Before the First World War, mannequins followed the Victorian fashion for large busts and impossibly thin waists. They were often made of papier maché which was much lighter than wax but became distorted if it got wet.

1899 Dress Form (public domain image)
1899 Dress Form
(public domain image)

With the First World War, fashions changed completely becoming less formal and more practical as many women went to work. After the War, the world celebrated in the Roaring Twenties and mannequins joined in, becoming brighter and less formal.

In 1925, Siegel-Stockman, a long established Parisan mannequin manufacturer, startled the display industry with abstract mannequins that mimicked the clean lines of the Art Deco style. The company is still in business and still makes abstract mannequins.

As the Roaring Twenties ended with the Depression, tastes turned from light-hearted mannequins to more realistic ones, and to mannequins which looked well fed and affluent.

The first modern realistic looking mannequins were produced in the 1930s by a soap sculptor, Lester Gaba. In 1932, Saks Fifth Avenue asked Lester if he could produce some mannequins with the same detail and quality that he could get with soap. He created six astonishing specimens from plaster that become known as the “Gaba Girls”. Each mannequin had a name and Lester was famous for taking them to popular venues and events dressed in fine clothes and jewels.

Did You Know?

One of the most famous celebrities of the 1930s was Lester Gaba’s Cynthia mannequin. She had box seats at the Metropolitan Opera, received freebies from Tiffany and Cartier, was featured on the cover of Life magazine and was even invited to the wedding of Edward V111 and Wallis Simpson.

Lester Gaba's Cynthia mannequin at the Wedding of Edward V111 and Wallace Simpson in 1937 (public domain image)
Lester Gaba’s Cynthia mannequin at the Wedding of Edward V111 and Wallace Simpson in 1937
(public domain image)

Article by Portobello.com.au