How to Buy a Dress Form

Posted by on Aug 17, 2013 in Sewing | Comments

The longer you sew garments, the more you come to realize that having another version of you on hand to fit things on would be incredibly helpful. Enter the dress form. It’s important to understand that not all dress forms are alike. There are thousands of types, all different from the other.

Woman Pinning Fabric on a Dress Form

Joi Mahone drapes using a dress form in Fast Track Fitting

Before dropping hundreds of dollars on your new studio buddy, we will get to know the basics.

The first thing to consider when shopping for a form is what its intended use will be.

Do you want it to be a body double for your body? This is ideal for fitting bodices, making alterations and draping new creations. Since the form is like your own, you can treat is as your twin.

Getting a body double dress form is usually done in one of two ways:

First, a custom form can be ordered to match your exact measurements. Of course, having anything custom made can be costly, but it can be worth it if you are diving into draping and pattern drafting.

Another less expensive approach is to make your own. There are a variety of tutorials online for many ways to custom make your own from duct tape or from plaster strips, much like how you’d make a cast.

One thing to keep in mind for hard-shell forms is that you will not be able to pin into them, since they will have a hard exterior. So consider making or getting a soft cover to fit over your hard-shell form.

Another consideration for a custom-fit form is the change in your body.

If you think you will never change an inch for the end of time, this is a good choice. But the reality is that likely you will change from size to size over time, or after childbirth, and having an alterable sized form can be a nice thing.

Enter the dial forms. Dial forms have little dials that adjust the size of each area of the body. These are perfect for when you are changing an inch here and there, but are not ideal if you are changing dramatically or sewing for others with completely different body types. Usually these are soft forms and can be pinned into and draped for all kinds of options. These are costly, but are significantly less expensive than a custom-made form.

If you often sew for others, then you will want to consider having a few dial forms on hand, or forms in set fit model sizes so you can confidently draft for other sizes.

It’s important to understand that mannequins are not dress forms.

So if you have a display supply shop near your home, do not assume that these are as good or as proportional as a real dress form.

Take time to take your real body measurements, ideally with a friend to help. Take them with you when shopping for your form. It can be a costly addition to your studio, but I cannot imagine not having another body on hand in my studio. I find it endlessly helpful, and once you have one too, I know you will say the same!

You might also enjoy our tips for draping on a dress form.


  1. glenda says:

    After sewing for years, I splurged on a dress form last year when I made my daughter’s wedding dress… and it was incredibly useful. It wasn’t a perfect fit, so we added a little batting to pad it slightly. I was sewing at her house, and forgot to bring it home with me. She sews as well and has gotten a lot of use out of it, so I think I should go buy another one for me and gift this one to her. After all, she is worth it.

  2. Sherry says:

    What do you look for when buying a dress form. What part of your body do you measure. I wear size 12 in store brought clothes. Would a buy a size 12 dress form?



    1. glenda says:

      Sherry… unfortunately the sizing for patterns is different than what we buy from retailers. It’s crazy, and it probably has something to do with our obsession with wanting to be a smaller size.
      There is generally a guide on the pattern envelope and in the pattern books… and there may be one online somewhere. Be sure to check it carefully or your garment won’t fit. (I’ve learned to make a muslin first… it’s a bit extra, but you don’t want to make mistakes on your lovely fabric!)
      And there are some great classes for fitting here on Craftsy!

  3. gillian Sutherland says:

    How appropriate! I’m currently saving up for a dressform, so this article has come at a good time. Thanks for formalising the thoughts going through my mind – I could’ve been reading this article! I’m coming round to the idea that a form with a dial would be best, as making one in my odd shape would be too difficult for me, and would likely end up with the pair of us (my colleague in the endeavour)in a fit of the giggles. As a plus-size, the dressform is going to be more pricey than if I were a sylph, but life is like that, alas. Why the sizes can’t be the same price – average out, it’s more fair and is democratic.

  4. Leonie Sutherland says:

    I made Barbara Deckert’s form out of gum-backed paper tape. It really is my twin. I have lost some weight so I will probable make another one soon. Cost: $8.00 and a couple of fun hours with a friend.

    1. Linda says:

      How did you do that?

      1. Cecile C says:

        Threads magazine has several articles on how to make a dress form. Go to and put “dress form” in the search box.

  5. Kathleen Mitchell says:

    Where can I buy a good dress form? Jo Ann’s doesn’t carry them here in North Panhandle of Texas. Shop only sewng for the family but do all kinds.

  6. DannyJane says:

    Not a very useful article. I was hoping that it would give a consumer’s comparison between the various kinds of dressforms available. I have an irregular sized figure and most commercial dressforms will not fit me. Hard forms are also out (I have one) because I am disabled and can not stand long enough for the shell to harden.

    What other alternatives are there and how much do they cost?

    1. Sheena Stubbs says:

      I live in England and have recently replaced my old form with a plus size Adjustoform Diana Model. I had a quick look on USA sites and boy it’s expensive there, about $250. You might want to consider purchasing from England and pay the shipping, it’s less in total

  7. Ben says:

    Intersting article. Thanks Christine! For anyone interested, we do sell a significant variety of quality dressforms ( at very low prices. We are here to answer any questions regarding the forms and we have many happy customers.

    1. Graeme says:

      Did not find any adjustable dress forms on your website.

      1. JillMarra says:

        You can buy one of the standard sized dress forms and then modify it with padding and a second stretchable cover. Buy one that is close, yet smaller than your own measurements. Then I bought a kit from Amazon called Fabulous fit to adjust to fit my current size. Good luck!

  8. Louise says:

    I have a plus sized body that flip flops between sizes and I purchased 2 Uniquely You dress forms off eBay. They are dense foam forms that include a cover which is tailored to your body then put onto the form. You can add additional padding where you might need to and the cover compresses the foam where you need it smaller. Very pinable which helps with draping or applique placement. Only problem I’ve had with mine is the bracket that holds it up on the pole doesn’t grip really well. But I’ve solved that problem by drilling a hole all the way though the bracket and post then inserting a pin to keep it from sliding down the support pole. Have also used dial type forms, but like using the Uniquely You forms the best.

  9. Sheena Stubbs says:

    I recently bought a new dress form as my old one simply wasn’t up to the job. As a plus sized woman I felt it was important to have as accurate a model possible and so went for an adjustable form. The adjustable models can be adapted over 3-4 sizes, mines a Diana and comes in fours sizes A, B, C and D Mine is C, (22-26) so you can get a very accurate figure shape. I have had no tweak the odd dimension and so far so good
    It makes a huge difference in the outcomes of garments and especially helps in assessing whether a garment design actually flatters your shape
    Money well spent and looking forward to many year so use.
    Ps. My husband nicknames my model as the “other woman in his life”

  10. Rita Lord says:

    I’m a plus size and have always wanted a dress model to help with sewing however I haven’t found one that has a long neck to waist measurement. Can you help. How expensive is the ‘made to measure’
    One you speak of and is it available in the UK? Thank you

  11. OrahLee says:

    The best dress form I ever had I foolishly threw away! even with some broken parts it was better than the new ones I have now. I too have a disability and cannot stand long enough to do any of the diy forms. This old thing was made of a wire mesh that TOTALLY adjusted for any-body. I could mush it for the tight fitting cowboy’s shirt, or shape it just right for my old-er neighbor whose breasts were much lower than a young or middle-age person, then for me if I needed to. The modern one I bought some years ago has plastic gears that adjust diameter of fixed objects, and they broke way too soon.
    Sigh. I wish “they ” would bring out a sturdy — really adjustable one, like the “antique” one I had, but then I couldn’t have to look for another every few years.

  12. Yvette W. says:

    I just got a dressform from The Shop Company (this one I think: and I am really impressed. It arrived very quickly and is of pretty good quality considering that these forms are half the price of any similar form I located.
    Please be aware though that their forms are not adjustable in size (only in height). They do offer many sizes (0-20 on the model I ordered – but they seem to be running out of certain sizes) but once you get the size you want you cannot change its measurements. I have found a company that does offer this ability for their dressforms but they are more than 3 times the price of the one I got.

  13. Memo says:

    Hi, i am looking to get a type of dress form however i am not sure what to get. I am starting my own clothing line selling them online, and i am looking to get a dress form to use as a model to display my clothing online. I want it for tops, dresses,skirts and pants. I am looking to only buy one form since i am on a budget and is still in process of opening boutique thus no revenue has been generated yet. However , i am not sure of the size to get because my model is 5’2, weighs 120 pounds however eventually models might change and instead of buying another dress form i was wondering if you have a dress form that is adjustable in size and height, let me know. thanks

  14. Paulette says:

    I am having a problem finding dressforms small enough.
    I have several 1880′s Victoran Gowns I want to display but even though they are adult they are so tiny they will not fit even my cage form nor my french forms
    Perhaps a 10 year old girl. What can I do?
    The skirts are fine. I want the around my Victorian home.

  15. fashionssuper12 says:

    Very nice tips and useful when going to buy anything….

  16. anybody petite sized here? have not found a dress form which is small enough for me – 5,1 or could be adjusted in the length in proportion – grateful for any hints on a particular brand.