“Use me!” insisted the mannequin emphatically to the fashion marketing executive, “it will cost a fraction of what you will pay with models. You won’t need makeup artists. It will be easier to control photography costs, and I can focus all the buyer’s attention on the clothes without the distraction of pretty faces and sexy bodies.”

“Don’t listen to that plastic dummy!”, countered the model. “Buyers want to see the clothes on real people. They are interested in what kind of person would wear the outfits. They enjoy looking at beautiful faces and sexy bodies. That’s part of the appeal. Everybody knows that sex sells, and there sure isn’t anything sexy about an empty, headless mold”.

The question is a fundamental one that should be considered carefully when marketing clothing. Should we shoot on models, mannequins, or simply lay out the clothing items and shoot it flat. We have shot fashion many different ways, sometimes even in combinations of models, layouts, and mannequins.

I think most photographers would agree that shooting fashion on models is by far the most exciting way to image clothing designs. The option of movement, the interaction with a real person, the appreciation of a model’s physical beauty and charisma, all adding to the appeal of the clothing, are things that we photographers love about fashion photography.

The right model has a way of enhancing the effect of a fashion design that a mannequin or a flat layout cannot possibly compete with. Customers that shop for fashion really enjoy the story lines implicit in fashion editorials that are shot on location. That’s why models on location appear so frequently in the top fashion magazines. Even with catalog shots in studio, the expressions of the models can be intriguing, and powerfully promote the sale of an outfit.

But is it true that working with models is more expensive and time consuming than using mannequins? Remember that mannequins are not free. One needs to rent or purchase the mannequins, and depending on the size and quality of the mannequin, renting or purchasing them can add up.

Consider that models do require makeup artists and stylists. Mannequins, however, only require stylists. But remember that models can dress themselves quickly. Mannequins are labor intensive in the sense that someone has to dress and undress them. It generally takes longer to dress and undress a mannequin than it takes for a model to put on and take off the same outfit.

It is true that the time and number of images shot to photograph an outfit on a model is typically much greater than what would be needed photographing the same outfit on a mannequin. With a mannequin, variations of pose and expression are nonexistent, so capturing an outfit to best advantage can usually be accomplished in a few shots. With models there is an infinite range of pose and expression to work with. It is a process of exploration, and the photographer must have the skill to know when the photos needed to best feature the outfit have been taken.

The undeniable advantage of working with mannequins is that all the attention of the buyer is focused on the clothing. There are no distractions from the color, style, texture, and impact of the clothes themselves. There are no subliminal negativity factors based on the buyers’ distaste for a model because he/she reminds them of someone they dislike. With mannequins the seller can also sidestep the ethnicity factor. Because age and ethnicity are much less apparent with mannequins, the clothing is free to appeal to a much broader buyer demographic.

Consequently you can see that when one considers all the variables, the question of model or mannequin is complex. We think the choice is best made when our clients focus on the kind of statement they want to make about their fashions. It is the fashion marketing person’s decision. If you are selling clothes with an attitude, you may prefer models. If you are selling clothes with amazing color and texture you may want to use mannequins. The choice is yours. We are there to make it happen as you wish, with models, mannequins or both.