What mannequins say about us

Dalí wasn’t the only Surrealist inspired by mannequins, as these two images from the 1938 International Exposition of Surrealism in Paris show. At left, André Breton’s chest with legs, and at right, Sonia Mossé’s altered mannequin.

Wardrobe mannequins have been around since the days of King Tutankhamen, and have been freaking out people ever since. Hunter Oatman-Stanford of Collector's Weekly has an excellent brief history of these silent, ever-vigilant dwellers of the Uncanny Valley.

Cynthia’s face remained completely blank, wearing that same empty stare at the theater, Bergdorf’s, a private dinner party, and even her regular hair salon. Everywhere she went, Cynthia tantalized the paparazzi and her adoring public—always seen on the arm of the fashionable Lester Gaba, wearing the runway’s latest styles and enjoying New York nightlife to the fullest—but still her gaze revealed nothing.

Of course, that’s because Cynthia was a mannequin, crafted by Gaba to promote his retail display business. In 1937, Gaba’s irreverent experiment captivated the public by spotlighting our larger fixation with mannequins, made up of a strange blend of adoration, emulation, discomfort, and sometimes even terror. Cynthia was merely the descendant of a long line of mannequins, whose idealized bodies gave shape to our materialist fantasies at least since the time of the Egyptians.

What mannequins say about us