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The Practical Dress Forms Buyer Guide

by George Blitzer October 27, 2017

The Practical Dress Forms Buyer Guide

We want to help you make only informed and practical decisions that will help your business. This is why we've created an all-encompassing guide to help you choose the perfect type of dress form that will fulfil your needs and will look beautiful in your store or home. 

If you are also searching for the best mannequin for your business is, check out our guide on the 18 styles and types of mannequins for stores 

Let's get right to it and find out what are the main types  

Dress Forms 

What exactly is a dress form you ask? 

It is a three dimensional model of the human body that is used for fitting clothing while it is being created, designed or sewed. When tailors make a piece of clothing, they use a dress form to see how the item fits, if not, to adjust or alter until it becomes what the tailor or customer had envisioned. It replicates the figure of a woman or a man, from the neck down to the thighs. This form, in turn, is attached to a stand or base.  

Dress forms come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and suit a large range of clothing types. Simple dress forms are used to make patterns while the adjustable versions allow for the item to be tailored according to an individual's specific measurements.  

Fun fact: The female dress form is named Judy and the male one James.  

Before deciding on the kind of dress form you need and like, take a minute to think about its use. What are the features that serve your purposes or help you with your business? 

Dress Form Construction Materials 

If you've been wondering how dress forms are made, check out the video below: 

<iframe width="420" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/pv2odJBeJ1U" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> 

  • Wood- This type of dress form is impractical nowadays. It was used in the 18th century, when the shape was crafted exclusively from wood, having an iron frame overlaid to support the luxurious dresses and skirts of that time. You can still find wooden torsos but they serve purely a display purpose, or are a scaled model used as a decoration. Some of the present dress forms can have articulated wooden arms. 
  • Wire- Dress forms crafted from metal wire have a vintage feel and are used mostly for decorative and display purposes. You can display clothes, scarves, hats and purses, drape it with colorful materials and showcase jewelry with it. It is lightweight and easy to assemble so it may just be the perfect solution for expo's, exhibitions, fairs and trade shows. Wire dress forms can be used for dress making but are not recommended for professional tailoring.   
  • PU(Polyurethane) / Foam- The shape shifter of the bunch, foam dress forms can be altered to create an exact replica of the body with the help of the cotton cover. It is fully pinnable and is perfect for personal tailoring or even professional use.  
  • FRP / Fiberglass- Fiberglass is a hard plastic used to create the center of the dress form, on top of this, a layer of foam and / or of fabric can be added to make the form partially or fully pinnable. 
  • Rattan- Woven in the same manner as rattan baskets, this type of dress form has an earthy feel to it, being used mostly for display purposes or even for sewing if covered with cloth, but it is not a professional solution. 
  • Cardboard- The video above explains it all.  

Dress Form Features 

There are a few features that make all the difference when it comes to professional tailoring or showcasing clothing in retail.   

Partially and Fully Pinnable 

This feature refers to actual pins used by tailors when they want to piece together an item of clothing or when they have to make and mark some adjustments. It implies the material used to craft the dress form and the fabric used to cover it.  

Partially pinnable dress forms are crafted with a thinner layer of foam that allow for these pins to be inserted only from certain angles as to not deteriorate the surface of the body. 

Fully pinnable dress forms are made using a much thicker type of foam that allow the pins to be inserted anywhere, directly, without wearing out the material. 

The cloth surface that is used to cover the dress forms is designed to hold pins as well.  

Collapsible Shoulders / Hips 

This feature allows for the dressmaker form to be dressed and undressed easier, due to the fact that the shoulders and hips drop down. It is aimed towards professional tailors and designers.

Magnetic Limbs 

Some dress forms can come with both arms and legs that can be attached and secured with the help of magnets. Shoulders can also have magnets thus making them removable and facilitating the process of getting the garment on and off of the torso. Retailers can use this feature more than tailors, when displaying products, it helps create a much more realistic image that the customers can relate to, just like in the case of mannequins.

Roller vs. Stable Base 

A roller base is helpful if you have to move the form within your workspace or store. The wheels come with breaks to ensure that once it is set in the desired place, it won't move, not even while handling it. 

A stable base can be crafted from any kind of solid material such as wood, ivory, metal(various colors or chrome), cobblestone, heavy duty plastic, and so on. It can be a tripod base or a round base that stabilizes the body.  

Adjustable Height 

Adjustable height suggests that the rod between the actual form and the base or stand can be set to a desired length. It helps when having to consider the height of the customer and / or if she or he is wearing high heels. Another functionality is for the comfort of the tailor spending hours on end while hunched over a dress form isn't healthy at all. Of course there is another advantage and that is when considering display purposes, it helps bring the products to the level of the shopper's eyes. 

Measurements 

Measurements for dress forms differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, if you want to purchase a from for personal tailoring then you have to match your own to the dress form of your choosing. However, if you wish to sew professionally, you have to take into account the fact that not everyone has the same shapes and sizes so an adjustable form will probably be the better choice.  

Dress form sizes can range from a size 1 to 20 and are available in male, female and child form.

Types of Dress Forms 

There are quite a few types of dress forms you can choose from but it all boils down to your specific needs and how much you are willing to invest in one.  

Standard vs. Professional  

Standard dress forms are the ones designed to have a visual impact, for its appearance and ability to display items of clothing perfectly.  

Professional forms are crafted purely for their function, to help the tailor design and modify clothes efficiently. Professional forms come with a cast iron base. These kind of forms are created with the help of papier mache or cardboard, padded with a layers of cotton wadding and covered in linen.  

These can have a classic dressmaker form with a skirt cage or a full body complete with legs which is called a full body form. 

Both of them can be used in the context of retail and both can be used for sewing. The difference is that a standard dress form is cheaper and will serve the retailer better while a professional one is much more expensive and will serve a tailor better.  

Adjustable Dress Forms  

Adjustable sewing mannequins are a must have for professionals, although it can also be used for personal tailoring. They are fantastic simply because they can replicate a real human body, curves and all.  

This kind of sewing mannequin has adjustment dials or wheels for the bust, waist, neck, back and hips. The dials are turned and the parts of the body are mechanically expanded or retracted to the desired measurements of the body. They can also dispose of adjustment keys, but this depends on the manufacturer's design.  

They can cover a wide variety of sizes and body shapes, offering the customer of the tailor a perfect fit. It allows for better cutting, fitting, fabric work and so on, simply because they can offer a personalized shape, according to customers' specific measurements. 

Most of them come with a specialized pin holder and adjustment key holder on the top of the neck, as well as hem markers to help tailors in their quest to create the perfect item of clothing.  

A visual merchandiser, a fashion merchandiser  or a retailer who wants to design a window and ensure that the outfits are displayed perfectly, will choose an adjustable dress form, with the possibility of pinning some excess fabric in the back to adjust the fit.  

Sewing Mannequins / Tailor's dummy / Dressmaker Mannequin 

Designed for professional use, these dress forms are crafted with a hard inner shell and are covered with foam and fabric to provide a pinnable surface. These are in general torso-only dress forms that can come with a single or a dual connectors, this referring to the pole that is found underneath it. These connectors allow for the pole to be moved from the middle of the form to its side, to facilitate the display of pants.  

Tailor's dummies are the simplified version, that do not allow for the shape to be altered with the help of dials. They come in one size, being perfect for personal dress making but appropriate for professional use as well.  

3D Printed Dress Form 

Yes, you read correctly, the development of technology offers the option of creating a doppelganger. By using a 3D scan of the body, an exact replica can be created with the help of a 3D printer. These forms come as a section of the body that include everything from the mid-thigh to the neck(without the arms). This makes them perfect for every type of clothing, including pants. The fully adjustable stand is a feature that helps you replicate your height.  

This type of form is also able to reproduce fine details of the body, such as bellybuttons, collarbones, muscle shapes and outlines, spine curves,  and more subtleties of the human form. It is also not limited by gender, height or weight.  

This is rather expensive because of the processes involved and of the materials used, you can check out the DittoForm to gain a better understanding. It is needless to say though that this kind of dress form is perfect for personal tailoring.  

Half-Scale Forms 

These are perfect for beginners in sewing and tailoring and are a somewhat cheaper alternative although it can't be used for full scale outfits. They can be used to create design prototypes, fabric assortment and others. Some of these forms can have a pinnable cloth surface completely manufactured with seams so students or hobbyists can practice their craft.  

They can also be used as a decorative dress form in the house or in stores. 

Decorative Dress Forms  

Decorative dress forms serve a display purpose only. This includes wire dress forms, rattan dress forms, those with printed covers and others that can be used for photo shoots by photographers, as movie props, in exhibitions and trade shows, in window displays, by artists (sculptors, fashion designers) and as home décor.    

DIY: Duct Tape, Plaster Casting and Papier Mache Dress Forms  

As expensive as some dress forms can be, there are also DIY options to help you make one for personal tailoring. As fun as this might be to make it is not recommended for professional use and is rather inappropriate for stores, unless you have a specific décor or window design in mind.  

If you are interested in creating a duct tape dress form, you can check out this tutorial from Handimania which is rather easy to follow and make. Basically, you just have to get a few supplies(duct tape, a stand, pillow filling or something else to stuff the form, cardboard, scissors and so on) and a friend to help you out.  

Plaster cast dress forms are more difficult to make than the duct tape forms and require more work for a fine finish, but as an advantage over them, we have the fact that it is much more durable. What you need for this kind of DIY form is: quite a few rolls of plaster bandages, expanding foam or foam pads, polyurethane varnish or other sealants, cloth, scissors, gloves and so on. If you want to create such a dress form, check out Jezebel's tutorial 

The last type of DIY dress forms is the one made from papier mache. You might as well apply the principles you learned in school while making papier mache projects. For this particular type of dress form you will require paper tape, scissors, garbage bags, masking tape, cardboard and so on. It is not as resistant as the previous ones, especially to water, so you have to pay attention. As a stand you can use PVC pipes, cardboard tubes, old lamp stands and so on. We have a tutorial from the Making It Well blog.  

You can also combine the idea of plaster casting with papier mache and create basically a mold of your body. You can find a tutorial for this kind of DIY dress form on the Thread Magazine website.




George Blitzer
George Blitzer

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