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A Guide To Buying Dress Forms

dress form buying guide

It’s a stressful time to be a dress form. She (or he) is under so much pressure to do it all – be anatomically correct, have a posture that mimics a real, live human being, and withstand the a seamstress’ pinning, which can get gruesome. But they’re one weapon of many in our arsenal to achieve the right fit, correct proportion and killer design, so it’s important that our best buddies in our sewing studios stay that way – our best buddies.

There’s a lot to consider when buying a dress form. Just like a car, not all forms are created the same. While all have a base with a body attached, there are major differences in the build and the quality. So, in an effort to break it down to you, The Shop Company, an online retailer that has incredible prices for dress forms, sent me one of their forms to review as well as show you what to look for when you’re on the hunt.

types

There are two types of dress forms. The first is a standard dress form, and this is the lesser expensive, cheaper option of the two. It’s used mostly as a display tool for sewers and retail shops. With a price below $100, it’s a good choice if you don’t plan to use it for pattern drafting, draping, etc. The second type is a professional dress form and these are used by sewers who want a more anatomically correct and adjustable form (collapsible shoulders). They cost much more than standard dress forms ($150 and above), but the price justifies their durability and versatility. For the sewer who wants to use the form as a tool for drafting, draping and designing, this is your best bet.

 

dress forms

Do you want your dress form to be a body double or simply a hanger for in progress work? When I first investigated forms, I wanted one that would be my body twin, an exact replica of me. But the reasoning didn’t justify the price I would pay for a custom form. I was 18-years-old at the time, and since then, my body has changed and will continue to change. So why make a short-lived, hefty investment? Also, will you be making pants or mostly skirts? If you’re answer includes pants, you’ll want to purchase a form with legs. The same goes for sleeves and arms.

 

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pinnable

All professional dress forms will be either fully pinnable or partially pinnable. Fully pinnable forms have a thicker layer of foam that allows for the direct insertion of pins, which is very helpful when pinning heavy fabrics to the form. It will be hard for pins to hold up the weight on a partially pinnable form, since the pins can only go in at an angle.

 

collapsible

Collapsible shoulders allow you to put tight fitting clothing onto a dress form. When you put a tight-fitting garment over your head, you raise your arms , and this makes your circumference measurement slightly smaller. Collapsible shoulders mimics this movement.

 

other_ways_to_adjust

For most of us, a dress form will be in the ball park of our measurements, but not exact. To get it as close as possible, pad up areas that need more width. Another option for adjustability is to buy a dress form that has dials which allow sewers to adjust critical areas like the bust or the hips. While this is super helpful, it also creates problems as there are gaps in the dress form that make pinning difficult.

 

diy_dress_forms
Can’t afford either option? Make your own! The supplies to make one won’t cost more than $50 and there are a ton of tutorials online.  Melissa Jenkins, owner of Katastrophic Designs and one of my sponsors, even posted a tutorial on Madalynne not too long ago!

 

So, if you’re in the market for a dress form, professional or standard, check out The Shop Company. They not only have a large selection of forms, but also fixtures and display options (racks, hangers, etc) at amazing prices. Happy shopping!

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32 Comments

  1. Reply

    Erin

    Oooo! I really want a dress form but I wasn’t sure about a non-adjustable since my measurements go across so many sizes. Do you recommend going with the smallest measurement and then padding the rest? My bust is the size 0 and my waist/hips would be the size 8/10.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      Yes! That’s exactly what I would do!

  2. Reply

    Jen C

    I looked at the Shop Company dress forms and they are very nice. But buying a dress form if you are petite (and by petite I am referring to height, not size) is near impossible unless you have the option of custom made ($$$). Very few companies cater for shorties. There is no point having a form with the correct bust/waist/hip measurements if they are at the wrong level vertically. Shoulder length and back width are generally an issue too. I have searched for ages and the only company I can find that makes a genuine petite form is Alvanon. However their market is the apparel industry not the home sewer so their price puts them out of the range of most home seamstresses.

    If you have any sway with The Shop Company ask them to make their ‘Professional Female Dress Form w/ collapsible shoulders’ in a petite (under 5’3″) size range! As far as I can see they will be the only moderately priced one available in the market.

    • Reply

      Zoe May

      I second this! Not sure I have it in me to try a the construction foam or duct tape methods…
      A collapsible shouldered dress form with petite proportions would be a total dream come true! We can only hope 🙂

      • Reply

        Maddie Flanigan

        That would be a dream come true to you and I both (I’m petite as well). I will definitely let The Shop Company know. In the meantime, the best thing I have found is to know how my body differs from the form so I know what corrections to make.

        • Reply

          Melissa

          I would love a petite dress form. Being a little over 5’2″ has made it difficult to use a normal form. Near enough so that the length from bust to waist and waist to hips and neck to waist are proportionally petite. I’m happy to then pad where needed and use my block to sew a cover.

        • Reply

          Sylvie

          Maybe purchasing from China over USA is important to you, it is for me even if it is more costly. I like to keep jobs here and will make some sacrifice on not spending in other area to be able to afford the more expensive items. This said The Shop Company is made in China. I bought and will receive very soon a Royal dress form made in USA. I looked at Wolf also but the measurement where a bit closer with the first company. I do not know if Royal make custom but Wolf does. I thought about an other solution for you. If you are crafty, you could purchase a used collapsible in the smallest size and cut it where it need to be shorten and put something to “caster” the 2 end together. I have seen a blog about this but it wasn’t a collapsible. Sometimes we have to look outside the box, good luck.

    • Reply

      Grace

      I work with alvanon forms and they really are great!

      • Reply

        Jen C

        That is great to hear because I have splashed out an ordered one of their petite forms!

        • Reply

          Maddie Flanigan

          Couldn’t agree more! Alva forms are great!

      • Reply

        djemel

        hello grace
        i french and i’m writing you from Paris ..
        could you tell me where did you get your alvanon form ?
        thank you

  3. Reply

    ShanniLoves...

    I made my own dress form several years ago using the duct tape method. I
    use it all the time but the tape has started to get gummy. I’ve thought about making my own again. Melissa’s tutorial looks interesting. The dress form you’ve shown here is beautiful!!

  4. Reply

    Lady ID

    I bit the bullet and ordered a body with legs earlier this year from The Shop Company. The prices were decent and Gertie had a discount code. I’m still going to write about the experience but I haven’t had a moment.

  5. Reply

    Elise Harris

    I got a size 2 from the shop company a few months ago. I’m still working out some sizing issues but I’ve made several garments that fit me well with it. I’m very happy with it!

  6. Reply

    Amy

    Hello lovely! You make a great point about choosing a purpose for the form. I’m such a sucker for dress forms but I don’t really use mine for fitting. Even if I had a body double I don’t know how much I’d actually use it. It’s fun to have as a hanger, whether for works-in-progress or my scarves and jewelry, though!

  7. Reply

    lmcwethy

    I’ve been wanting a dress form for several years but I have some as the same issues (petite and weird measurements that would require a lot of padding). I tried the DIY route using the plaster casting method, but I ended up slouching because the plaster started slipping, so the posture was weird. I did use it for a while, but I referred to it as pregnant Laura. 🙂 For my birthday last year I got a Uniquely You dress form, which is a pseudo DIY model, which is a highly compressible foam and comes with a cover you fit to your exact dimensions. I’ve been lazy and haven’t gotten around to fitting my cover yet, but I think it’s a really good option for non-standard sizes, although it is in the more pricey category.

  8. Reply

    Sue

    Im thinking of buying my first dress form but I’m not sure which one to get. I cut it down to 2, a professional collapsible shoulder dress form like the one here or a full body collapsible shoulder. I mainly do skirts, shirts, and dresses. I want to begin making pants. It is worth buying a full body dress form when I’m not sure how much pant sewing ill be making? Can i still use the regular dress form to fit pants (if i remove the metal skirt piece)? besides the full body dress form being good for fitting pants, what else is good that will justify me spending that much money? Please advice.

  9. Reply

    willie

    Lamodeldisplay.com offers 10% coupon# 201210 to buy your first professional dress form. It has full body and half body sewing forms. Good luck!

  10. Reply

    Donna

    I am a plus size girl but have a hard time with dress forms as the shoulders are always to wide. I measure 14 inches across and most are 16 and up. I also have a 45 in Bust and a 40.5 waist and 50 in hips. I have a dress form but the shoulders are to big (16 in) and doesn’t give a true fit. Do they make a dress form out there that you can adjust the with of the shoulders?

    • Reply

      Sylvie

      Hello Donna, I do not know how long ago you did write this question. I have contact Wolf dress form for myself and of course I am all over the chart (from size 8 to 16) depending on where I measure. They told me that I could have a dress form that is made to match me and is more pricy or have it made with a different top and bottom then I would probably have to pad it just a little. I hope that it can help you because I never thought that they could accommodate this way.

    • Reply

      LJ

      This is exactly my issue with all dress forms. The broad shoulders on plus size forms make them entirely unsuitable. How I wish someone would realize the need for a quality form for petite plus size women!

  11. Reply

    April l McLeod-Baker

    Are you happy with your size 2. I make dancewear and really need a form. I am pretty close to a size 2 myself and most of my clientele is going to be a size 2 or 4 (a 6 is actually a medium/large in the dance industry) I am wondering if I should buy a 2 or a 4. Any thoughts?

    • Reply

      Sylvie

      April, I would purchase a size 2 and pad it if necessary for size 4 clients. If you have the place for the 2 dress form go for it (time is money) ALSO depending where you live you can look at Craigslist in N.Y. it is amazing how many dress form are for sale there. Good lck

      • Reply

        April l McLeod-Baker

        Unfortunately I am in los angeles and they are rare here for some reason. I am will be in new york next week but I am not sure if they will let me have a full body dress form on my lap on the plane ride home :). I will probably have to go with a cheap one from ebay. Thanks for your feed back on the size I haven’t pulled the trigger because I just wasn’t sure, one of my good friends who I make things for a lot is a pretty solid size 4 but for a ballet dancer she is more curvy skinny but with a figure shape, most of the other dancers are pretty straight up and down, more of a 2 but longer. I never thought of padding it that is a good idea. I can’t have 2 dress forms no money or space. So thanks you have set me on a 2 then I could try and do clothing for myself too.

        PS. I am in love with your website. It is so beautiful and you have such great stuff. I am defiantly going to take advantage of your free bra pattern, it is so beautiful. Would you ever consider doing sewing classes via Skype? I am just learning 🙂

        • Reply

          Sylvie

          April, I just looked on Ebay and there is a Royal dress form size 4 that is half the price of a new one including shipping AND they have Or best offer…. I looked for size 2 and I saw on C..list that there was a size 2. Depending where it is and your time you could ship it yourself home. I became obsess in finding one for myself and finally I got a Royal collapsible and 2 arms and instead of having it ship UPS they where kind enough to ship in 3 box with USPS because the I can’t receive from UPS where I live. again, good luck keep looking

          • April l McLeod-Baker

            Thanks so much for your help. I will check it out. I need a full body with legs and arms as I am doing leotards, unitards and tutus 🙂

          • April l McLeod-Baker

            any option on the off brand ones you can find for around $400 on ebay?

          • Sylvie

            For myself it was very important that it was a dress form that was made in USA and not China. That meant Wolf, Royal and I do not remember the other name. I was also looking at vintage Bauman, Superior and Palmenberg.
            I never seen full body in those brand. On Esty you can look at the Royal full body for 935$ plus shipping but the smallest is size 4 (they all have different measurements for the same size #) You see that this subject is one of my passion! Ciao

          • April McLeod-Baker

            I would much prefer made in the USA also but unfortunately 900 is way out of my price range. Maybe I’ll hold out for a while to see if I can find a used one on clist. Is the other made in America PGM? I will keep my eye out for a while for one of those three brands before pulling the trigger on one of these off brands. What are your thoughts on the size 2 vs 4. If the 4 is a bit bigger than most of my work and myself. Would a 4 still work for me? If I was to find a size 4 in a good brand? Sorry for all the questions. I so appreciate your expertise and I haven’t pull the trigger on a dress form for so long because I never had an experienced option to guide me. Thank you!

          • Sylvie

            I don’t consider myself a expert but yes I did research. PGM is made in China, my daughter saw and touch one and told me that knowing me I would not be happy. There is also the Shop Company , I emailed them same thing: made in China. I emailed in Hong Kong because I was really curious about the iDummy that is $11000 plus shipping ( for now). This one I predict will be selling because it does give you the shape that you want in 8 seconds. Prior to this you have to enter all measurements.. Imagine a designer with many forms representing many client and now in 8 second has exactly what needed and save all of the space. Why did Americans not think about this one! I am not anti Chinese but we need to keep our jobs here. (AND I am Canadian!)
            About the sizing, when I was looking on Ebay I had to ask sellers to give me some measurements: shoulder to shoulder, bust, waist and hips. For one year to an other the sizing change. Even brand new from Wolf to Royal to (to save my life I would not find the name in my brain) they have different measurements for the same size #. Look into the mannequinmaddness blog and company, you can put your name on a list and if they have one used they will let you know. Roxy dress form has a show room/ warehouse in California. Cheaper but a lot of sizes. Remember that buying good quality is just purchase. Buying cheap, you might not be so trilled down the line.
            Do you have a friend in N.Y. that could ship you a form sold on C…list. I have seen FANTASTIC prices because people move and want to get rid of them. Good luck

  12. Reply

    Ms. D.S Wijerarthne

    It is need to buy Missy professional full size dress from in size 06, 08 & 10 for conduct Degree programmes in the Open university of Sri Lanka. PLease give contcacts of delaers or send the process of how to buy to my email. dswij@ou.ac.lk

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