This is my series devoted to the real life models who became Rootstein mannequins. I have a client who has over 100 Rootstein mannequins in his collection and he has provided all the content for these posts.
This is Angela and initially my collector was not going to include her photo in the series because of her “secret past”. The secret is Angela has been whitewashed – the opposite of blackface. She was originally an African American mannequin but was re-painted to look Anglo.
This is what Angela normally looks like, and sometimes she is a shade darker in some retail establishments. While Rootstein and other mannequin companies may produce African American mannequins, they are dependent upon the retail stores to purchase them.
This is Angela in real life. Note the curly hair which is rarely seen on a African American mannequin.
There was a brief period of time after the civil rights movements when African American mannequins were trendy. Every department store in a major city with a sizable African American population had at least one, sometimes two African American mannequins (but rarely more than two at time) in their store windows.
Then when it was no longer trendy to have an African American mannequin in the window, retailers would then repaint them to look Anglo. So technically they were “passing”, which is the case of the mannequin my collector has now .
Painting a mannequin was a much cheaper option than buying a new one. Especially if the mannequin was structurally intact and not needing any repairs. It was just not the “right” skin tone.
The paint jobs ranged from professional to horrid. Sadly even a badly painted Anglo mannequin was still a preferable option for retailers over having a fabulous looking African American mannequin.
My collector is going to send Angela to a mannequin refinisher to get her back to her original skin tone. That is why he hesitated to include her in the series, but I felt this was an important part of mannequin history to share. The trend of “whitewashing” mannequins to make ethnic ones look less ethnic. This happens ALOT.
Ironically shortly after I started writing this series a woman sent me the photo of the mannequin above with the badly chipped paint. She had purchased her at a garage sale in GEORGIA and she knew it was a Rootstein and asked if I could identify which collection.
Guess what? It is another whitewashed Angela. See the darker skin tone trying to break free? This is the mannequin version of white woman getting a DNA test done and finding out to her chagrin that she has African American ancestry.
Mannequins are more than just clothes hangers. They are reflections of what is happening in society.