Styling for The Person, Not The Mannequin. Top considerations for styling in-store, digital and real-life.
Outfitting & Bundling
April 21, 2019

Styling for The Person, Not The Mannequin. Top considerations for styling in-store, digital and real-life.

Mannequins and dress forms serve a great purpose in the retail world, providing a perfect canvas for brands to create dimension, excitement and visual diversity. When a mannequin is dressed from head to toe in a new collection, it can look stunning. It’s the tool that draws people in from the street to shop; the difference between someone seeing a lifeless garment on the hanger versus fully shaped on the body figure. There’s no doubt these picture-perfect dolls increase revenue and drive traffic, but often only a small fraction of shoppers actually have a similar body type. Here are a few factors visual merchandisers and stylists need to keep in mind when styling for maximum shoppability.

Body shape and height

Whether you’re pulling off the arms and legs to dress a mannequin, or playing around in a digital platform like Stylitics, ask yourself, “Who is going to wear this?” Many brands offer sizes ranging from XXS – XXL, but exclusively style for the 5’11” model with a slim “hourglass” shape. A prospective buyer sees an outfit and is excited to try it on, but disappointment sets in when it doesn’t look quite right on her. Not only is she discouraged by her purchase, but she’s much less likely to return to the store – even after just one poor experience. She wants to trust the retailer to tell her what will look best on her, and it’s often a one-chance scenario.

Body movement and flexibility

You’re styling for the real-life consumer so considering her lifestyle is essential.  Maybe she has kids, an 80-hour work week, or sits in a car to commute four hours a day. When retailers reflect lifestyle elements such as movement or flexibility in the way items are presented, it offers a more personalized and relatable experience that can breed trust and customer satisfaction.

Common styling mistakes to avoid

When styling for digital platforms or for in-store mannequins, it is easy to overlook important details that can make a significant impact on consumers satisfaction and trust:

Bell sleeves or peasant tops under cardigans or sweaters.

Or any additional layering for that matter. On a dress form that doesn’t move or bend, these items can look good but in real life, these types of sleeves bunch with movement and ride up under the cardigan to create unnecessary volume. Same with layering thick fabrics (like flannel) under thin fabrics (like chambray.) It may look visually beautiful on the mannequin, but it won’t drape properly on a woman running errands.

Belts where they don’t belong.

A belt is a visual horizontal break in one’s outfit. It will automatically draw attention to wherever it’s placed, and many women don’t like the focus around their mid-drift. If the outfit calls for a belt, make sure that enough is going on around the neckline – jewelry, textures, etc., to draw attention upwards, or a jacket layered over the top to draw attention away from the visual break that the belt creates. Also, consider different widths and closures when styling with belts. A belt with a traditional buckle closure that is less than 1.5” wide is usually worn through belt loops with trousers or jeans. A wider belt with a decorative closure or elastic band is typically worn around the waist of a dress or skirt as an accessory. Focus on accessorizing with jewelry, scarves, or sunnies instead.

Uncomfortable or unpractical accessories.

You definitely want to show off an array of jewelry, sunglasses, and snazzy heels to showcase more items and spark inspiration. But too often, outfits include impractical items that don’t fit the customer’s lifestyle. Perhaps a casual outfit paired with sky-high stilettos won’t work for a grocery store run. Or showing piles of chunky jewelry with activewear won’t cut it when trekking a toddler around town all day. Consider the customer, why she’s shopping, where she’s going, and what would work best for her. Nothing beats a happy customer saying “yes, that is perfect!” Once you’ve built that trust, she’ll come back for more – and that’s when you show her the jewelry to go with that new dress she bought last month.

By storing these few notes at the front of your mind when styling, you know you’re keeping your client happy and meeting her expectations. You’ve already got the quality raw materials, all you need is to do is gain the customer’s trust, and show her that you’re listening to her needs. Nurture that customer’s loyalty, and show her that she can look and feel her best in your clothes.