Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Saturday, November 9, 2013

When To Say No To Cross-Dressing

When we cleaned out the old storage location there were a bunch of odd mannequins from various stages of the museum's history. They ranged from homemade wood lumps, to life-size bendy stick-men, to mannequins from department stores. Trying to turn a new leaf and not just keep piles of old stuff "just in case," we decided to find new homes for things we weren't planning to use in the foreseeable future. For months now we've had three full-sized male mannequins hanging out in the conditioning room, waiting for that "new home." They added a nice creepy ambiance to the space. "Whoops! Can't set my supplies down there--that's where the disembodied arms are kept!" Finally, we listed them on a website for local historical societies. Free, but you have to come pick them up.

It wasn't long before we got an enthusiastic response from a small organization. Mannequins can be prohibitively expensive, so we felt warm and fuzzy about helping out another nonprofit. When they came to pick them up though, it seemed like they hadn't read the description carefully and were a little surprised that it was three male mannequins. But no matter. We cheerfully started loading them in the car.

When it was all done they turned to me and said, "So...these are male mannequins. But we have this wedding dress..."

...Do you think we can make that work?"

"Really? Even if know...pad the chest a bit?"

No girl. No. That will not work. 

Now, I realize the irony of using a drag queen gif to say you can't put a woman's garment on a male mannequin. But here is the thing: the human body is a magical, malleable, thing. People come in all shapes and sizes. Bodies can be squished, tucked, and padded. Men can dress like women, women can dress like men, and we can all question the gender binary. But a hulky fiberglass man shaped object? You might as well be dressing a tree trunk. 

Now, I could be wrong, and the dress is large enough to fit over a padded log. But I doubt it. It is probably tiny and built for someone who spent their life in a girdle. Adding breasts is going to be the least of your problems. The difference between male and female bodies is so much more complicated than breasts.

Despite what Michelangelo might lead you to believe
The shoulders, chest, waist, and hips are all going to be the wrong shape and size. Oh, and did I mention the mannequins had non-removable heads? Square-jawed, thick necked, man heads? Yeah. 

To review:

Men wearing dresses in real life?

Some exhibition where you intentionally cross dress mannequins to make a point about gendered clothing?

Attempting to make a male, fiberglass mannequin fit a woman's wedding dress and hope no one will notice?


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