Male mannequins go on a diet

The waifishly thin "Homme Nouveau" reminds us that skewed body expectations affect men, too

Published May 4, 2010 7:50PM (EDT)

There was a time, I'm told, when mannequins were supposed to look like real people. They're forms for designers to use to fit clothes without having a real human being around. But increasingly, mannequins have become more aspirational models than reflective of the actual average human body. British mannequin maker Rootstein is rolling out a new model next month that looks more like Michael Cera than a Ken doll. The latest form, dubbed "Homme Nouveau," is waifishly thin, with a very Victorian 27-inch waist and a chest spanning 35 inches. According to New York magazine, this is a noticeable shift from the classic 1967 model, which had a 33-inch waist and a 42-inch chest. The measurements of male mannequins have been reducing steadily over the years, even as American men's actual pants size has been getting bigger: The average waist size in 2006 was 39.7 inches. L'homme nouveau, meet l'homme rél.

But obviously, fashion logic operates on a different plane. New York quotes Dov Charney, the founder of American Apparel, complaining that mannequins are usually so big "we can't even fit our largest size on them." Given the cultural obsession with skinniness -- the sleek, metrosexual look coupled with emaciated hipster chic -- it's sad, but not shocking that mannequins are much smaller than the people who wear the clothes they're flaunting. Some commenters on the New York story expressed hope that the new forms would usher in slimmer-fitting clothes, complaining that regular sizes are just too big. But for most American men, "Homme Nouveau" doesn't reflect any kind of physical reality. It's just enforcing the same unrealistic body expectations that have plagued fashion for decades.  Body shame might help sell clothes, but it's still a bad model.

By Margaret Eby

Margaret Eby has written for the New York Times, The New Yorker, Salon and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, she now lives in New York City.

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