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October 09, 2016 4 min read

When King Tut’s tomb was opened in 1923, Howard Carter found a legless, armless wooden torso of a man. It was right next to his chest of clothes and was according to exact size measurements of the pharaoh. This might have been the world’s first dress formdating from 1350 B.C.

The famous Roman Emperor Nero’s wife had also had a lifeless form in her image to be used as a model helping in review the clothing. The look and form of dress form hasn’t changed much since the Edwardian era.

Although used together or for same purposes, dress forms and mannequin are not the same. The mannequins has faced innovation and evolved from different form of materials, faces and still continues to evolve further in coming time.

Mannequins are the typical eye candy displayed at the store window. The dress form, usually known as “judy” is more of the behind the scene thing.

For thousands of years, mannequins and dress forms have been around serving the same purpose: dressing the royalty. They were only used by the royal dress maker and were exact replica of the kings, queens and gradually the aristocrats.

Dress forms were made privately and specifically for the rich and were certainly not for sale. They did become standardized to an extent by the 16th and 17th century.  Initially, dress forms were made of heavy wood, wicker and papier-mache but soon wires, fabric versions were introduced. By 18th and 19th century, you could see dress from at the local tailor’s.

Now dress form are seen in sewing studios. Tailor’s and even your own home as well. Being a dress from is a tough job. The pressure of doing everything is intense not to forget the constant pricking and prodding of pins and to be perfectly postured. With the increasing demand and focus of people and society to have the perfect figure, the dress form is under the taxing task of having the right human posture.

When buying a dress form, a lot of things need to be kept in mind. Dress forms are quite similar to cars. And like cars, not all forms are the same not created exactly alike either.

Although all the dress forms have a base with a torso or body attached there seems to be a considerable difference in the quality and build of it.

So what to look for when buying a dress form? Following is a breakdown of the things that you may need to know while you are on the hunt for it.

Types of Dress Forms:

Essentially, there happen to be two types of dress forms.  The first one, standard dress formhappens to be less expensive therefore affordable option amongst the two. Standard dress forms are usually used by sewers or retail shops as well. If you don’t plan to use it for draping or pattern drafting, it is a good option if the price is below $200.

The second type of dress form is the professional dress formthis is mostly preferred by sewers who are looking for a more adjustable or erectly postured form (collapsible shoulder).

They happen to cost much more than the standard dress form usually $250 or more. But the price tends to justify the versatility and durability of the professional dress form. The best bet for those who want to use utilize the dress form for designing, draping as well as drafting.


Now the question that arises now is how you intend to use the dress form. Would it simply function as a hanger while work is being done or would it act like a body double?  It is not wise to get a body double as eventually the body changes so it will not be wise to make such a hefty investment and that is so short-lived.

Another point to ponder is what you will be stitching most - pants or skirts? If you are doing pants, you will need to have a dress form with legs. Similar goes for legs and sleeves.

Fully or Partially Pinnable:

All the professional dress forms come partially or fully pinnable. Those that are fully pinnable tend to have a thicker foam layer which enables direct insertion of the pins. That is very helpful when heavy fabrics are to be pinned to the form.

On partially pinnable dress forms, it becomes difficult to pierce the foam as pins are unable to hold the weight of fabric. And the pins can only be inserted at an angle. That become bit problematic.

Collapsible Shoulders:

It is important that you get collapsible shoulders as they allow you dress a form in tight fitting clothes. When you raise your arms before wearing a tight-fitting dress, this action makes the measurements of your circumference bit smaller, having a dress form with collapsible shoulders, mimics the exact movement.

Other Adjusting Options:

Most of the people who need a dress form, it happens to be in the ball park of their measurements, but not exact. To get it closer to your measurements, the areas that need more width could be padded up.

Another option of adjustability of the dress form is to go for the one that has dials. These dials help in the adjusting of the critical areas like hips or bust. Though it does help, but also creates gaps making the process of pinning difficult that is why creating a problem.

Do-it-yourself Dress forms:

If you find the dress forms available in the market way above your pocket, you could make one on your own. There are so many tutorials available online and it will be cheap. The supplies will hardly cost you $50.