A vintage mannequin is a unique collectible. And if you need a mannequin, vintage is better than a budget quality new one. After starting Penn Polly Vintage I had many a vintage dress that needed to be modeled on something. I began a longer than expected mannequin journey and along the way learned why vintage mannequins rock.
1. A vintage mannequin is a beautiful thing
I now have a good appreciation for the artistic qualities of vintage mannequins. The faces on many older mannequins are really lovely or just downright arresting. This is particularly true if you purchase a high end vintage mannequin like a Wolf Vine, Greneker, Rootstein, Decter, or Hindsgaul.
For example, while there are many pretty Rootstein mannequins, there are also some that are striking, rather than conventionally beautiful. Adele Rootstein had a somewhat eclectic taste when choosing famous personages on which to base her mannequins. Today, Rootsteins are collectible not just for their poses, but also for their facial features.
In the case of Wolf Vine, later known only as Greneker, their mannequins came with realistic glass eyes. In manufacturing their mannequins, Wolf Vine would mold the head with an open top then place the customer’s requested colored glass eyes inside it. A foam cap was then inserted in the head to finish it off.
Just like anything else, a vintage mannequin choice is based on personal taste. I learned that I am partial towards the Wolf Vines and now have two. They have usable poses for styling a vintage dress and I like their realistic eyes. One mannequin has more of a 1980’s style and the other is the cool, pretty chick.
2. A vintage mannequin is a true and unusual collectible
There are definitely a lot of folks out there who collect mannequins. Some may have been retailers or vintage dress afficionadios who initially began collecting based on need. Other used vintage mannequins as props or some just like mannequins.
The point is that a vintage mannequin is a collectible. It is sought after with a definite worth to collectors, particularly if it is kept in good shape. Plus how many people do you know that collect vintage mannequins? If you want to collect something a little bit different, then vintage mannequins may be for you.
And don’t forget the humor value. I keep my mannequins in my photo studio. It took several friends months before they stopped being startled by the extra “people” in the studio. Yup, more manly men letting out little yells than one could ever expect in a lifetime.
3. Vintage mannequins facilitate 1920’s, 1930’s, 1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s or 1980’s style
Ok, so you get my drift. Vintage mannequins have very different looks that are representative of the era in which they were made. This is definitely part of their attraction.
A mannequin from the flapper era can be found with thin eyebrows and tiny pursed lips. A 1950’s mannequin looks like she is just waiting for a triple strand of pearls and a cocktail. Starting with Adele Rootstein in the 1960’s, mannequins began to loosen up, taking both more natural and high fashion poses. You can find groovy mannequins, rad 1980’s style mannequins and more.
So if you want to display a vintage dress or set up a vignette from a particular era then a vintage mannequin is a great choice.
4. A vintage mannequin has solid workmanship
I went on a reconnaissance trip to retail fixtures stores to see several moderate priced mannequins when I first began looking for one. I was truly surprised. The new mannequins had oddly molded feet, places where it looked like someone had smeared extra clumps of fiberglass with their finger, poor paint, etc.
Many of the new mannequins also had inexpensive plastic fittings that didn’t look like they would last too long when changing out one vintage dress after another.
A vintage mannequin on the other hand is solidly made with metal fittings and fiberglass body parts.
5. Vintage mannequins are more unique
Some vintage mannequins that are heavily collected are recognizable as part of a line. Other mannequins, often from the 1950’s or earlier, are almost one offs, their counterparts long lost to the sands of time.
On the contrary, there are only so many new lower cost mannequins available. Modern, low cost manufacturers operate on volume and if you hunt around on mannequin sellers’ websites for a bit you will soon recognize specific models and lines. This may not be a big deal for some, but for others it would be a huge issue.
6. A vintage mannequin is budget friendly
Just like any other collectible, finding a great vintage mannequin is all about luck, tenacity and the right seller. But in general, vintage mannequins, or even a good quality used mannequin, will cost less than the $800 and up it costs to buy a new, good quality mannequin.
Are there downsides to a vintage mannequin?
Well there are a few, particularly if you plan to actively use a vintage mannequin. Probably one of the biggest that I never thought of originally was the heel height. I can’t get anything over a 3″ heel on my vintage mannequins. If you want to pair a vintage dress with a modern, high shoe, you are out of luck. Sure you can put a higher heel on a mannequin but it is going to list forward like a ship going down. Not a good look.
Some of the fittings on older mannequins are also more difficult to operate. Not so much of a big deal if you dress the mannequin and leave it for a period of time. But if you need to frequently change out clothing the screw in hand fittings like on my vintage Wolf Vine mannequin will test your patience. I had hoped for better when looking at a vintage Rootstein mannequin that used a rod to connect the hand, but that particular mannequin proved recalcitrant. The years had made getting the hand in and out of the fitting more akin to an extended isometric exercise. 8phv24*
Beyond the hand fittings, shoulder fittings can also be a challenging. Sometimes I find myself struggling to hook everything up, seemingly lost in a sea of 1980’s fabric.
Older vintage mannequins are also frequently secured to their stand via a derriere mount, which means you can’t put pants on them.
My solution. I did break down and purchase one new mannequin from a quality mannequin manufacturer, Greneker. It is one of the new “green” soy-based mannequins. It has a calf mount so I can put shorts on it and, perhaps the best thing of all, it has magnetic arms. What a joy! On and off in a flash although the first time I didn’t realize how strong the magnets were and got a surprise. So now I have three high quality Grenneker girls, one new and two vintage. All have different looks and different sizes which suits my particular needs.
And I do want to give a thumbs up to the nice folks at Greneker. Absolutely no vested interest in this other than to say we have a big focus on customer service at Penn Polly Vintage and obviously so does Greneker. They treated a one mannequin purchase like it was as important as a department store fleet order. Both David, their creative director, and Candice, in customer service, were terrific.
While this is an option, make no mistake, it take some skill to even just repair vintage mannequin parts. We have just finished repairing and refinshing mannequin arms. We patched, sanded, primed, and sprayed. It took a friend who is professionally skilled with a paint sprayer more time than he would care to admit to get just the right surface texture on each mannequin arm. Sure you can use a brush but it’s going to look like you did.
You can also find folks who specialize in mannequin refinishing and vintage mannequin makeup. Like anything else that depends on individual workmanship and artistic merit your results may vary. It is justifiably not an inexpensive exercise.
So would I recommend a vintage mannequin. Absolutely! They are unusual, cool, life size collectibles. And at Penn Polly Vintage, they earn their way.