It turns out dress forms might not be the fitting tool you’re hoping for
One of the questions I often get asked is which dress form I recommend, and truly, that’s a little bit of a loaded question (though most people who ask don’t realize it). So in today’s post I want to unpack it a little bit and tackle the question of whether you actually should invest in a dress form, and which is the best dress form to buy. And I’m going to be upfront – while this post does include affiliate links, it also includes my brutally honest opinion that a dress form might not help your fitting all that much.
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When I got my first dress form, I was convinced that not having one was what was holding my sewing and fitting back. So I purchased this adjustable dress form (affiliate link, form shown above). And she’s an expensive hanger that is very good for pinning hems, but otherwise did not improve the way my sewn garments fit me in the least.
Yup, you read that right. Having a dress form did not help at all.
You might wonder why this didn’t help my fitting much – after all, that dress form is adjustable, so I should have been able to make it match me exactly, right? And I did get the bust, waist and hip measurements to be exactly the same number as mine.
But here’s the thing: the same circumference – let’s say a bust measurement – can be shaped more like an oval or more like a circle, and it will vary from individual to individual. Dress forms have a general shape, and that may or may not be the same as yours. For example, I am wider from the front or back but narrower from the side than my dress form.
An even bigger problem is that LENGTHWISE measurements are not adjustable on a dress form. So I quickly noticed that the bust point of my form was higher than my actual bust point, and the torso was longer than mine and I couldn’t shorten it to be the same.
Are you starting to see the issue?
When I started patterning girl’s dresses, I thought a girl’s dress form would be helpful, and I found this one on Craigslist for a steal. Know how often it gets used? Every day as a decoration.
Yup, another expensive hanger.
Why don’t I use that form much? The shoulders aren’t collapsible, so it’s actually pretty hard to dress (collapsible shoulders mean that you can press them in to pull something over the dress form’s neck – much like your shoulders slim in when you lift your arms) And the measurements are kind of weird and don’t exactly match the ones I use in my size chart – the chest, especially, seems large in proportion to the waist.
Good thing I didn’t pay much for her.
Finally, the dress form I use the most is this one (affiliate link). I bought this one specifically to do pattern draping on, NOT to try and fit myself. And in fact, if you look at this picture of the dress form wearing something that fits me perfectly, you can see why. My waist is higher and my bust point lower than hers, and my upper bust is not as wide while her waist is smaller than mine.
Why a Dress Form Won’t Improve Your Fitting
So this gets me to my main point – WHY dress forms aren’t going to help you much with fitting. The thing is, all patterns (mine included) are drafted from average measurements from groups of people. But those average measurements correspond to very few ACTUAL people. That’s how averages work – they give us a very good general idea, but not a good person specific idea.
And guess what? Dress forms (unless you’re getting a custom one) are based on the same average measurements as patterns.
So if you buy a dress form, you’re likely to be able to sew up a commercial sewing pattern and have it fit the dress form pretty perfectly and STILL not have it fit you – because your measurements are not the average of a group of people, they’re specific to you. If you ever watch Project Runway you’ll probably notice the same thing – they drape clothing on similar dress forms just beautifully, but then still have to do model fittings to get their garments perfect.
Instead of buying a dress form to improve your fit, a better use of your time/money might be to buy yourself a bunch of muslin, draft a sloper to your own measurements and fit that muslin to yourself. And then use that sloper as the basis for adjusting any future pattern you decide to sew.
Now, there are some instances I do think a dress form is helpful, so I’ll list those. Buy a dress form if:
- You need help marking hems often, particularly on things like circle skirts.
- You sew for clients and need an approximation of their body to do a rough fit that will be refined when you have them try on the garment. If this is is the case, a dress form about the size of your smallest client is what I’d buy, and then pad the form out with bras, stuffing, and quilt batting to get to the measurements you need for larger clients.
- You need one for patternmaking and draping, fashion design school or photography to hold sample garments
- You sew off the rack clothing that is designed with a standard (not customized) fit
And if you do buy a dress form, look for one that has canvas or linen covering that is pinnable, and collapsible shoulders.
In a nutshell, dress forms are not especially useful in improving fit for yourself. They are mostly useful in cases where standard or average fit is desired. Custom fitting will still have to be performed for everyone who deviates from average or standard sizing.