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It can be easy to forget, while shimmying in and out of ill-fitting clothes cut for sample-size bodies, that the clothes are supposed to fit us — not the other way around.
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Most mannequins stand at 5 feet 9 inches and wear a US size 4, a far cry from the average woman's proportions. Comparing ourselves to these so-called ideals is an exercise in frustration, says one U.K.-based company Long Tall Sally, which caters to women 5 foot 8 inches and above.
They are out to change the status quo with the first mannequin created in the likeness of a real customer: Harriet Winters, 33, who stands at 6 feet tall and wears a US size 10.
"Our customers are very passionate, and we get a lot of requests on social media for our models to be a US size 10 or larger," Camilla Treharne, Long Tall Sally's creative director, told TODAY. "Having a permanent mannequin with the actual dimensions of one of our true customers in the office will be useful to everyone in the buying, design, garment tech and marketing teams."
Long Tall Sally conducted an open search for a model who would represent the average size and shape of their customer. After Winters submitted an application online, the team connected with her openness about her own challenges as a tall woman.
"I’ve had many shopping trips where I haven’t been able to find clothes that fit well or look good on me," Winters told TODAY. "I’m sure that everyone goes shopping for clothes that will flatter their body type ... I think that seeing clothes on a mannequin that looks more like a real customer will really help people work out whether the garment will flatter them and ultimately encourage purchases."
The Long Tall Sally team used 3-D printing technology to scan and recreate Winters' body in foam and resin. Treharne described the process, which you can see for yourself in the video below, as "fascinating."
"I still can't get my head fully around how they did it, and I watched it happen!" Treharne said. "We wanted Harriet's limbs to be removable like a traditional mannequin, so they're attached with super strong magnets ... At one point, different parts of Harriet's body were scattered across various areas of the studio."
And there was no 3-D equivalent of Photoshop happening here: "We wanted it to be an exact replica of her body, so we didn't smooth any areas," Treharne clarified.
Winters was surprised to find that the mannequin made her a little self-conscious. "I’m a healthy weight for my height, but still, the 'Harriet' mannequin looks far larger than the usual shop mannequins," she said. "I think it’s a shame that the norm is to view garments on unrealistically thin models."
She is excited to be a part of a campaign that will help shift the fashion industry to become more inclusive — and eliminate self-critical reactions like the one she experienced. "When I entered to be a part of the campaign, I was worried that I’d be laughed at because I’m not skinny," she said. "I’ve now gotten over this fear, and so I feel that it’s had a positive effect on my body image overall."
Long Tall Sally also published a history of the modern mannequin to accompany the campaign. It proves that just as fashions go in and out of vogue, so do body types; mannequins have evolved over time to suit the ideals of various eras.
The changes also reflect values such as sexuality (to nipple or not to nipple?) and identity (do we want to see facial features, or a blank canvas on which we can imagine ourselves?). The evolution is, to use, Treharne's word, "fascinating" — and definitely worth a read.
Right now, it seems what women value is representation. That means challenging the concept of the "perfect body," even if the exact definition of that could change within the decade.
Treharne agrees. "I hope that women realize that brands and retailers actually do listen," she said. "I think watching the technology from start to finish has opened our minds up to what we can really do with it ... This campaign has given us a lot of ideas on how we can fit and present our product for our consumers."