how to get your hands on a dress form, new or used
If you want to drape, you need a dress form, period. There is no way around it. As professional dress forms are quite expensive, you may want to try alternatives — but I wouldn’t recommend it. I personally have tried most of them, and they are no substitute for the real deal. By ‘real deal’, I am referring to a professional form for draping, such as a Wolf or a Royal, that is height-adjustable, pinnable, collapsible, and rollable. Besides this, there are a couple more details you may want to consider:
- size — Size 6 or 8 is standard, but if you are smaller or bigger than that, for personal reasons you might want to search for a form close to your measurements. One thing to keep in mind, though — don’t be too strict on your requirements for a form, as no form (unless custom-made for you) will be perfect. You will always need to adjust your pattern for a live model, and this is stardard procedure in the industry. So if your form differs from the measurements you or your model have, you will just have to learn how to adjust your pattern to reflect this. There is no way around it.
- type of form — there are pants forms, lingerie & swimwear forms, sleeves to hook onto your forms, etc. Unless you are strictly a specialty designer and you will never drape ‘regular’ garments, then stick with the standard dress form. Pants forms, although you might think you need them, are typically unnecessary. You might imagine draping a dress on a full-figure pants form, but it really does not work well. Trust me. In any case, pants are usually created by flat-patternmaking and then fitting. Rarely do you actually need to drape a pant.
Next let’s list the best dress form sources — new, used, & alternatives:
- wolf forms — THE standard of the fashion industry. You can order new dress forms from their factory in Englewood, NJ in standard sizes or custom-made to you or your model’s measurements. Check out their website for more details. Keep in mind though, new forms are expensive and take quite a while to produce.
- royal forms — sold at Ronis Brothers, here in the garment district on 38th between 7th & 8th. They also sell display forms and every type of form (including dogs!).
- superior model forms — owner Vito Montalto, at 306 38th St between 8th & 9th aves, runs this form company the old-fashioned way – practically everything is manufactured by hand. Years ago I visited his office, and true to his gracious old-world style, he personally showed me around his on-site factory, explaining every painstaking step of the figure-creating process.
- Hecht Sewing Machines — at 304 West 38th St (between 8th & 9th aves), this family-run sewing machinery company specializes in fixing and selling old sewing machines & accessories, which includes used dress forms in all shapes and sizes. Like a cool vintage store, Hecht’s goods are constantly changing, so you should go and look around often, until you find the form for you.
- retail store closeouts — this may sound like a longshot, but it is possible to find great used dress forms from retail stores. I did! Once I went to a closeout sale, and I noticed the store was selling their fixtures as well. I went up to the owner and simply asked if she was selling any dress forms (she had old professional ones as well as display forms). Long story short, I got a Wolf form for $60!
- craigslist – also a longshot, but if you are patient, you may be lucky enough to find somebody trying to get rid of a nice dress form, simply because they don’t have room for it anymore.
- ebay – of course! But be careful. Shipping fees are going to be high for a dress form, so you may want to find local auctions so you can pick up the form for free. Also, most of the search listings have been filled with display forms which won’t do a draper much good.
- “acme” forms — from the cottage sewing industry of what looks like the 60s, these vintage forms were supposed to be adjustable by opening up the pieces to expose air and metal bars, quite simply, in between. For this reason, acme forms are unstable, wobbly, and difficult to adjust. They came in sizes a, b, & c, from what I remember, but they are so hard to adjust and don’t work well when expanded, so just forget about it. Even when ‘closed’, the forms lines do not match typical professional forms’ princess lines, etc, so it is just not a good alternative.
- Dritz “My Double” dress form — the modern version of the acme dress form, this form expands to different sizes by turning a dial. Again, these are not good alternatives for a professional dress form. Unless your draping is basic and non-technical, I would avoid these too.
- wire mesh forms — very vintage, I believe these forms were originally used at the turn of the century (or earlier), as you can still find some antique ones in the shape of corsets and bustles. These forms are completely see-through, and are gorgeous for display, with or without a garment.
- Uniquely You — styrofoam dress forms forced into shape by a cotton cover. I bought one of these, stitched the cover to my spec, and forced the styrofoam (barely) into the cover only to find out that the cotton cover simply stretched out of shape again. I wanted to do a new cover out of a stronger, non-stretchy material, but never got around to it. While fitting it the first time, I realized that it is almost impossible to get the styrofoam into the cover evenly — there is no way to ensure that there are no lumps, or that it doesn’t end up lopsided. Needless to say, I gave up on that idea…
- display forms — a bad alternative for a professional dress form, mainly because they are usually not cut to a real person specs. Display forms are for show, and are usually not pinnable or adjustable or anything. They also do not have lines to follow for draping.
- make your own duck-tape dummy! — sounds cool, and I considered trying this. I think I did but I did not get very far. Try this for fun, but don’t expect much!
So, there you go. It is not easy getting your hands on a professional form for draping (at least cheaply), but if you are persistent, one will come your way eventually. In the meantime, don’t fret — the real alternative, flat patterns and live fittings, can do a lot for you, and it is actually becoming a new industry standard.