‘Perfect’ mannequins can sour shoppers on clothing being marketed: UBC study

If you find yourself window-shopping and feeling like there’s nothing good, check the mannequin.

A recently published University of B.C. study found that mannequins’ long legs, tiny waists and perky chests can cause some shoppers, particularly those with low self-esteem, to be turned off from the item of clothing the mannequin is marketing.

“When that mannequin is an example of perfection, it reminds people who are vulnerable that they don’t measure up,” said study co-author Darren Dahl, who teaches at UBC’s Sauder School of Business. “The problem is the beauty ideal that mannequins represent. When people feel they don’t meet that ideal, their view of the product dims as well.”

For the study, Dahl and co-author Jennifer Argo, a marketing professor at the University of Alberta, asked a number of participants about their self-esteem and body image. The participants were then asked to take a look at a bikini being worn by a mannequin.

The first part of the study found that those with lower self-esteem were more likely to have a negative opinion about the bikini worn by a mannequin. The result was the same for men and women evaluating a female mannequin.

But when researchers skipped the mannequin and displayed the clothing on a hanger or somehow damaged the mannequin by marking its face or removing its hair or head, participants were found to have more favourable opinions about the item of clothing.

The same result also occurred when participants were asked to list the qualities they liked in themselves before evaluating clothing worn by a mannequin, or when they were asked to evaluate items of apparel unrelated to appearances, such as umbrellas.

The study is believed to be the first of its kind. As a result, Dahl believes the study could have profound implications for the global apparel industry, which is valued at $3 trillion.

“When consumers know what pushes their buttons, it’s empowering,” said Dahl, who suggested retailers use half-mannequins, which are less expensive and less threatening to a consumer.

The study, titled Standards of Beauty: The Impact of Mannequins in the Retail Context, was published in the Journal of Consumer Research this summer.


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