A short history of dressmaker’s mannequins and their half size counterparts
The conventional dress forms of today evolved from the display mannequins of the past. While there has been research into the history of display mannequins, not that much has been documented about their use as a tool for pattern making. It is known that tailors started using full size mannequins to help in garment construction as well as display in the late 1820s
Tailor’s dummies were rarely illustrated because they were functional tools used in the relative secrecy of the tailor’s workshop. Some of the earliest depictions that have been found of a mannequin in use suggest that it was linked to the production of ready-made clothing.
Based on the cut of the suits in the image, the anonymous pen and ink drawing dates to circa 1826–9 and shows two tailors absorbed in their work
Picture below Alexis Lavigne, Sales Prospectus for Riding Habits and Custom-made Busts, ca. 1868. Paris: Cabinet des Estampes, Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
Madeleine Vionnet is widely thought to be the first fashion designer to use a scaled model in designing; she used a wooden artist’s model to create her exquisite and elaborate bias dresses in the 1920s. The measurements of this wooden doll were a 15 ¼ inch chest, 8 ½ inch waist, and 16-inch hips, and though it was not precisely half scale, it is still close. This picture shows Vionnet designing using her wooden figure.
The updated versions are somewhat different to their 1950s predecessors. The waists are somewhat thicker and the busts are not so pointed, but their purpose remains the same.