I bought a dress form

Before I was busy preparing and teaching the class I gave over the past week (did you miss me?), I meant to tell you about the dress form I bought. I think I may have been the only professional pattern maker in the country without a dress form. What can I say? I’ve never used them beyond hanging a garment on one for whatever reason, to check a collar or something and no, I definitely don’t drape on them. I don’t know if it was competitive pressures (my friend Sally must have 12 of these) or the incredulous comments from visitors over my lack of one but in the end, Alvanon convinced me I had to have one. And not that Alvanon tried to sell me one- it’s that their forms are quite distinctive. The usual forms (the armholes are awful) annoy me. I’ve often thought clothing fit so poorly because clothing is drafted to fit a form rather than a person. Anyway, I ordered my form two months ago but it didn’t arrive until just before the class. I’m writing about it now because my next post shows jackets on it so I thought I’d do this entry first.

I like the Alva forms because they’re the only ones that are based on actual sizing studies. I think Alvanon scanned close to 10,000 people in the UK (for the form I bought). There’s another form on the market from a competing company based on anthropometric data but the forms are based on the measures of raw data, not body scans and there’s always a bit of number torturing when you’re dealing with data sets, to say nothing of the veracity of the given study (of which I’ll omit my reservations at this time).

First I’ll explain the kinds of forms Alvanon has and then explain which I bought and why. Alvanon has two kinds of dress forms, ready made and custom (custom forms are the largest part of their business). Of the ready made forms, they have several classes. These are the Signature series, the DataFit series and the ASTM series.

The women’s form in the Signature series is based on Maureen Gannon, a US fit model. Her dimensions are popular. These are:

  • Chest/Bust Girth 36
  • Waist Girth 28 1/2
  • Hip/Seat Girth 38 7/8
  • Thigh Girth 22 1/2

Her height isn’t listed but I seem to recall she’s rather tall, 5’8″ or 5’9″. Her height is the downside for me, otherwise the dimensions would have been fine.

The DataFit Series is the one I mentioned above, based on the UK sizing survey of 10,000 women. There are two bodies, the Curvy Form and a Moderately Curvy form. The curvy is what I bought; the dimensions are:

  • Chest/Bust 35.6
  • Waist Girth 27.7
  • Hip/Seat Girth 38.18
  • Thigh Girth 22.28
  • Height 5′ 6″

The Moderately Curvy dimensions are:

  • Chest/Bust 35
  • Waist Girth 30
  • Hip/Seat Girth 38.58
  • Thigh Girth 22.83
  • Height 5′ 5″

Comparing the latter two, the moderately curvy is less shapely than I’d like. The bust to waist differential is only five inches and she’s an inch shorter. Not that her height is a problem, just that the smaller bust, larger waist and hip makes her a little stockier than I’m looking for. Between all of the forms, I would have liked a form with a greater differential between the under bust and over bust measure but that wasn’t attainable in a ready made form. These forms are solid B cups. I didn’t ask what the custom forms cost because I guessed those cost more that I had budgeted for a form. The Alvanon forms are probably the most expensive (but definitely the best) forms in the business.

The last ready made dress forms are the ASTM series. These specs aren’t published because the sizing data is proprietary, used under license. Of course if you’re interested in buying one of these forms, Alvanon will send you the basic measures of what constitutes a given size but one is not permitted to publish the data sets in a public place. Also, I’m a bit confused. Alvanon says they’ve integrated their results (based on over 200,000 body scans from the US) with the ASTM data and that these are published in the standards but I think that may be for next year because the 2007 standards arrived last month but I don’t find those in there. Ditto for the kid’s sizing. By the way, Alvanon is getting rave reviews from practitioners for their children’s forms. If I were doing kid’s wear, I wouldn’t buy any other form. I don’t want to digress too much, but don’t buy a kid’s form without a head. Ever. [Amended: Esther says not to waste your money on anything less than a full body form for a child. Save up longer if you have to.] Before I forget, I’ll update you on the women’s ASTM forms as those become available because the forms should reflect the larger cup size of the average woman (a 36C). I hope.

Before I forget, Alvanon does more than dress forms; their business is sizing. They do a lot of proprietary stuff for large retailers. One very interesting product they offer are pattern blocks. You can buy the pattern blocks that are designed to fit your form and use these as the basis of style development. If you’re not developing your own patterns, you can tell Alvanon to sell the pattern blocks for your form to a contractor you designate.

Anyway, on to the details of my new toy. Here’s the label. She’s described as a size 12. Heh. I think she’s closer to a US size 8 these days (dimensions listed above). Also note that her front panty line is marked. Actually, it’s pieced. This is very useful in style development. I haven’t noticed this feature on any other form. Another thing not seen on most other forms are the marked scye lines going around the body.

Here’s the over view, front and side.

As you can see, she’s a full body form. Her arms and left leg are removable. Her shoulders and one hip collapse. The shoulders is no big deal, that’s been done, but the hip collapse is wonderful indeed! She also comes with two cap sleeve extensions rather than a full length arm for greater variety. You can also use her without arms altogether. The base she hangs from is pretty cool. The casters on the base lock. Good thing around here, my floors are undulating waves of 100 year old wood flooring.

Most forms have the princess lines marked off as does she but this form, again, goes beyond. Check out her front bust in the center. This is a seam line, it’s pieced. This would be ideal for people worried about the bridge of a bra showing. Another thing that may not be evident in this photo (but I think it is) is that the front bust slope is not flat. There’s a small dip in the chest wall above each breast. This is more reflective of human shape and moreover, much harder to mold. There’s dips like this all over the form which is what really impressed me. The other industry forms smooth out all of those lines. That’s all very good and well if you’re making patterns or clothes to sell to dress forms but people aren’t smooth like that. It’s better to have those depressions there and figure out how to work around them.

Below is a side view of her bum. I took this to show you her back panty line. This is similar to the front panty line (the latter for a different style of panty obviously) that I showed in the first photo above, in that it is also pieced. Again, I haven’t noticed this feature on other forms.

Anyway, if you have any questions about her, I’ll try to answer them. Eric says I should have a naming contest. I’d thought of a name for her but I already forgot it. I thought about calling her Judy after that Canadian woman who chided me for not knowing that the correct term to describe a dress form was “Judy”. Go figure. Naming ideas? I don’t know anyone who looks like her.

[Amended] I paid more than I care to admit for this form ($2,000). Previously, Janice Wang (Alvanon CEO) mentioned that a discount for F-I visitors may be possible. I wrote asking for details. I’ll update this when I hear back.

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  1. Esther says:

    I am jealous! I like the shape of the form as it looks more real. I am saving up for a children’s form – they are expensive! Just to add – always buy a full-bodied form for children. It is a waste to buy a “dress” form.

  2. Kathleen says:

    Oh shoot, I knew I forgot something, I’ll have to amend this entry later. I don’t remember the exact figure but with shipping, this form was about $2,000. I had asked Janice Wang (Alvanon CEO) about a discount for F-I visitors back in Sept 2006. At that time, she said she could stick you all in their academic institutions discount program. I don’t think the program featured this particular form at the time but maybe it’s changed since then. I know the prices vary depending. For example, the form based on Maureen is priced differently because she gets a royalty on each unit sold. The UK form that I got, has to have the costs of the scanning study rolled into it. I don’t know that I asked the prices of the ASTM form. I’ll get back to you on a discount and for which ones it applies.

  3. Alisa Benay says:

    What does she feel like? Squishy all the way through, or just on the surface? (Does that even make sense? haha)

    When I’m dealing with a client that has larger than my dress forms bust size, I use the silicone bra inserts. I either tape them on or put them in a bra on the dress form, depending on what’s needed. Don’t know if that would work for you or not.

    I’d call her something tacky & burlesque. I mean c’mon, she’s a headless nekked lady just hanging around your studio showing her wares to all & sunder. Fanny comes to mind.

    Ask Carol Kimball what happens when you use black yarn to demarcate the public bone.

  4. WOW! That has to be the nicest dress form I’ve ever seen!

    I have several infant and children dress forms (yes, Esther…they are all full-bodied…LOL), but none compare to the quality of your new beauty Kathleen.

    I googled the most popular names in England (http://www.statistics.gov.uk/specials/babiesnames_girls.asp), so here are some suggestions:


    It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who names my dress forms (I have Lucy, Baby Lulu, Jack and Tatiana…haha).

    With friendship,

  5. Carol Kimball says:

    Beautiful form! Well worth the investment. I go green with envy when contemplating the collapsible shoulders and hips.

    As she’s an abbreviated version of you, why not an abbreviation of your name?

    Kate/Kathy are too obvious. How about Lena or Leeny? Or your middle name, whatever it is, or a nickname from your childhood or from a favorite friend (if that applies).

  6. Once again, well done Kathleen. I am not a patternmaker but I fnd the concept of what they are doing with the body scans at Alvanon very fascinating. I am working on a project where I need body measurements. 200,000 data samples seem enough?:) Why reinvent the wheel? I already contacted them. Keep up this incredible fact finding thing that you do oh so well!

  7. Amy says:

    I’ve got a Medium “My Double,” which I’m very pleased with because the sizing of the bust, waist and hips can be adjusted up or down by a few inches, as can the height of the dress form.

    I think of her as being both old-fashioned and contemporary, so I’ve named her “Ms. Plum,” and she’s good company when I’m sewing. Dress forms, display mannequins and computers cooperate better when you name them and think of them as friends. ;-D

  8. Kathleen says:

    So, Kathleen, what do you drape on or do you not drape at all?

    I don’t drape at all. I’ve draped maybe two things in 27 years. Imo, draping is less efficient; it’s more work to get to the end result. It works like this:

    …first you have to drape it -which is no big deal- and once you’ve achieved the look you want, you have to sew up the drape. Then you try on the drape. If the fit and style lines work then you have to take the drape apart and reproduce the shapes to make a hard copy pattern. Once you cut the pattern, you have to cut out a test sample to make sure the drape was rendered accurately onto paper. Continue to make intermittent corrections as necessary. With drafting, you start with paper and then cut a sample to fit. Your iteration begins there. The drafting process is much faster, cleaner, efficient and accurate.

    I’ve also seen people debate that certain designs must be draped but again, I don’t agree. I’d like to see somebody convince me that the designs in the pattern magic book are easier and faster to drape than to draft and those are some tricky designs! In general, designers (if they do any product development work) will drape as part of the creative process. Their design isn’t solidified, they think through the fabric. They can’t envision fiber performance in a two dimensional draft which requires spatial modeling to translate that into three dimensions. In the end it doesn’t matter but drafting is faster and more accurate provided you have the skills to do it.

    I’ve got a Medium “My Double,” which I’m very pleased with because the sizing of the bust, waist and hips can be adjusted up or down by a few inches, as can the height of the dress form.

    I’d been trying to think up a way to describe how Alvanon grades their ASTM forms. I was going to mention it but couldn’t think of a non-complicated way to explain it. The comment above inspires me. One reason (there’s others) I don’t recommend the home sewing forms for professional use is because these adjust linearly. The Alvanon forms are graded non-linearly. In brief, you can’t dial in an incremental bust, waist or hip adjustment (my double) and get an accurate rendition of how the body changes with respect to those changes. This can only be done in a non linear fashion. Home forms work just fine for enthusiasts but professionals need to fork out for the real thing.

  9. Misty says:

    When I was in pattern school, our professor called the dressform…Hussy! I loved it. Every dressform I’ve owned since college graciously carries on the name.

  10. jinjer says:


    One of those forms is definitely on my pie-in-the-sky wish list. I’m particularly happy with her posture. My main gripe with dress forms is the lack of lumbar curve, and the unrealistic shape of teh hips. This one looks pretty good!

    I do think you should be able to pad your form to a bigger bra size, if you want. Just slap on an appropriate sized bra, and fill it with layers of batting. That strategy worked pretty well for me.

  11. Georgina says:

    Hi Kathleen,

    When I got my first form I called her Betty. Now I have 5 more, but have never gotten around to naming them. My children call all of them “Betty”.
    Tha Alvanon form looks great. I have form-envy!

  12. Eric H says:

    How ’bout Black Man’s Kryptonite (for those of you who recognize the reference, you’ll remember that this was the other name for **White** She-Devil)?

    Otherwise, I got nuthin.

    No, Alisa, she’s not squishy at all. It feels like material (muslin, right?) over some kind of padding over a frame.

  13. misty says:

    Oh great, something new for me to lust after…
    I love love love your new dress form, the detail is amazing!

    We have 3.5 dress forms here, but we only use them as sort of art pieces, because they aren’t good enough to use for draping or checking garments, really.
    My first dress form is named “Molly” and she used to travel around town with me in college to star in photographs. Now she just gets to wear Christmas lights or functios as a coat hanger.

    Have you made any of the pattern magic items, by the way? I love the clothing in that book (and there’s a part 2 available now), but I’m too dumb to figure out the patterns.

  14. Suzanne says:

    Oh I love her! And the 5’9″ size 8 — she is ME! Name her Suzanne! Just kidding, of course.

    I am wondering about realistic infant/toddler forms. Does anyone have any suggestions?

  15. Jennifer E. says:

    I been trying to remember where i saw this for a while and finally found it today.
    Fabulous fit has foam pads and stocking cover that you can use to pad a dress form in case you have pronounced belly, hump back, bigger hips etc.. It under the header “fitting system”.
    Now the down side it is only available in three sizes small, medium and large but I thought I share – price seem good for what you get.

  16. jess says:

    I got one of those Fabulous Fit forms once, thinking it would be good to reshape it as necessary….wrong. You have the SEW the cover to fit it properly after you get the padding arranged the way you want. And the quality wasn’t good for the price either. After returning that one, I got a Studio One form on EBAY for about $250, which was actually a really good deal because this form has the most “realistic” shaping of any of the ones I could afford, its got the dip above the breast too! I do wish I got the full body one, though, and not the regular dress one. I’d definitely recommend this brand….though I have been longing for an Alvanon form.

  17. marietta says:

    that dressform is beautiful! the panty line and the chest shaping is so practical and useful. I will be checking these guys out and put this in next year’s budget for the costume shop.
    We have 2 classic dress forms and Lily and Hank, then two cheapie ones, Myrtle and Grace. I so need one with legs and arms. And i am more of a draper than flat pattern-er.

  18. Joneien says:

    Jess, I appreciate your comments about your studio one dress form. I am considering buying one but I was unsure because their prices were so, if you know what I mean. It sounds great that the body is so realistic because I think that is so important when using the draping method and when you plan for you clothes to fit a real woman. What other things do you like about your form?

  19. Joanne says:

    I worked for the company that developed these measurements (2001-2004) as a consultant from the garment industry. It was an amazing process to see the difference from what I had been using to drape on to what Alvanon has come up with with their undulating forms. When we were taking the measurements and compiling the data the numbers were nothing like what the old forms had been based on – I think the measurements of 20-year-old military women form the 1940’s. I have two old Wolf forms – they are so not reflective of most women’s bodies today.

  20. tina says:

    I just discovered your Blog today !! I was searching for a wolf stand for a full form i brought in a junk shop in London…
    Then i hit your post on Alvanon dress forms.. Wow! I’m inspired I’m getting one..
    Personally I only drape.. i cannot cut flat. the only thing i may draft is the sleeve.
    Having worked with a Kennant & Lindsell [UK dress-form] for years.. which has really served me well & i love her… I’m ready to move on!!
    I could not be without a dress form it’s an essential part of the drape process.. and yes your right the process is time consuming & probably old school.. but wonderful!!
    Your Blog is highly informative…
    And thank you for the inspiration..

  21. Joanne says:

    I enjoyed this article. I was the consultant from the garment industry to the firm that developed the measurement-collecting technology; and though we collected over 200,000 measurements with our scanner (looks similar to the ones in the airport – kind of like a transporter from Star Trek), I never got to see a dress form whose shape was based on them until last week, when I applied for a job at a company that uses Alvanon forms. At my old company we wanted to get away from the dress form shapes that were based on data collected back in the 1930s and 1940s from young, fit women in the military. They were not totally realistic then, and even less now. We actually did start out making custom clothing from the measurements we took, before getting into data-collection. I would like to own one. It would be easier than making custom padded, zip-on covers for my forms to correct the fit.
    P.S.-Don’t let them tell you at the airport that the body scanner doesn’t show all…it does. They just blur out your face.

  22. Jeanne says:

    Your thoughts and reesearch on the dress forms were very helpfull to me. Ouch on the price! I wonder if it is possible to find someone that might be selling one.
    Thanks again for shareing.

  23. Tabitha says:

    Has anybody used one of their children’s forms? I would love to hear some feedback of that one, or any other children’s forms!

  24. Marieta says:

    Thank you for sharing about Alvanon Dress Forms Kathleen! I found the post extremely useful and immediately wanted one…. So I went on their online website and purchased. After couple of days got an invoice stating that shipping to IL will cost me a $1, 145 on top of the cost of the dress form of $2,200. Am I missing something here? I was ready for the investment, but cannot justify shipping to be 50% of the actual cost of the dress form. Did you run into such a high shipping rate when you purchased yours Kathleen?

  25. Kathleen says:

    Hi Marieta, I don’t remember what I paid but it was appreciable. I didn’t get it right away, I had to wait for a container shipment -which could account for the lower price. I’m accustomed to paying hundreds of dollars for shipping but would have noticed if I paid as much as you were quoted. I would check back with them to see if there are other alternatives. It could be they are shipping just the one, direct.

  26. Marieta says:

    Come to find out Alvanon is geared towards companies and not individual sales. I wanted one soooo bad, but they said that their shipping rate oversees are very high because this is not part of their business?!? They suggested for me to find my own freight forwarder, but I am not sure if that’s a good idea. Given the fact that I don’t know the first thing about import/export. I wish there is a way to get this beauty!!! :)

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