buying a dress form or mannequin

August 7th, 2012

I think one of the things most people start wanting when they get serious about sewing is a good dress form. I know when I was in Uni I really wanted one, but they all seemed so expensive and i really didn’t know where to start looking! But I was really quite blessed, because my mother in law let me borrow her mother’s (Chris’ Grandmas) vintage adjustable dress form. It’s honestly a wonderful form – and to this day it’s one of my favourites that i’ve every used.  When we moved to the USA we came with pretty much nothing, so I was back at square one again – what to do about a dress form?! After being spoilt with using such a nice adjustable form, I was really quite devastated with the low quality and high price of pretty much every form i found. I actually tried a couple of different adjustable forms around the $100 mark – and was sorely dissapointed with all of them. Anyway, since then I’ve used a couple of different forms for different functions, so I thought I’d give you a bit of run down of each, and my thoughts on them, as well as where you can get comparable ones, and what you can expect to pay. Please keep in mind this won’t be an exhaustive list – but i’ll do my best to put down everything i know.

Fair warning: dress forms are not cheap. Sorry to be the one to say it…

This is a Singer adjustable. The upside: It’s your cheapest option, and they’re pretty easy to find – you’ll see them in most sewing stores. Since it’s adjustable if you change sizes or like to sew for family or friends it’s quite convenient. Pretty much all of them are height adjustable & come with a hem length guage. Downside: In my personal opinion, (excuse my french) it’s a piece of crap. I hate it. It’s very light, wobbly, flimsy, and put together terrible. I find the proportions very odd – the difference between the waist and bust is so small that i find it never works well for me – plus the bust is something like an A cup which means it has to be padded to work well for a standard B cup. The only time I really used this form a lot was when i was making a few things for my sister in law, and working on my debut collection and couldn’t fit things on myself (i was 7 months pregnant). I honestly believe this form made the process frustrating. Also something that isn’t immediately apparent – most of these forms don’t have collapsable shoulders – this can make them  useless towards the end of consructing some garments as you simple can’t get the garment off (or on) over the shoulders! Don’t get me wrong – they’re still useful, but its important to know the negative aspects as well when you’re considering buying something.

Common brands:

Where to buy:

  • Amazon.com (probably the lowest shipping prices you’ll find)
  • Ebay.com
  • Allbrands.com (where i bought my Singer form)
  • Almost any sewing store (big chains include Jo-Anns and Hancock fabrics in the USA. In Austalia i know they have them at Spotlight and Lincraft)

As a last note. I have been told that you can find adjustable dress forms of higher quality, but I have done a lot of research and honestly cannot find one. If you know of any brands that offer higher quality forms of an adjustable nature, please let me know as I’d love to include a link here so other sewers can find them.

I think it’s important to point out that a display form is different to a sewing form. A sewing form typically has lots of padding so you can pin fabric to it, and also tends to have a very standard shape – much closer to real anatomy than a display form. A display form is simply created to make clothing look it’s best. They generally do not have a lot of padding (if any), the proportions tend to be odd, and the height is not adjustable. My display form has very wide shoulders compared to the hips and waist, and a rather pointy bust. When it arrived at my house I honestly freaked out because it looked so weird. I was upset. Till my husband convinced me just to try it. And honestly, i was blown away. It makes clothing look amazing. Having said that, I would not drape onto this form as it is not created for that purpose.

Where to buy:

A professional form is a very high quality form made for sewing that is created in a specific size. More care is taken when producing these – they are generally hand finished if not completely hand made, most come with collapsable shoulders, a more anatomically correct form than adjustable forms and other conveniences like skirt cages and easy height adjustment. You also have the choice of a half form (only extends to the mid thigh) or full forms which include legs and often arms. You can also buy additional fitting arms and maternity attachments etc. The option are quite endless.

Since I was lucky enough to be sent my PGM professional form I have honestly been blown away by it. I was quite trepidatious at first – since the idea of working with a dress form in one set size freaked me out (Since becoming a mother I have honestly been 5 different clothing sizes). But I am 100% sold now. These forms are very solidly made, much easier to use and the form is very correct. I love mine, and i believe it’s aided my draping a lot. Obviously though, there are downsides. They are expensive. Really expensive – so i know that is a huge investment. Then there is the lack of adjustability. Since I tend to use mine for my clothing line, more as a piece of professional equipment than as a hobby piece, I bought it in the size i tend to draft my first samples in, which is in all honesty a size smaller than i am (gasp! hehe). But funnily enough, since it’s such a pleasure to use, I don’t seem to mind too much making little adjustments for my slightly larger size when i do use it for me.
I would honestly recommend this form for any one who is very serious about sewing, or who does a lot of draping (like independent designers).

Common Brands:

Where to buy:

DIY versions

I’ve seen a lot of people try and make duct tape or paper tape dress forms, and i have to be honest here – they always look like total disasters. Very lumpy and hard and i honestly can’t see how they would be helpful. It’s something I looked into in a moment of desperation when Chris and I were first married, and to be honest, I would much rather struggle through fitting a garment on myself than use this kind of form. the end.

But if you’d still like to give it a try, here are a few tutorials i found around the place.

Don’t underestimate fitting on yourself.

I think most people want dress forms for draping – but there are some (and i was one of them) who think that it will reduce how often you need to try things on yourself. So i just want to say this, please don’t underestimate the importance of fitting things on yourself, as well as on the dress form. No matter how accurately you try and replicate your own figure on a form, garments will always always sit differently on people. We are softer, our shoulders tend to slope, hips can be uneven heights – and those are just a few differences. I use dress forms a lot, but i always always test things out on myself and a fit model too. It’s a must.

My recommendations?

  • Try to find an old dress form someone is getting rid of – try craigslist, friends etc. I scored a vintage dress form from my neighbor because I happened to see her clearing out her garage one afternoon when i was going for a walk.
  • Even though I do hate them, it might still be a good idea to start with a cheaper adustable form in the beginning. I would try and get one on super sale if i was you – because i absolutely do not believe they are worth their price. I honestly think a professional form is the best best best option – but I think for a lot of people the cost won’t justify it. If you know you will be using it all the time, or have used other forms before – then i believe them to be worth the investment. But as a very first form for a beginner seamstress? Maybe not.
What about you?  I”m sure many of you have tried various different form options – any thoughts or tips you’d like to add?

36 Responses

  1. Bri says:

    My lovely mother bought me an adjustable form quite a few years ago and it’s been wonderful but I really did love the pro forms we used in school and that is my ultimate goal for a form.

  2. Carmen says:

    just FYI, this is another good tutorial for making your own using a plaster cast.. I’m actually about halfway through it and so far it’s not coming out too badly. Although I am excited to finish it. I’m also getting nervous about the final stages. That said, with ebay and Amazon I only had to spend about $60.

    http://jezebel.com/5803791/how-to-make-a-custom-dress-form-part-one
    (part 1 of 2, link to part 2 is clearly noted in part1)

    • Meg says:

      Thanks Carmen!! I’ve added the link above :) I’ve never seen a plaster cast one before! I know my Ouma tried to make something similar once – but she just poured plaster of paris on herself – and it was a huuuuuge disaster. Lots of tiny pieces being pulled off her. yikes!!
      I’m so glad to hear that yours is turning out well!! XOXO

  3. Carmen says:

    you’re very welcome!
    and oh my gosh!! that sounds like a fiasco. hahaa you do need a partner to help apply the strips of plaster (for the link i gave) but it wasn’t bad at all.. now to finish it! thanks very much, i will post a photo when i’m done :) xo

  4. Kristine says:

    I have a cheaper dress form that I bought a few years ago. I tried to pad it like myself and never could get it right. So I’m going to do a duct tape one and put it onto my dress form. I sure hope this provides a more accurate model of myself.

  5. Thank you SO much for posting this!! I have been seriously considering purchasing a dress form and I have been completely at sea over the differences and which would be right for my needs.
    THANK YOU, AGAIN!!

  6. Kristal says:

    This post came at the perfect time thank you! I’ve been looking to buy a dress form for a while now but haven’t been able to justify the price. Here’s a link to another paper tape dress form tutorial which I’ve been considering trying that looks like it turns out pretty well… http://makingitwell.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/i-made-my-own-dress-form.html

  7. Kianna says:

    Hi! I’m wondering if theres a size you can recommend? I’m freelance sewing my designs for different clients and I’m thinking a dress form would help with the process. I just nake my designs in a general model size to be photographed in photoshoots and such. So I think that if I got a general size, like one typlically used in the fashion industry, like the typical model size, I’m wondering if you could help me figure out what that size is? If theres a standard dress form size the industry uses? I’d really apreciate the help! Btw I loove your blog! Hope to hear back soon!
    Thanks! :D

    • Sam says:

      I do agree with ur question on what size to buy…but after being a designer for awhile, i decided on a size i want to showcase MY clothing (also its the size of my model)…most NY models are sizes 2-4..and heights range from 5’11″ to 6’4″… so u might ask how i know this, im an ex NY model!

  8. Lizzy says:

    I’ve got an adjustable form and it’s no good for me I cant make the waist small enough as the chest pops back out. Nightmare. I got it off eBay as the petite form at Lincraft is $399! The cheaper Singer is only $170 but it’s too big for me.
    I made a dress to display at work, we have dress forms (it’s a gallery). And to my immense surprise it fit perfectly. It’s slightly bigger than me but we got the dress on. I’m going to buy a display form from the same supplier (shop fitters). You can get them in a range of sizes and they are styrofoam cloth covered and about $100. I’m buying the same model the local museum uses for displays. Clearly my build is not retro but old-fashioned little.

  9. [...] the market for a dressform to add to your sewing tool chest? Be sure to read this post [...]

  10. i saw this today on another blog – Alva are having a 30% sale. thought it might be useful to some of your readers!
    http://inhousepatterns.com/blogs/news/6428126-alva-form-sale

    i recently bought an adjustable one cheaply second hand. it might not be the best thing to use but it will do me for now – it’s lightweight, inexpensive and can easily be packed away if you don’ty have the space to have it out all the time.

  11. Thanks for sharing this tip…you are confirming what I feared…you will never 100% eliminate the need to fit on a body, i.e. me. I was looking at Alva forms…waiting to save up and for them to sell overseas

  12. soisewedthis says:

    Thanks for putting all of this helpful info into one blog post!!!

    I bought a dress form off craigslist for dirt cheap, but it ended being too large. I was considering buying a new dress form, but wasn’t sure which brand to buy and didn’t want to spend a whole mortgage payment. Thanks for the advice that it’s still best to just fit to the body. I’m going to keep doing that and maybe keep checking craigslist for an older model that someone’s getting rid of for cheap (and that will fit!) Thanks!!

  13. Amanda says:

    My mom fondly refers to her newer adjustable dress form as barrel-chested Betty. Her adjustable form from 15 years ago is far more accurate in the bust/waist ratios and includes the shaping of actual breasts, not just a wider rib cage to account for bust measurement. How I wish she would pass it down.

  14. Amber Smith says:

    I know it’s odd but i love my adjustable dress form but not the way it came. I am way large busted so i set the measurements as close to what i am and put a long sports bra on the dress form and padded the bust and tummy where my chub is then a added a butt with stuffing to keep this all in place i made a “sock” (jersey tube) to go over it with a neck cut out and rolled it over everything adjusted to make sure everything was in the right place and it works great. A month or so later i was told there is a company that makes almost the same product for dress forms to individualism them. http://www.fabulousfit.com/ their’s are the foam bra pads you see in the store but the same idea.

  15. Alexandra says:

    I can’t say enough good things about Alva Forms. The forms are developed from actual body scans so the shape and proportion of the forms are incredibly realistic. The company is quite well known in the fashion industry. The cost of the forms can be prohibitive for a home sewer but it’s really the next best thing to getting your own body scanned. They have a new form called Alva Studio which is aimed at independent designers and is a bit less expensive than their other options. I’ve worked in the fashion industry for over 15 years and used many different brands and Alva Forms really are the best forms out their for body shape and quality of the form itself. Even the stand is amazing!!! No, I don’t work for the company but maybe I should. :)

  16. Alice Elliot says:

    Granted, the duct tape dress form can become quite a mess after not too long. However, my first one looked so much like me that I had to dress it in a big shirt before I’d let anyone see it! And I could finally fit my back! But shortly after I had used it for that purpose it kind of exploded and I had to get it re-taped. So it’s a good thing to have short-term for fitting your back, which you must admit, is not easy to do on one’s self! Long term, I’d get a Wolf if I could afford it.

  17. [...] Nielsen has some great tips on purchasing a dress form or mannequin – helpful for sewers and other online [...]

  18. Cassandra says:

    I too tried the full gamut of dress forms. The adjustable ones sold to home dressmakers are just not worth the $150+ IMO. These days I have a PGM like form however most of the forms sold in the US are not avail in Australia and they won’t ship (one comp did offer to ship at approx $700AUD). I have a TinnaFashion labelled form and I adore it. Cost be about $330 + 50 to have it delivered to Queensland.

    Worth every cent!

    Also, I averaged out my measurents to pick my size dress form and now my dress form is significantly wider than I through the hips – making it hard to get clothing I’ve fit to my body on her. I wish I’d taken my smallest measurement and purchased that then added padding. I guess I would advise others: buy small!

  19. Linda says:

    Hi, I wished I had earlier read ur blog post before I went to purchase a display form to use and drape a wedding gown am making instead of a proper dress form. I got hooked working with it when I realised dat d hip is way too high than a normal hip length. Am so sad right now cos I wld hv added money to that and bought a proper dress form. Pls does anyone want to sell any fairly used prof dress form.

  20. Gjeometry says:

    Oooh, I JUST came home from seeing some used display form mannequins. He wanted $120 for it and I thought that was a lot. Also, I am new to sewing and I just didn’t know if it was what I was looking for. The measurements were not too far off my own, but didn’t know how it would differ from a sewing dress form. Here you say it made the clothes look great. So, do you think these are a good choice? Also, how would you fit pants onto a dress form? They have no crotch area. I’m still not sure what kind to get. I’m new to your site and am loving it and will follow it now. Hope to hear from you.

  21. [...] Megan Nielsen — buying a dress form or mannequin 0 07 Jan Posted: [...]

    • Karen says:

      Hi Megan,

      I was wondering if you would be interested in buying a vintage professional dress form. I believe it’s circa 1920s’ and size 6. It belonged to my great-great aunt who made a living sewing haute coutour and eventually became head steamstress for Lilly Dache. My email addy is orbit0501@aol.com.

      Please let me know if you are interested or if you know anyone who might be.

      Thanks,
      Karen

  22. giancarlo says:

    Im a new fashion design student im looking to buy a dress form for my home studio, I was wondering what size should I get to have just one form to fit my samples and put in on the catwalk in the near future.
    at school we use size 8, but runway models are size 0-4

  23. Jubah Fesyen says:

    Bila baca cerita nie… saya terkejut gak… apa pun saya setuju
    dengan awak… post nih akan di share di fb..
    thanks for this info..

  24. Tanya ainsworth says:

    Do any of the dress forms take into consideration the length from shoulders to waist ( and breast). All the dresses and shirts I buy don’t fit. I think the length from my shoulders to waist is shorter.

    • Meg says:

      Hi Tanya!
      The only dress forms that you can really customize to your own requirements are the adjustable kind (they expand and contract at the waist). But even then, it may be an issue for you if you can’t make it shorter than you need. I’ve heard there is a company that does completely custom forms to your measurements, but i’ve never been able to find a link unfortunately :(

  25. Your blog are impressive to each other.its very useful to me.I read your blog its very good and friendly, Help ful for all.

    < a href ="http://japanmannequin.com/">DISPLAY MANNEQUINS MANUFACTURER.

  26. good website they are giving a good services Dress Forms Manufacturer contact this.

  27. Figure Forms says:

    Hi,
    we offer a large range of dress forms and tailoring mannequins, supplied to the home dressmaker as well as industry. All forms are anatomically accurate and we also offer custom size services. Our company has recently developed a durable soft dress form which is ideal for the home dressmaker and fashion student. We are based in Cape Town RSA but ship worldwide. please contact us for more details: http://www.figureforms.co.za

  28. Rose says:

    I was wondering if it’s better to get the smallest size mannequin then adjust it to a size 1,2,4,…And so on or get an average size , I want to be able to make different sizes so I can have practice with all kinds of sizes and also so there will be more availability for buyers once I sell.

  29. Matt says:

    I was actually looking around for quite some time for affordable dress forms both professional and for display, prices could be quite expensive!
    Until i found this seller on amazon with prices that really cant be beat.

    WOW was i excited :)

    Here are some links of great items i purchased from them for unbelievable prices:

    http://www.amazon.com/White-Female-Dress-Tripod-Wooden/dp/B004COAO38/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1396987260&sr=8-1&keywords=B004COAO38

    http://www.amazon.com/Dress-Form-Professional-Collapsible-shoulders/dp/B002QDP32O/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1396987325&sr=8-1&keywords=B002QDP32O

  30. Matt says:

    Here is a link for their amazon store if you needed anything else they seem to have a lot of items.

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/browse.html?ie=UTF8&marketplaceID=ATVPDKIKX0DER&me=A1X9XJGJN1DON9

  31. BEVERLY says:

    I am so glad I found your blog. I too have been wanting needing a dress form and am lost. Your tips and suggestions are great and I think I know what I’m going to do. Thanks again.

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