Mannequin Appropriation Project

Buy an outfit, find a life

| September / October 2005

People like to say that clothes make the man, but nobody honestly believes this is true. I mean, why would they? Fabric is merely fabric; wool is simply wool. I think a better (but perhaps less practical) clich? would be 'clothes make the mannequin.'

Last week I needed a sweater, which is always a problem. I don't understand how to buy things; I always choke in the clutch. But in this instance I made (what seemed like) a brilliant decision: I walked into a Gap store and immediately purchased every garment the most eye-catching mannequin happened to be wearing. I actively became the human incarnation of an inhuman model, primarily because (a) I assume that the kind of people who dress mannequins spend a lot of time considering aesthetics, (b) this eliminated decision-making, and (c) I am somewhat mannequin-shaped. What I bought, I suppose, is an outfit, which is something I'd never done before.

Now, this outfit basically has three pieces: (1) a blue sweater that looks like something I would wear if I became an assistant coach for the North Carolina Tar Heels, (2) a collared dress shirt that you're supposed to untuck on purpose, and (3) new jeans that are designed to resemble semi-old jeans.

I wore these items the very next day; the moment I looked into the bathroom mirror, I could tell it would be a controversial move. I looked totally fucking different in every fucking context. 'Who is this person?' I thought to myself. 'I've never seen this person before.' It suddenly dawned on me that I could disappear into a witness protection program simply by combining a blue sweater with an untucked dress shirt.

I start walking to work, and I can tell that everything about my life is instantly weirder. I feel like a mannequin. And this feeling is fascinating, because I have no idea how a mannequin is supposed to feel; without even trying, I'm instantaneously projecting onto myself my fictionalized assumption about how it feels to be an inanimate object.

As I take the elevator up to the magazine that I work for, I anticipate that everyone in the office will have an immediate reaction to my sweater -- fueled redesign. I am absolutely correct. 'This is a stunning development,' says a fact-checker. 'Are you in love?' asks a woman I barely know. 'I am going to make my boyfriend buy that dress shirt,' claims an editorial assistant. On the whole, it seems, my 'mannequin appropriation project' is testing especially well with female audiences.

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