Thinking about hosting a fashion exhibition at your museum, gallery or pop-up space? This trend is on the rise because they are relatively easy to produce and the profits are good.

This excerpt from the article called The Degas wears Prada from the New Republic magazine discusses the rise of fashion themed exhibits at museums:

To a museum director with a tight budget and an eye on visitor traffic, the appeal of such shows is evident. Unlike with Monet haystacks and Renoir soft-core, these popular fashion exhibitions are relatively cheap to produce—loans are easy to obtain, and insurance costs far less than it does for $100 million paintings from the 19th century. They’re also easy to monetize further with t-shirts, umbrella, magnets and other products sold in the gift shop.

After you have secure the clothing, it is important to select the right mannequin to display them. Mannequins aren’t merely three dimensional coat hangers, but an important design element that can enhance the exhibition.

For example, the custom made talking mannequins at the Jon Paul Gaultier exhibition received as much publicity as the clothing they were wearing.

So to get maximum impact from your fashion exhibition, here are 5 tips for selecting the right mannequin.

1 Clothes look much better when they are displayed on a mannequin versus a dress form.  Ideally a mannequin with a head so you can accessorize it. The photos in this post are from the Oscar de la Renta retrospective at the DeYoung museum.


To save money on your mannequin purchase, consider buying a used designer mannequin manufactured by companies such as Pucci, Rootstein, Goldsmith, Schlappi or Patina V. You can buy them on Ebay or from used mannequin vendors. Mannequin Madness has a large selection of used mannequins that have been recycled from luxury retail stores that you can buy here.

If there is a mannequin rental company in your city, you can often negotiate a deal if you need to rent longer than the standard weekly rental period.


If your only alternative is dress forms, choose the ones covered in black jersey, because they are easier to keep clean. If you are displaying vintage clothing, you can find wasp waist dress forms here to fit the smaller sized clothing.

2 Choose mannequins in an assortment of poses versus having them all with their arms straight down as if they were in a military procession. It is much more visually appealing when you add seated and reclining mannequins among the standing ones.


Look at what an excellent job this reclining mannequin does in showcasing details like the lining of this coat.


And when using standing mannequins, don’t be afraid to rotate the mannequin arms at the shoulder to create different poses other than the original pose the mannequin was intended to be in.

For example, the right arm on this mannequin was supposed to be at her side like the left arm. But by raising the arm up, it gives the appearance that she is dancing, which is perfect for her flamenco dancer inspired dress.



3 Instead of defaulting to matte or glossy white mannequins, add some mannequins with color. Color adds drama and, since fashion is all about drama, bring it on! At the Oscar De La Renta exhibit they used a combination of black and white mannequins, as in the photo below.  And if your fashion event is related to breast cancer awareness, consider including a few pink mannequins. 5

4 The devil is in the details and a detail that many overlook is  putting shoes on the mannequin. Expensive clothing and a barefoot mannequin is not a good match.

The ingenious solution deployed at the Oscar Del la Renta exhibit was wrapping fabric or ribbon around the feet of the mannequin to create the illusion of “sandals.”6

As you can see in the photos below, they used different color ribbon and textures to wrapped the foot in different patterns to create a variety of “sandals” styles to match the look of the garment. They even added jewelry accents on some of them.7

5  Depending upon the clothing, a bald mannequin can be quite elegant.


But sometimes a wig is needed, and you can make wigs out of paper, especially if you are needing them to represent a particular period or style which is hard to fine. For examples of paper wigs, see this board on Pinterest.


For more ideas on which mannequins to use for your exhibition, do a google search for Top Fashion Exhibits for 2014 2015, 2016 etc. Many times the search results will include photos of the exhibit (versus listing venue and name) so you can compare styles. Here is post from the Merino wool website on the best fashion exhibitions of 2016.


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