High Street Mannequins for Contemporary Brides

While many of our historical garments are displayed on dress stands, as demonstrated in an earlier post, we will often display more contemporary costume on retail mannequins made from fibreglass, much like those used on the high street. The glitch tends to be their idealised shape, since few ordinary humans match their ultra-sleek lines. This means they often have to be ‘customised’ or filled out to a more realistic silhouette and this can entail some fairly radical intervention.

For the Wedding Dresses 1775-2014, we are mounting costumes worn by real brides and it is important that their outfits are not only properly supported for display but also look their very best. This means ensuring an excellent fit between the costume and mannequin, or more accurately – that the mannequin is a perfect fit for the costume. The following photographs show the step-by-step process of adapting a mannequin.

In this instance the bust needed lowering, this in turn meant the partial removal of the existing bust. To cut the fibreglass, our preferred tools are Japanese saws. They are incredibly flexible allowing us to shape the incision as required.

Getting started with some bust removal. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The holes in both breasts are then capped, using acid free card, and this gives a firm base over which the padding can be built up.

Preparing a base to pad. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

But before padding can begin, a cover is needed for it to be anchored to. Using cotton Lycra, a tight fitting body suit is created.

A fabric layer for stitching to. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

And then the padding begins…

Padding the figure. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

…and continues until the required body shape has been achieved (using a temporary cover, the costume is tried on during this process to ensure the shaping is on course).

When satisfied that the correct silhouette has been reached, a second cover of cotton Lycra is made and pulled on over the wadding. The two layers are sewn together giving the effect of a padded swim suit.

To assist with the costume’s support, petticoats are then added. The first is made from calico with Rigilene® bands around the bottom for reinforcement. This is then covered with layers of gathered net and finally a layer of silk.

The result is very subtle and few will realise what lies beneath.

Making underpinnings from calico, net and silk. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The same technique was also used for this dress, which was designed by Geoffrey Beene in 1975 for the wedding of his model and muse Catharina Oeschger.

Geoffrey Beene dress for Catharina Oeschger. Museum no. T.32:1-4-2006. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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