Dress forms

[This entry has been amended 4/27/09]
Here is another frequently asked question from my mail:

My question is where to buy a good reasonably priced dress form for designing. I have been experimenting with women’s clothing and have had a great response to it. Now I would like to purchase a nice dress form to help move forward with this line. I have been looking at Dress Rite Professional Forms and was wondering if this would be a good investment. Or would you recommend another product.

Hey, did you know that in Canada, they call dress forms “Judies”? I’d never heard that. Okay, I’ll answer the first part of your question with a listing of all the resources I know of (of professional forms). Anyway, I should mention -again- that I don’t like dress forms and don’t even own one [amended, I own two now]. I’ll close this post with recommendations for other products but I really don’t expect anybody to take me seriously because I doubt anyone will tolerate its limitations.

Ronis Brothers
36 Harriet Pl.
Lynbrook, NY, 11563
Tel: 516-887-5266
Fax: 516-887-5288
I saw these forms at the Bobbin Show several years ago and was very impressed with the product integrity. Complete price list on site, 10% discount for students.

Wolf Form Company, Inc.
P.O. Box 510,
17 Van Nostrand Avenue
Englewood, New Jersey 07631
Tel: 201-567-6556 or 201-567-6572
Fax: 201-569-9023

Superior Model Form Co
306 West 38th Street
New York, NY 10018
Tel: (212) 947-3633
Fax: (212) 947-3752

Dress Rite Forms
3817 North Pulaski
Chicago, IL 60641
Tel: (773) 588-5761
Fax (773) 588-4456
Dress Rite Forms is also maker of the Gold Body Form which “duplicate the shape of women after age 50” based on the 1995 study by Dr Ellen Goldsberry and Naomi Reich (buy the results of the study here). I have reservations about the veracity of the study and consequently, any products derived on the basis of it. [amended 5/22/09] There is a proposal on the D-13 ASTM committee ballot to withdraw the D-5586 (2001) standard for body measurements for women aged 55+ with no replacement. If passed, this study will not be included in Vol.2 D-13 as of November 2009. Since libraries that have the ASTM standards discard annual copies, you should get the standard now if you think there’s the slightest chance you need it. It is possible D-5586 may then enter public domain but I do not know this for certain (caveat lector). [amended 5/3/2010] The most recent D-13 ballot includes reinstatement of this standard; I expect it will be approved and included in the November volumes. Designation number will be 5586-01. Ditto for 5585 which had been similarly discarded but will likely be approved.

Global Model Forms
100-02 Rockaway Blvd
Ozone Park NY 11417
Tel: 718.848.3729
Fax: 718.848.3042

The last two form makers are unique in that their forms are based on body scans (a la TC2). These are “the next generation” in dress forms. I’ve never seen products from either of these two companies but extensive information can be found on their websites. I would very much like to visit either of these companies personally and examine their products. [Amended] I ended up buying an Alvanon form and am very pleased with it. If you like, read the review detailing the features of the form I bought.

Shapely Shadow, Inc.
23852 Pacific Coast Highway #597
Malibu, California, 90265
Tel: 888-348-3676
Fax: 310-577-1817

Alva Products (Alvanon, Inc.)
145 W 30th St. Suite 1000
New York, NY 10001
Tel: 212.868.4318 ext 105
Fax: 212.868.4319
Discounts for students. Complete price list on their site.

[Amended] The lowest price seller of dress forms is now PGM-Pro. I bought a man’s form. I didn’t need a high performance form so the value was okay and really, I just bought this form to check out the product quality. If your budget is tight, this might be a good choice. If you wanted a better quality form at an inexpensive price, I’d suggest the Ronis forms. If it were me and I started doing a lot of men’s wear especially for products at higher price points, I’d probably pay the big bucks and get another Alvanon form. It depends on your customer. If you’re targeting higher price points, get the Alva form. Medium price points, get Ronis. For mid to lowest price categories, get PGM Pro. Of course the Wolf et al forms are good for medium to lower price point categories too.

Now, back to what I do use. I don’t really like dress forms because they’re not as anatomically correct as I would like. For example, arm scyes on standard forms will mirror and reproduce the typical error-fraught armhole I wrote about the other day. I prefer to use retail store mannequins which are sculpted from the bodies of real people. Now, there are problems using store mannequins because you can’t pin into them (among other things) but these bodies are based on real human beings so I get better results. The form I’ve used over the past several years is a pretty good match to me. I do realize that many of you can’t use these forms because they may be too slender to match either you or your stock size but I do know they make fuller figured mannequins these days so that may be an option if you’d care to explore it. I got an idea of how to make a mannequin pin-able from my friend Sally. When I was visiting her, I saw she’d re-covered (repaired) one of her dress forms by making a cover out of power net. I think I could make a retail mannequin pin-able if I made a cover for it with a layer of polar fleece under power net. I’ll be posting on that once I get to work on that project.

If you’re interested in buying one of these mannequins, my first suggestion would be a store that sells used retail fixtures. I’ve found their prices to be hundreds of dollars less than what you’d find on ebay. It seems ebay is where the aficionado and collectors go so prices are accordingly high.

Anyway, in my search for mannequins, I found a site that describes in detail -amazing detail- how mannequins are made. The making of Lauren is well worth a visit, it’s fascinating. Enjoy.


  1. Paul says:

    I ended up here in a round about way. I was reading the latest entry about La Bricoleuse (10-20-2011) and went to the Wolf Dress Form website to see if they mention where they get the standard forms, as if they would admit that they get them from China; the raw body is made from papier mâché in a factory in Guangzhou. I got mine there when I visited the factory for the equivalent of $200. The form was just like the neck to ankle forms that Wolf sells for $1,550.

    One thing you might do if you used a store mannikin would be to use it to make a mold using plaster bandages and then use the plaster to make a papier mâché. The papier mâché makes for a more pinnable surface especially after it is covered with a bit of cotton batting and cotton or linen cover. The plaster bandage technique was covered in an issue of Threads magazine. In that article the body was covered with the plaster bandage to make a mold of the person’s body. There are some drawbacks to using this method; one is that it can get hot and two that you have to work fast or use very cold water to slow the setting of the plaster. One other method that can be used to accurately reproduce body shape is to use alginate as the mold material, though I do not know what the cost factor would be. You can find information online for using alginate to reproduce body shapes as a number of artists use it for creating sculptures. It looks like it is easy to work with. If you have been to the dentist and had an impression made of your teeth, the material used is alginate.
    I went to the trouble of making a form because I wanted one that was petite and had the shape of a much smaller waist than you can purchase from any form manufacturer that I then used to design and make corsets.

  2. Fifi Belle says:

    Shapely Shadow had some of the best forms in the industry. The shape, the manufacturing quality, everything about them was excellent. Sadly, they closed in January 2011. If anyone knows who manufactured their forms (USA, probably California), please let us know. I’d like to get another stand, if nothing else. Alvanon has the next-best reputation for professional forms. They are coming out with a new line of shapes based on the yet-to-be published upcoming ASTM standards.

    I have done several plaster cast forms. The comments here are true. They are hard to cast, hard to cut off, and frequently collapse. A wrap method sounds better, though I have not tried it. Out of 4 attempts, I have two successful plaster mold forms. They are a lot of work.

    Love your site, Kathleen! I bought your book years ago and it has helped in the formation of my own business. Thanks for your wonderful work.

  3. Donna says:

    Made plaster cast form to fit my body but don’t really use it except to model finished garments. All of the commercial forms are to long in the torso for my body.

  4. Diane says:

    I just bought a well used but perfectly sized wolf form. Does anyone have any hints, experience, best fabric used etc etc for repading and recovering…mostly worn in the bust area. Thanks.

  5. Traditionally, linen is used to cover the wolf forms but I don’t know that you can find the grade easily. Linen won’t pill like cotton muslin and it slides better too. If you can’t find linen, a nice quality tightly woven muslin would work too.

  6. Donna says:

    I used a really fine woven cotton twill on my form. It has held up over the years and slides nicely also. I haven’t seen any muslin of a quality worth putting the effort in to. I had one piece of finely woven linen that I purchased some years ago downtown Los Angeles but the odds of finding it again are slim to nada.

  7. Fifi Belle says:

    To re-pad the worn bust area, you can use cotton quilt batting that looks like felt, sold in fabric-like sheets. The Warm and Natural brand is a good choice. Cut circles of increasing sizes to fill in the area gradually until you achieve the shape and measurement desired. You can use a curved upholstery needle to sew the batting circles to the worn areas as needed, or you can use straight pins to attach the batting.

    To use linen, muslin or twill for re-covering the form, as described in previous comments, you will need to have a precise pattern to which you cut the woven fabric, and at least one seam must be stitched on the form by hand to allow for placing the fabric shell on the form. Factory-covered forms come with woven fabric coverings because the patterns are well-established and re-used many times, however creating your own from scratch could be time-consuming.

    An easier and faster method for re-covering a form is to purchase a length of white rib knit fabric that comes in a tube, in as lightweight a thickness as possible. Slip the tube over the form and mark two dart-shaped seams over the shoulder area to taper the tube from the beginning of the shoulder to the top of the neck. Sew the two dart seams, trim, and place the tube over the form. The rib knit fabric will conform to the shape of the form. Hand-stitch to close the tube at the top of the neck and at the bottom of the form. The rib knit will enlarge the form slightly compared to woven fabric coverings, but the difference is not enough to be significant.

    After you have re-covered the form, you can purchase about 6 yards of black soutache braid and use a curved upholstery needle to hand-stitch the braid along critical measurement lines such as the bust level, waistline, hipline (typically 8″or 9″ down from waist), center front and back, sideseams, front and back princess seams, shoulder seams, neckline and armscyes.

    Wolf Forms also offers refurbishing and restoring services if you would like to hire the work done. Best wishes on your project.

  8. alex says:

    PGM dress forms not actually manufactured in USA. Made in China. Bought one and then found out I wasn’t supporting local

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