How to Choose a Mannequin Head

Jan 13, 2023

Mannequins can truly be a hairstylist’s best friend. Over lockdown (remember that?!), I was thankful to have a mannequin to brainstorm and practice on. Best of all mannequins are at your disposal 24/7, they don’t ask for breaks or food or complain it’s the ideal scenario in many ways!

The saying “practice makes perfect” couldn't be more relevant to becoming a great hairstylist. The techniques of putting hair up and manipulating it into movement and shape are ideal to learn on a mannequin head. Can it completely replace practicing on a real person?... NO!. But short of holding someone hostage to practice on as much as you like, it’s the next best thing.


SO.. how do you pick the right mannequin?

In my opinion, if you can have a couple of options of mannequins that have a regular amount of hair and then a fuller density, that is ideal. That is of course coming from a self-confessed hair nerd that is constantly trying to find the next best thing, however, having the variation is more reflective of the real world and will improve brainstorming.


Which one is right for me?

Purchasing one that has shoulders, and an incredible amount of hair density and length is great for creating content for Instagram. However, these mannequins can give you a false sense of the real world when most clients will have half the amount of hair and a lot more slip to their hair. The knock-on effect of using a head like that is you can start to lose confidence in doing real clients whose natural hairlines don’t sit as perfectly as it does on a high-end mannequin head.

Having a mannequin with a more realistic amount of hair helps to keep things a bit true to life and is less of an investment if it is just for training purposes. The hairlines and density can be really frustrating and I do advise if possible trying before buying is the ideal way to go. Always make sure the mannequin can handle heat to the hair, ie it is not synthetic hair as this will melt. . 


  •  If you are looking for one for Instagram and photos- go for higher-end mannequin head with shoulders (retail about $500 NZD). This will allow you to add earrings and clothing options. 
  • If you are looking for one to just practice on, go for a cheaper model without shoulders, the hair will still be great to practice on and there will be less density, so it will be more like normal hair. 


Clamp verses stand

I find a clamp that screws onto a table is a lot better than using a stand. However, the clamp needs to be solid, the thinner version can be a waste of time. When the head is on a clamp on a bench you will need to turn the head around to work on the sides. It is not good practice to not be directly behind the area you are working on.

Using a stand helps you to sit the head as it would be if you have a client in a seat with room all around the head and not the bench in the way, you also have the option of setting a height that works best for you. The disadvantage of a stand is they don’t stay on the floor and can be wobbly. There is not one stand (in my experience) that I have found to be the perfect one. But I have found the type that gives you the option to stand on the base to hold it down is better.


Mannequins versus real people

Mixing your practice between having a live model with a head of hair, and a decent dolly head is the ideal scenario. I often hear lead makeup artists making comments about the best in the industry are those who have worked on the counter in their early training days, as the experience of working on all different face shapes, ages and complexions is the best learning.

The same goes for hairstyling as well. The techniques of putting hair up, manipulating it into movement and shape is ideal to learn on a mannequin head. However, it cannot stop there, as working on all different hair textures, lengths and hairlines on a real person will be the only way you will gain confidence and a high level of skill. 


Moving from mannequin to real people- key points to remember


  • The hair on a mannequin is a porous texture and has the stickability to sit in a shape easily. Which is not the case with a lot of real hair that has more slip and less porosity.
  • The head is often a little smaller than a real person’s head size, so sectioning patterns for planning a hairstyle can get out of proportion. When you do that same hairstyle on a real person you can be confused that the blending of sections is quite different and the amount of hair is more or less. Note : Mannequins with shoulders tend to be more true to life-size.
  • Bad habits can be made with hot tools or heat setting on the blow dryer getting too hot on the scalp or ears, a mannequin wont say ‘ouch’ if you have the settings too high.
  • Mannequins don’t have ears which can be very annoying when practising or brainstorming a style that needs to be tucked behind the ear



If you don’t have a mannequin and you want to keep your fingers nimble and try and extend your skill, make a macrame hanger as this is great food for thought for manipulating sections of strands … just clutching at straws to keep you inspired!