Book Reviews preview: Transformations

Between personal matters and a looming deadline, Book Reviews is on hiatus this month. Coming next month will be a review of a study that is revealing itself as an engaging and in-depth look at the power of clothing to transform the wearer.  While this may not seem like a new, revelatory statement, Pravina Shukla’s book Costume: Performing Identities Through Dress argues forth the thesis that costume for performance, special occasions, or ritual does not “disguise” the “true” nature of the wearer, nor “trick” the viewer (a charge often leveled at fashion as well), but eloquently and intricately expresses multifaceted versions of self; these transformations are not superficial nor disingenuous.  She demonstrates this claim through a tight focus on individuals and close-knit groups that assert their identities through costume and performance in a variety of environments.

Any of us who have worked with historic costume in a museum or similar setting have experienced the power of a garment to transform a lifeless mannequin into a presence evocative of a human being, or the seeming magic of an inanimate dress form to transform a flat garment from a drawer or box into a nearly lifelike, three-dimensional state. But is it possible for a mannequin to transform itself?  Experiments at the Institute of Textiles and Clothing at Hong Kong Polytechnic University have resulted in a robotic mannequin that can immediately transform girth, height, and shape with the input of desired measurements into an accompanying software program.

An article on mentions that potential clients of this transforming mannequin (iDummy) could be fashion brands, custom clothing makers, and retail stores, but could this product be applicable to museum display of costume? Although the need for some kind of customization by museum staff will likely never change, could this mannequin or something like it greatly cut down on time spent customizing a mannequin for each ensemble? Intriguing is the future research of “embed[ding] the mannequins with pressure sensors, so they can ‘feel’ how tight clothing is” (Matchar, 29 February 2016). Could a mannequin of the future respond and morph to the dimensions of a garment as it is placed on the mannequin, and could this be done safely with fragile museum collection items?

As of this moment, the iDummy is very expensive, and it remains to be seen if the technology will become more affordable and customizable, or if companies will take to this new “morphing mannequin.”

Featured image from

Source: Matchar, Emily (29 February 2016). “This Morphing Mannequin Could Transform the Fashion Industry”,

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Available now: Punk Style by Worn Through founder, Monica Sklar, PhD. Find it at :, Powell's Books, or a bookseller near you.