by Darin Lowery
There’s something comforting about having a mannequin in the house. In the past I’ve had as many as eight, seated and standing in my dining room in Chicago. During a summer thunderstorm it could sometimes be a little creepy- they seemed to move ever so slightly when lightning goes off like a flashing strobe light. Here in Globe I’m down to one and she stays upstairs, silently stylish in a ‘boarding the train’ ensemble with vintage luggage at her feet. Her name is JoAnne, and she’s classic plaster from the early Sixties.
Yes it’s a little strange, but no weirder than folks who live in a 1986 Aerostar Minivan or people who keep five Chihuahuas in their studio apartment. Let’s remember glass houses and all that. I live alone and for the most part this is fine with me. My two dogs are good company as a rule, unless I’m trying to eat supper. Then they put on a ‘Hello-I’m-from-Bangladesh’ look and expect me to accidentally drop a meatloaf on the floor. And frankly, having an attractive, elegantly dressed woman standing in my bedroom- even if she’s inanimate- is more than many fifty-five year old guys have to come home to.
Mannequins, in whole or in part, are still very popular. While it can be difficult to find the older ones (although eBay has a decent selection as of this writing), new models are easily available for under $300. Fix a cup of coffee and Google ‘mannequins’ – you’ll be busy for awhile.
Most mannequins are purchased by retail establishments to promote fashion and accessories. Not surprisingly, many textile collectors pick them up to display vintage clothing. If it’s done right, retro clothes on a new form work fine. For purists, nothing but vintage will do.
Expect to pay about $150 for a perfect vintage mannequin head from the 1940s. These are rare, and it’s easy to see why. Most were trashed when styles changed, and because they’re somewhat fragile they are easily chipped. I have one on a bureau that I paid $200 for in the Nineties- the eyes are airbrushed, the neck is long and the upswept hairdo is classic Ann Sheridan. Due to the financial crash, prices are down across the board. Full-form mannequins from the 1930s-1950s will set you back a lot of greenbacks, but good luck finding them. We sold one in Chicago a decade ago for almost a thousand dollars, and that was a good price.
Here’s a quick story. My buddy Dave sold me a little girl mannequin that he kept in his cellar- he was into chain saws and opium pipes, totally alternative/out there- and he named her Brenda. While I was out junking one morning I flipped through a rack of kid’s clothes and grabbed a little white blouse and a plaid parochial skirt. The lady next to me said, ‘Oh, my- that’s cute! How old is your little one?’ I shrugged and mumbled, ‘Beats me’ and her eyebrows went up like maybe I was a kidnapper and needed a quick change for the small fry. ‘This,’ I said, pointing to the outfit, ‘is for a mannequin who lived in my friend’s basement.’ Maybe I could’ve explained it better, but it was fun watching her walk away from me, backwards.