Posted by on Jan 16, 2015 in Sewing | Comments Off on Dressforms

dressformsOkay, real talk time: If you are going to make clothing, whether for yourself or for other people, you will 100% need a dressform. There are no exceptions to this rule, trust me. You do not want to be trying to alter your garments while you wear them. It sucks. I’ve done it.

Now, I totally understand why you’re really tempted to walk away from this blog. Dressforms are expensive. If you’re just starting out and haven’t even made your first skirt (spoiler alert: that’s the first article of clothing we’re going to make), you’re probably thinking, “Lady, you crazy. Why would I spend all that money?” (Don’t worry, that’s how everyone talks in my head.)

I don’t blame you. I mentioned before that I’ve made lots of “costumes” for myself, and I only recently purchased my first dressform. Why am I telling you you need one then? Well, up until now, I’ve had the immense luck of knowing people who have their own dressform and would let me bring my gowns over to alter them on them. Sometimes, they’d even let me put my dress on my body and help me pin alterations. That’s just what you do in Renaissance societies.

Then I moved to Canada.

Not that I don’t love it here, but I totally don’t know any professional costumers or seamstresses here, so my dressform mooching days were over. I wasn’t here 6 months before I found my dressform, but more on that later.

For those of you just starting out on the whole making clothing thing, don’t worry. I’m not advocating going out and dropping $150-$500 tomorrow. In fact, next week, I’ll be showing you how to make your own dress form while you work out the financing for a real one. Today’s post is to help you on the research portion of your quest. I’m going to tell you about 4 different options you have when purchasing a dress form and you can decide how you’re going to go about purchasing one. Save for a year, if that’s what it takes. You’ll love your dressform when you get there.

Before I talk about the different options there are a few things I think every dress form needs. Except for one of my options I’m going to lay out, all of these forms have those features. On the other one, I’ll explain how to make it work.

Fabric body – With the exception of two projects I’ve done, having a dressform with a fabric cover has been the greatest thing ever. On the other two, I was hand stitching details onto dance leotards, and let’s just say, that’s not an every day occurrence.


Totally not a normal thing.

Adjustable height – Even though your height will stay the same (hypothetically), buying a dress form with an adjustable stand will help you make clothes on it all the better. I adjust my stand until I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my dress form. That means that the floor is now the same distance from my dressform as it is from me. My skirts and pants are able to be properly hemmed because of that.

Portability – I carry my dress form around everywhere. There’s no good place for me to put it right now, (I need a place that has a real sewing room), so it usually lives upstairs, but it’s much easier to work on some things down stairs, so I cart it all around the house. At the bare minimum, you should be able to turn your dress form when you need to and move it from one side of the room to the other. Some of them come with wheels while others break down completely.

Onto what your actual options are.

Let’s start with the most professional option. A studio dressform.

studio dress formStudio dress forms are what you’ll see on any show where they’re making clothes. They’re soft body and incredibly durable. You will most likely never have to buy another one. I have experienced that the sturdiness lends itself to being very heavy, so you should make sure to make use of the wheeled base. Unfortunately, these come in fixed sizes, and they are based on the standard pattern sizing for the industry. That means, that though Roxy (the company where I got the above image) has only 10 sizes available, You could easily pad the dressform up to your size. For more information on that, you should check out the Craftsy class on that subject. The other issue here is the expense. Of all the options I’m going to lay out today, this is the most expensive. Roxy had the “typical” (hate that concept) sizes (2-12) on sale for between $250 and $270 when I visited their site, but if you want “plus” sizes (14-20), you’re going to be paying between $280 and $360 for your form.

Pros Cons
Easily manually adjustable
Limited Sizing

Onto what I own, the adjustable dress form.

adjustableThis is the dress form that you’ll see in every single sewing store ever. They all offer different brands, but though I’ve seen several bloggers swear up and down that one brand is better than another, I really can’t speak to that. I’ve used several different kinds while “mooching” off of other people, and I really don’t see a difference. I will say, my dressform has huge round switches on it instead of the dials pictured on the dressform above, and I prefer that. Besides that, though, they’re all pretty much the same.

Every modern adjustable dressform I’ve seen is made of hard plastic coated by a thin layer of padding and cloth. That means you can pin into it very easily. This means they are so very light. I can pick up my dressform, stand and all, with one hand. I guess that means that they could break more easily than the studio dressforms, but I don’t hear a lot about that. They generally come in three sizes – child, “normal” (have I mentioned that I don’t like that word?), and plus-sized. My plus-sized dress form collapses all the way down to a size 8 or 10 and all the way up to a size 16. However, my hips are about 4 inches larger than its are. I can cope with that easily, but it could be a detriment if you’re not used to making your own clothes. They are also able to be adjusted manually (see above class), but it’s much more difficult.  On the other hand, because they’re in literally every sewing store, you can easily get them at a discount. Find what you want and start looking for sales. For example, Joann’s will put them on sale for $100 off. I got mine for 75% during model-year turn over (because dressforms, like everything else have model years). Many of these stores also have 40%-50% off coupons, but I’ve discovered that they’re remarkably good at putting the dressforms on sale when they’ve published a 50% off regularly-priced merchandise coupon. Regularly priced, these will run you between $260-$300. I admit that that price isn’t that much better than the aforementioned studio dress forms, but when you apply a 40% discount, you’re looking at $150-$180 which is a lot more acceptable. Save $20 every month for the next year and give it to yourself for Christmas.

Pros Cons
Commercially available
Less easily manually adjustable
Less Sturdy

Finally, the form I know the least about, the foam dressform.

uniquely youThe above pictured dressform is called “Uniquely You.” It’s a dressform made of super high density foam which means it can be carved down with an electric knife and then have a cover slipped over it to make it more like you. It can also be padded up. I’m guessing the foam will make this less heavy than the studio dressform and more so than the adjustable form. Unfortunately, though you can find the studio dressforms in a few upscale boutiques and the adjustable forms almost anywhere, these seem only available online. Beyond, that, I can really only tell you the price – it retails for $230 and the site I linked up there is selling it for $140. Of the actual dress forms I’m listing, that make it the least expensive. If you have a Uniquely You dressform and would like to add on to this section, please contact me.

Pros Cons
Not Commercially available

Okay, last but not least, the last possible bastion of purchasable dressforms the mannequin.


I want to be clear. I only recommend this as a temporary fix while you look for a regular dressform. for this reason, these are the lowest cost option – if you look the way I did. See, all the time, there are different clothing stores going out of business, downsizing, or moving. A lot of the time, these stores are selling off the display mannequins they use for next to nothing. See, mannequins cost a fortune, but when a store just needs to get rid of them, they sell them for next to nothing. My first human form for throwing dresses over was a $25 bust mannequin that I found on Craigslist. There are a few negatives to go with that price tag. They’re usually hard plastic, and they aren’t height adjustable. To fix this, I recommend, after padding it up to your size, put a t-shirt over the padding, and put it on a stool. It won’t be perfect, but it will certainly tide you over until you can afford a more professional one.

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, next week, I’ll be doing a three-part series in how to make a dressform that looks just like you.

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