The Truth About Adjustable Dress Forms

by Julie

dress formOver the past 25 years or so, I’ve used a lot of dress forms. And I’ve researched even more. The truth is no matter what brand or style of dress form you look at, they all have their drawbacks. I get emails and comments all the time from people who want to buy a dress form, but are totally confused by all the bad reviews scattered around the Internet. They just want an honest opinion on what to buy.

So here’s my honest opinion–there’s no such thing as a perfect dress form. Period.  (If you find one, please please let me know.)

You have four options with dress forms.

  • A plastic model with dials to adjust the measurements
  • A foam model with a fabric cover used to adjust the measurements
  • A professional model with no adjustability at all
  • A duct tape do-it-yourself version

All of them have pros and cons. So your challenge is to weigh the pros and cons and figure out which model suits your needs the best. Let’s go through each type and lay out the real deal so you can make a truly informed decision once and for all.

1) Plastic dress form with adjustable dials

These include models like the Singer 150 and the Dritz My Double Deluxe. They are built on a plastic core with a thin padded covering of foam and jersey. The fabric cover is available in different colors. To adjust the size, you select the number on the dial that matches your measurement most closely in inches.

Pros: The price is low, which is why most people start out with one of these. They are fully adjustable using a dial system, and you can pin on them if you slide the pins horizontally.

Cons: The biggest drawback most online reviews mention is how flimsy these dress forms are. Yes, plastic forms are flimsy. There’s no getting around that fact. The reason they’re flimsy is because they are a low cost alternative. Lightweight plastic means easy manufacturing and very low shipping fees. Some people say it feels like you can tip the form over. People get around that by weighting down the base with sandbags or a heavy blanket.

Another drawback is you can’t push pins straight into the form. The core is solid plastic, so you have to pin horizontally.

Finally, when you adjust the measurements to fit you exactly, the pieces of the form separate. So, you won’t be able to pin where there is only space, at the waist for example.  Some people find this frustrating when drafting their own patterns. I could see it being a problem if you were altering the shape of the bust for a full-figured apparel project.

Cost: Plastic adjustable dress forms run between $100 and $200. Generally the cheaper ones are extremely flimsy–so just be prepared for that if you’re buying on price.

Recommendation: If I were advising my own daughter or best friend, I’d tell them to spend the little bit of extra money to buy the Dritz My Double Deluxe. It’s the sturdiest brand in this class of dress forms, and comes with added features like an offset center pole, so you can use it for pants and shorts. This style is best if you’ll need to adjust the form frequently (like if your weight fluctuates or you sew for other people.)

2) Foam dress form with fabric cover

This type of dress dummy is solid dense foam. You adjust the measurements by sewing the fabric cover to your dimensions and then squeezing the foam to fit the cover. You can also adjust the height of the center support pole. These include the Uniquely You brand.

Pros: Foam core dress forms are perceived as sturdier because they are heavier overall. You can pin straight into the form. And you never have gaps in the form like you do with the plastic versions. Pressing tailored shirts or wedding dresses directly on the form is no problem with this style.

Cons: Getting the fabric cover to match your exact dimensions can be a challenge. And the torso length is not adjustable at all. So, if you have a long or short torso, or your shoulders are extra broad or narrow–you’re out of luck.

Another drawback is that the center pole is not offset, so you cannot fit pants or shorts to this form once the inseam is sewn. However, you can purchase a “pants form” separately for around $170.

Cost: Foam core dress forms run around $190. Amazon offers free shipping, which is great because these suckers are heavy.

Recommendation: This type form is best if you will be sticking to one set of measurements most of the time. You don’t want to have to take the cover off and re-do it for lots of people. It’s also good if you draft your own patterns or drape garments directly onto the dummy.

I own the Uniquely You brand and highly recommend it because it’s sturdy, and it’s not that much more expensive than the plastic core models. Be sure to look for free or reduced shipping; the foam is heavy.

3) Professional dress form

These are the dress forms used by fashion designers in the garment manufacturing industry. They only come in the industry standard sizes. Brands for these dummies include PGM, Yamata and Family.

Pros: These are sturdy, all-foam construction, pinnable from any angle. You can purchase full-body models that hang from the top–great for pants and costumes. The height is adjustable using a pedal system on the base. Oh, and the base is on wheels, so you can move it around easily.

One major benefit to professional models is you can get “pants only” and male and children’s models.

Cons: These are not adjustable in any way. They are manufactured to garment industry standard sizing and that’s all you get. If you are a “perfect” size 10 or 8 or 22, then you’re fine. But if any of your measurements (including height) deviate from the standard, you’re out of luck.

Cost: Professional dress forms run anywhere from $350 to $600, depending on if you purchase torso-only or full-body models.

Recommendation: Most home sewers really don’t need to spend this kind of money on a dress form, especially since they’re not adjustable at all.  I only recommend purchasing one if you are a designer working on new patterns or will be sewing lots of garments the exact same size. Shipping can get very expensive on these.

If you were to purchase a professional form, I’d recommend getting the PGM brand and you’ll get the best deal from Amazon.

4) Homemade duct tape dress form

Homemade do-it-yourself dress forms have been around for a long while. Basically, you get a friend to tape your torso over a t-shirt. Then you cut it off your body, stuff it with something and mount it to a stand of some sort.

Pros: The biggest advantage is that this will be an exact replica of your body (assuming the taping and stuffing are done right.) If you have unusual dimensions, this might be the only way for you to get a good representation of yourself. Depending what you stuff it with, you should be able to pin to it.

Cons: Pinning through tape is gross. Your pins come out all sticky, and you have to spend time cleaning them later. Also, if you change dimensions or sew for other people, you need another dummy. Finally, it can be difficult to make a stand that really stands up.

Cost: You’re only out a couple of rolls of tape, a t-shirt, and whatever you bribed your friend with to get the taping job done (usually pizza and beer.) Plus the stuffing and stand materials.

Recommendation: I used a duct tape dummy for a while, and I didn’t like it. I never did get it to stand up properly, and it was trick getting the measurements right with the stuffing. Now I use it as a mannequin to display clothes I make as gifts and custom orders. While there are times when this method works best (like when you have special measurement considerations), you’re not going to save that much money. By the time you purchase all the materials, you’re more than half-way to owning a good plastic model.

Where’s the best place to buy a dressmakers dummy?

Offline: Your local fabric store might have one or two of the plastic ones in stock. Unfortunately, they never seem to be in the size you want. But they can also order them for you. Fortunately, these are the lightest weight dress forms you can buy. So, you won’t pay too much in shipping.

Online: I recommend buying online from no matter what type dress form you’re getting. Why Amazon? Because they’re simply the best at what they do. You’ll have lots of styles and sizes to choose from. They generally have the best prices, and very often you can get free shipping on your order. They have the best reputation of any website for shopping cart security and their privacy policy is excellent.

What if you order online and need to return the product? If you ordered from Amazon, you’re covered by an A-to-Z guarantee. So you can just send it back.

Things to remember:

1) Try to get free shipping, if you can.

2) Order the size that’s closest to your actual measurements. You’ll find every model comes in small, medium and large. Some models come in child sizes and extra-large adult sizes, too.

What’s the next step?

I don’t want you to just take my word for which dress form you should buy. You next step is to head over to Amazon and check out the reviews, descriptions and prices for yourself.

Plastic dress forms on Amazon

Foam core dress forms on Amazon

Professional dress forms on Amazon

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