches. Wax is likewise the material of the hands, the original models for which were cast from real hands, and the blue veins are indicated with surprising fidelity by lines drawn with the brush beneath the superficial paint.

WHERE THE DUMMIES ARE MADE AND BOUGHT.

All things considered, it is not surprising that the really costly parts of a first-class lay figure of this description are the head and hands. They are imported by a firm in New York city, which makes dummies an important feature of the supplies it manufactures and sells for the purpose of what is called “window dressing.” The latter has come to be an art in these days, and men who are expert in it command very considerable salaries—as high, it is said, as $6,000 a year. A dummy of the best make can be purchased for $125. It has ball-and-socket joints at the shoulders, hips, elbows, knees, wrists and ankles, so that it can be placed in any attitude that a real human being is capable of assuming.

This is the price for adult dummies; children similarly constructed cost less. However, for most of the purposes of the shopkeeper who employs such forms to show his goods, less elaborate manikins serve as well. For example, to display trousers only a pair of legs is required. These are either in standing pose, with the knees together, or they are in what is technically termed “attitude.” The customer wants to see not only how he will look when erect and stationary, but also what the aspect of his lower limbs will be when his admirers of the opposite sex see him approaching on the street. Persons who pretend to understand the sentimental cast of the female mind assert that a woman’s impression of a man is very largely modified by the shape of his lower limbs. Did ever any one know of a lady killer who was bowlegged?

VARIOUS SECTIONS REPRESENTED.

So the best dummies for legs are made in the walking attitude. There are others which represent the upper part of the masculine frame, for only male lay figures are spoken of here, on which shirts or coats may be shown. The newest thing in this line is a body and legs which may be used together or separately as happens to be desired. The bodies of the lay figures are composed of papier mache, the arms and legs are of wood and the feet are of iron, this last for the purpose of giving them a strong and heavy foundation to stand upon. As a rule the trunks and lower limbs are clad tightly in jersey cloth. Of course the manikins are dressed just as helpless people would be, their shirts being pulled over their heads, their trousers being drawn over their legs and buttoned and their toilet adjusted in all other respects to suit propriety as well as fashion.

creepy wax mannequin head

1920s wax bust for shop display.

THE WINDOW DRESSER’S PETS.

The expert who dresses the show window in which the four French gentlemen so constantly appear regards them all as personal friends, taking the keenest interest in their welfare, having always an anxious consideration for the becomingness of their attire, and not infrequently resorting to the paint pot for the improvement of their complexions. Unfortunately, they are not able to brush off any casual fly which may alight on their noses, and it is not possible to wash their faces with soap and water when they are soiled. Wax, too, melts readily, and care has to be taken that no direct ray of the sun shall strike them through the glass. Such a misfortune occurred the other day and the result was that a rosy-cheeked boy of ten short winters and a late spring who was going to school with a satchel over his shoulder at 9 o’clock in the morning was taken out of the window at 2 p.m. with his visage so distorted that he looked like a victim of goiter in an anatomical museum.

When the foreign gentlemen and relatives of theirs, juvenile and otherwise, are not on exhibition their heads and hands are taken off and put in a cool place. The latter are very apt to get broken, in which case a little cement is used to unite the parts and varnish is put on with fresh paint over it. Only a day or two ago a golden-haired child in kilts was knocked over by a careless customer, and his head was so fractured all the way up the back that he will not be of any use in future.

Evening Star [Washington DC] 9 July 1892: p. 11

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A novelty in shop-window display was to hire a “wax man,” a living individual made up to look like a mannequin, designed to attract custom by arousing the curiosity of the public as to whether or not he was real. Such men were probably cheaper than the costly wax figures, certainly as intelligent, and at least as good-looking.

This gent took up a bet that he could not imitate a wax figure in the window of a Berlin hairdresser.

A bet made by a wag of Berlin on New Year’s Day attracted crowds to one of the principal streets of the capital. In this street there is a hairdresser’s shop, and the author of the bet had undertaken to sit for four hours, without moving, in the place of the wax figure in the window. At three in the afternoon he appeared at his post, dressed in a white sheet and with a huge wig on his head surmounted by a fez cap. Every effort was made by the bystanders to make him show some sign of life. Street boys were tempted by the promise of large rewards to make their most ridiculous grimaces, and address him in all sorts of funny speeches; but all in vain. He remained immovable until the clock struck seven, when he rose, bowed gravely to the assembled crowd, and retired into the shop.

The Guardian [London England] 12 January 1869: p. 5

For some terrifyingly supercilious mannequins from a master of the art, Pierre Iman, see this link.

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales

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