Are you curious about investing in a professional dress form?

A professional dress form is an indispensable tool for fashion designers and seamstresses.

And home sewists also can reap the benefits of using a dress form.

Unlike mannequins you’d see at the mall, a dress form for draping is designed to accurately re-create the shape and proportions of the human body.

It’s constructed from high-quality materials that will last for years, and an industry-grade dress form may be the key to your next sewing evolution.

In this article, you will discover:

  • The benefits of owning a dress form
  • How to determine a dress form budget
  • How much you can expect to spend on a professional dress form
  • Features of a professional dress form
  • Nice-to-have dress form accessories
  • Buying a new vs. used dress form
  • Where to find quality used dress forms

There’s lots to learn about pro dress forms. Grab your pins and measuring tape, and let’s go!

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The Benefits of Owning a Dress Form

I have TWO dress forms, Bernadette (misses-sized) and Debra (plus-sized). They are DIY dress form sewing patterns from Bootstrap Fashion.

I am a big-time dress form evangelist.

There are three major reasons why having a dress is the best:

1.) It can be your body double. You can pad a dress form to your shape and measurements, which makes fitting a heckuva lot easier. A dress form lets you see fit issues on a body without contortions in front of a mirror or constantly getting dressed and undressed.

2.) You can play with draping. I use draping to develop sewing patterns, and my dress forms are invaluable tools. A dress form lets you see how fabric will fall and how garment proportions work on a body.

3.) It will save you time and money. By refining the fit of a sewing pattern and testing garment designs on the form, you can avoid costly mistakes and make alterations before cutting into expensive fabric.

If you’re a fairly serious home sewist, I see you eyeballing those benefits with more-than-passing interest. 👀 (You’re in good company.)


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How to Determine a Dress Form Budget

If getting a fancy-schmancy dress form sounds appealing, there’s some stuff to consider before talking dollars and cents.

Your sewing practice will directly influence how much dress form to buy. Answer these questions:

🧵 What is your skill level?

🧵 How often do you plan to use the dress form?

🧵 What type of projects do you like to work on?

🧵 What are some of your overall sewing/project goals?

If your answers implicate daily sewing machine use and projects that are complicated to fit, an upscale dress form probably will treat you right.

Now that you know how you’d use a hypothetical dress form, you can start figuring out how much the right one will cost.

How Much Should You Expect to Spend on a Professional Dress Form?

The cost of a professional dress form varies greatly depending on the type, size, and features you require.

A quality dress form can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

To give you an idea of what you might expect to pay, I researched the cost of dress form brands often found in fashion design schools.

My thought was that schools are going to invest in high-quality, long-lasting professional dress forms that will stand up semester after semester to student use.

I compared the cost of female, full body, size 8 dress forms with no arms (arm forms usually are an add-on). These costs do not include shipping.

Dress Form BrandCost with Link to Product
Alvanon$2,425*
Superior Model Form Co.$865
PGM$639
Roxy Display$439
*This is a quote from Alvanon for a Classic Make, Off-the-Rack Collection, Standard North America sizing, full-body form. Alvanon’s full-body forms come with arms (as far as I can tell). Of note, though, are additional costs: $135 for handling and $1,597.54 for shipping. The shipping figure surprised me, and I asked what it detailed. The forms are made in China and shipped from Hong Kong by air, door to door. Shipping includes import duties and taxes. So, the total quote from Alvanon is $4,157.54 (form + handling + shipping). Of these four brands, I am not surprised that Alvanon is the most expensive; they have the greatest number of features and accessories; if you click the Alvanon link above ($2,425), you’ll see what I’m talking about. FYI, the Netflix show “Next in Fashion” uses Alvanon dress forms.

Types of Dress Forms

Dress forms come in many shapes. This info comes from the University of Fashion’s Introduction to Dress Forms online class.

👖 Full body: Also known as full bifurcated. Torso + legs. (P.S. Start calling your trousers bifurcated skirts. 👍)

👖 Half body: Torso without legs. Sort of looks like a torso in a mini skirt.

☝️ A straight-skirt back half body form has a flat booty (better for draping).

☝️ A shaped-skirt back half body form has a shapely booty (better for formal and tight-fitting garments).

👖 Full torso: Torso with legs (bifurcation) until the thick part of the thigh. You could do most sewing/fitting/design stuff with this dress form, because you can do hip/waist/tum work, which is the tricky lower-body biz, with it.

👖 Lower torso: Waist, abdomen, booty, and legs until the thick part of the thigh.

👖 Upper torso: Shoulders and bosom.

👖 Slacks form: Also known as bifurcated pant. It’s the lower half, from waist to ankles.

Behind the Cost of Industry-Grade Dress Forms

There are several factors that can affect the cost of a professional dress form, including (but not limited to):

Materials

The types of materials used to construct the dress form can significantly affect its cost. For example, a dress form made of fiberglass may cost more than one made of plastic.

According to my research, pro dress forms usually have a “body” made of fiberglass and/or paper maché. Some Alvanon forms have a body made of foam to mimic the squish of tissue.

Then they’re covered with cotton rib, foam, or felt (something for pins to sink into). And the outer layer is linen or another sturdy, non-stretch woven.

In the fashion industry, many dress forms are covered with “red edge linen,” which shrinks to a form when wet and molds to its curves.

Size

Larger dress forms require more material to construct, because they have more surface area. For example, dress forms with legs not only require more material for the legs themselves, but also for the attachment points and mechanisms needed to securely attach the legs to the torso.

Features

The more features a dress form has, the more expensive it likely will be. Features such as collapsible shoulders and hips and moveable arms can all increase the cost of a dress form, because they require more materials and engineering.

Moreover, dress forms with many features may be more expensive to manufacture. Complex dress form designs may call for specialized tools and equipment and possibly additional labor.

Speaking of features…


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Features of a Professional Dress Form

Here’s the fun part: geeking out about features of a pro-level garment-fitting dress form.

The following features (presented alphabetically) are often found in professional dress forms:

🪡 Collapsible shoulder and hip: Make it easy to take garments on and off.

🪡 Mounting system: Most industry-grade dress forms will have a heavy (likely cast iron) base with casters. The form may sit atop a pole or hang by the neck from a pole.

🪡 Neck plate: Covers top of neck.

🪡 Pinnable surface: Critical for draping garments. Industry-grade dress forms are direct/fully pinnable; pins may be directly inserted into them and don’t have to go in on an angle (that would be partially pinnable).

🪡 Shoulder plates/caps: Cover arm openings; arm forms usually are sold separately.

🪡 Height adjustable: Raise and lower the dress form. Especially good for fitting longer garments.

Dress Form Accessories

Dress form accessories can also add to the overall cost of a dress form.

When choosing accessories, consider your specific needs and the types of garments you will be sewing.

Here are some add-ons (in alpha order) to consider for your sewing practice:

✨ Arm form: Can be added to the dress form for draping sleeves and testing fit.

Cover bag: Keep dress form dust free when not in use.

✨ Hem markers: Help the user achieve even hemlines.

✨ Leg form: For draping bottoms and testing fit. (Not all dress forms accept leg forms.)

✨ Maternity belly: For designing maternity garments.

Stretch fabric cover and padding: If you don’t buy a custom-sized dress form, you will need to pad out a slightly smaller dress form to match your desired body dimensions.

Buying a New vs. Used Dress Form

When shopping for a professional dress form, you can buy new, or you can buy used. Each has its pros and cons.

New Dress Form

Pros

-Warranty and support from the manufacturer.

-Get the size and model you want, when you want it (vs. hunting for a used dress form that you may never find).

-Some manufacturers offer custom sizes.

Cons

-More expensive vs. buying used.

-Used dress forms may provide identical function.

Used Dress Form

Pros

-Save money.

-May be able to buy a dress form model that’s no longer manufactured.

-More environmentally friendly.

Cons

-Form could be beyond its useful life.

-Less likely to have customer support from manufacturer.

-May require repairs, deep cleaning.

-No guarantee you’ll find what you really want.

Ultimately, the decision to buy new or used will depend on your personal preferences, budget, and the availability of models that meet your needs.

Where to Find Quality Used Dress Forms

Let’s get into pre-owned dress forms. Here’s where to look for quality used dress forms:

👗 Online marketplaces: Websites such as eBay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and Buy Nothing Project groups can be resources for finding used dress forms. Try sewing-focused forums, too — e.g., PatternReview.com, sewing subreddit.

👗 Sewing and fashion schools: Many sewing and fashion schools upgrade their equipment periodically and sell their older dress forms. Contact schools to see if they have any available. Here’s a list of schools from the University of Fashion.

👗 Sewing and fabric stores: Some stores that sell sewing machines and other sewing supplies also sell used dress forms.

👗 Estate sales and auctions: For treasure hunters of vintage and unique dress forms. Keep an eye out for these events and be prepared to do some bidding. Hot tip — explore online estate sales and auctions.

👗 Classified ads: Can’t hurt to check your local newspaper or classified ads website for listings of used dress forms for sale.

👗 IDS (International Design Supplies): IDS, based in L.A.’s Fashion District, sells supplies to fashion designers and fashion students across the country. IDS also has an inventory of pre-owned dress forms that changes regularly. To satisfy my curiosity, I checked the cost of shipping a full-sized form from Los Angeles to my home in Milwaukee; it’s about $100.

Now that you know where to look for pre-loved dress forms, keep these tips in mind before you buy:

➡️ Check for damage or wear and tear.

➡️ Check the joints and seams to make sure they are sturdy.

➡️ Check whether it’s directly pinnable.

➡️ As much as possible, research the seller. (Always good advice when buying used goods.) Ask if they accept returns should you change your mind.

➡️ If you’re not able to inspect the form in person, ask the seller for detailed photos, a description of any flaws or issues, and whether it’s from a smoke-free and/or pet-free home (should that matter to you).

➡️ Ask yourself: How am I going to get this home?

Final Thoughts About Buying a Professional Dress Form

Investing in a professional dress form is a big decision for any home sewist.

A dress form takes up a lot of space and comes with a hefty price tag.

By setting a budget, exploring all options, and accessorizing your dress form, you can design an experience that works for your sewing practice.

A professional dress form will help you create custom garments with greater ease and increased precision, which will save you time and money in the long run.

Over to you, dear sewing friend: What would make you pony up for a profesh-grade form? What feature of a fancy dress form is most appealing to you? Please leave a comment. Thanks for reading.