Japanese dress forms

In a comment she left, Valerie gives me the perfect opening for a topic I’ve been wanting to write about:

I agree with all you’ve said about sleeves and other fitting issues. I draped a muslin and tried it on an elderly client last year. After much tweaking to her contours, the armholes and sleeves turned out just like your illustrations [in the book]!…Back to the sleeve and armhole issue- is there a dress form that represents that shape?

According to information that Helen Darmara sent me, it appears there just may be. Helen said she researched the Bunka dress form “and found an interesting article on how the ‘new body’ was measured and developed”. Bunka is better known in the US as a Japanese pattern and fashion magazine publisher but the company got its start (and remains) as a fashion college. I guess the magazines and books were a necessary consequence in the development of material for the curriculumn. It was in collaboration with Bunka that the Digital Human Laboratory (under the auspices of AIST-Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan) developed a new form. The details shown on the site are fascinating. Armhole shaping is the least of it. Below is an illustration of a comparison of two forms. On the left is the new Japanese form. On the right, a traditional dress form.

For comparison and analysis, see below. The superimposed markings to illustrate basic shape on the armhole comparisons are mine. You’ll note the Japanese armhole shape is a wonky triangle, favoring the front (your arms are hanging off the front of your body). The traditional form shows the armholes as a crude rectangle at the side of your body.

The researchers (Kouchi, Mochimaru and Ito) used a body scanner to derive the points of measure. The above is somewhat similar to a draft from a German pattern book I have, written well before computing and scanning was possible.

I was sure I’d written more about the shaping and drafting of sleeves in Japanese texts but I can’t seem to find it now.

Locating an available form for purchase seems to be difficult. According to a passage in Clothing Appearance and Fit: Science and Technology, Japanese company Taninaka provides information on the web but now refuses to sell the dress form overseas. How odd. I can’t find a reference to the company at all.

The link Helen sent can send you off on all kinds of rabbit trails, very interesting stuff. For example, this links to  Japanese Body Dimension Data and the Human Body Properties Database. I haven’t fully explored the latter but the former is claimed to be available for certain non-commercial parties, provided one is writing about it. As such, I mailed the required signed NDA affidavit to Japan. I heard back from Masaaki Mochimaru who wanted me to verify my non-commercial usage with which I complied and sent URLS typical of my interest in such matters. I further reiterated I don’t share proprietary databases with any of you (and don’t you know it!) but I’ve yet to receive a response to my email as of this morning. Perhaps it’s gatekeeping; I don’t qualify not being a professor or researcher at an accredited institution. Annoying. If I were an academic, I wouldn’t have time to disseminate information to the similarly disenfranchised and most likely end users.

The Japanese Data set is small, a sampling of only 300 respondents but I imagine the study is of very high quality considering the intellectual rigor of the researchers. Grace has expressed an interest in formulating regression analysis which might not be necessary considering the aforementioned intellectual rigor but still, I would be interested in her conclusions.

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  1. ginevra says:

    There’s a photo of a bunka dress form in Mrs. Stylebook (Spring 2008) page 117, is that the one? I’m not sure how to buy it, ‘tho, it’s late at night here and my Japanese is poor at the best of times…if no-one else can read it, I’ll give it a go translating in the morning;)

  2. gilda says:

    hello. i have been a ardent reader of your rss feeds. :)

    i was a student at bunka and just graduated last year (currently studying in parsons), and this post really interested me because i cannot believe the TERRIBLE (some are like 10 years old) that they use at parsons. at bunka, as part of our school fees in the first year, we each paid for and received our own forms.

    i might have gotten my information wrong, and if so, forgive me because i vaguely remember this. i only asked my teacher about it once, when i first entered the school. but in our first year, all of us go through this machine that’s almost like xray. we just stand there and it shoots. it takes specific measurements of our bodies in 3d.

    if i’m not wrong, bunka makes its own forms every 2 years. and what they do is that they collect the data from those measurements from all first year students, compiles it, finds an average, and then makes a molding out of it. hence, the forms change slightly in shape and size every 2 years, according to the trend in body type as per the students.

    as for why the arm-holes are wonky as you put it, i believe that many of us do have a slope in our shoulders and are the teeniest bit hunchbacked. hence that wonkiness. also in bunka, we always shifted the shoulder point (in our sleeve patterns) towards the front.

    well, i’m not really good with technical explanations. but i hope that helps. :) you can email me if you have questions!

  3. LisaB says:

    The Bunka dress form looks almost exactly like me, albeit thinner. It would be wonderful to have access to forms that actually mimick the human body. Thanks for the post.

  4. Loretta says:

    I’ve just ordered the quarter-scale version of this dress form through a deputy service in Japan. I figured it would be small enough that I might not have to pay an arm and leg for shipping…

    I love the shape of this dress form and the way the armhole is positioned reminds me of what Kathleen said was wrong with the other type of dress form when I saw it. However a quarter scale version is so ridiculously small that it probably doesn’t make much difference… It was definitely an impulse purchase.

  5. Christina says:

    At the bottom of the article with the comparison photos it does mention that forms can be purchased directly from the Bunka Fashion School.

    Maybe the company only provides them directly to the school, who in turn sell them?

  6. Teresia says:

    I so, want this form. One of my biggest complaints is working with fitting armholes. Why aren’t there more options? I am going to think about engineering something…it looks like some sleepless nights. I have books and sketches of how to improve things. Maybe some prosthetics for my dress form?

  7. Carla says:

    But the armhole is not the only difference. The Bunka form looks like a real person while the other — looks like a dress dummy.

  8. Loretta says:


    I emailed the school through their online website, they said they don’t ship overseas, nor do they sale them anywhere in North America.

    Plus from what I’m told from the Deputy service, even if you show up at the store, there’s no guarantee you can buy it in person because they might only take your order and let the manufacturer send it directly to you (I have to pay extra shipping on mine because of this).

    here’s the link to the store: http://www.bunka-koubai.com/index.php

  9. karen v says:

    Hi Kathleen,
    That anatomic armhole is awesome. However, as fabulous as this dressform looks, it still would not mimic many women’s bodies. Are you a perfect Japanese size 9? I was 35 years ago! I now subscribe to the “pad your dressform out to mimic your shape” theory. Check out this link..
    I guess it’s folly to expect a manufactured form to have any similarity to a unique individual, just like the commercial home sewing patterns don’t fit anyone out of the envelope. (unless you are the American counterpart of the perfect Japanese size 9)
    I started blogging my “adventure” padding out an antique Acme Junior form for my daughter. I kind of got sidetracked and didn’t finish it, but after seeing that beautiful Bunka form that is Not Available, I may just finish it. I have been using my patternmaking software to check the fit of the form. You can see my work in progress at:

  10. Kathleen says:

    Teijo sent me this information in a private email. Post here if you have any questions.

    The company that manufactures the dress forms is Nanasai. The model numbers on the top of the column on the left side…Ah. Even the alphabet is in DBCS so I’m not sure whether you can see them. Never mind….

    Draping forms:
    20 yr old female:http://www.nanasai.co.jp/dummy/dummy-3.htm
    20 yr old male:http://www.nanasai.co.jp/dummy/dummy-2.htm
    40 yr old female:http://www.nanasai.co.jp/dummy/dummy-4.htm
    70 yr old female:http://www.nanasai.co.jp/dummy/dummy-5.htm

    Cutting forms:
    20 F torso: http://www.nanasai.co.jp/dummy/body-1.htm
    20 F legs: http://www.nanasai.co.jp/dummy/body-2.htm
    20 F swimwear: http://www.nanasai.co.jp/dummy/body-3.htm
    40 F torso: http://www.nanasai.co.jp/dummy/body-4.htm
    40 F legs: http://www.nanasai.co.jp/dummy/body-5.htm

    Fitting forms
    20 F LL size legs: http://www.nanasai.co.jp/dummy/body-6.htm
    20 F stockings (left in picture):
    20 F socks (middle in picture):
    20 M socks (right in picture):

    The web site information was probably left out because the staff doesn’t speak English. The forms they currently offer were developed between 1995 and 2000. The “20 year old” models replicate a Japanese size M (JIS 9, or approximately US size 6) so I’m not sure how useful they would be to American customers – but if someone wants one desperately enough I’ll be glad to help.

    Size information can be found here.

    If you want, I’ll translate any parts that Babelfish can’t handle…

  11. gilda says:

    i just wanted to add that bunka doesn’t ship overseas because of how fragile the forms are, and they wouldn’t want to be liable in case it gets dented.

    also, i am quite sure i remember them having larger, ie, larger than size 9 forms.

    i previously tried purchasing a quarter-size form here in new york from two of the most famous companies (who my teachers at parsons insisted were the best). upon going to the factory to buy the form, i asked the guy there what size the form is for. ie, it’s a quarter size of a size 8? 10? etc.

    his answer was that the quarter-size is too small to make and hence although it would cost like $200, it’s just a small form and not properly sized at all. it’s just a very rough gauge.

    i thought that was nonsense and promptly bought both the half-size and quarter-sized forms from bunka when i was there in january visiting ex-classmates.

    those are true to size and when you multiply by 4, will give a proper size 9. their quarter-sized forms are made of out rubber, but you can still push pins, etc into it for draping. in bunka we were also taught to make patterns in 1/4 sizes, so this is perfect to test a garment out, and then later blow it up to full-size. we don’t only use it for draping purposes.

  12. CDBehrle says:

    The shape of this new forms is fabulous, cements perfectly for me why I’ve never, ever worked on a form – they drive me crazy! I Hope one day Bunka will distribute to US. I’ll be first in line!

  13. cuttingline says:

    Kathleen Thanks for the great diagram of correct orientation of the arm! The misinformation about the arm hanging straight down from the upright rectangle (right figure) has plagued American pattern and fitting books since simplified dressmaker blocks of the 1920s. I teach my students to draft sleeves based on tailoring systems since, as you frequently illustrate (German armscye photo above), the tailors start with anatomy and work to accommodate it. The dismal pattern books from this country attempt to square-off and upright every thing about the blocks as if people were uniformly shaped like a flat pack spec’d garment. Continue to bust myths and dispel the clouds of misinformation out there, like the true Crusader Rabbit you are Kathleen. The future of any kind of decent fitting depends on preserving and sharing the increasingly lost skills and thinking of previous sculptors of cloth. The popular pattern books have been so dumbed down as to make them useless for the person who wants to know “why?”.

  14. Sandra B says:

    My dressform looks more like the one on the left, but has the armplate of the one on the right. It was made by a local company that I used to work for (I just sewed the covers). The owners had no background whatsoever in the fashion industry, but the husband was a tinkerer. They started off mending display mannequins and reselling them, then the business grew. They developed their dressform from an American shop display mannequin, so it has all the dips and curves you’d want. They had the Australian market covered, with most of the fashion schools and big name designers using their forms. They also made an expandable version but with no knowledge of grading, they just split it the standard form down the centre front, centre back and sides. They sold very well, but I can’t say I was ever a fan. I do have a 51 inch bust version, which is the based on the original 34 inch bust version, and she’s quite a good shape. She’s a bit idealised, particularly under the bust, where many larger women carry extra girth, but considering the variations that occur at this size, she’s a reasonable average of all possibilities. I have pulled her as tightly closed as I can, and covered her so I can get a decent centre line.

    I used to enjoy going into their showroom. It was the last old house left in a suburb converted to industrial use, and I doubt it had been touched or repaired since the 70’s. Entering the building felt a bit precarious, as if you weren’t quite sure that the floorboards would hold. Every room was full of mannequins, and it looked like you’d walked into a cocktail party full of naked supermodels and pushed the pause button.

    I don’t know if they would sell internationally, and they are semi retired now, and scaling down a lot, but I think the son has started making the models again, so I’m not sure what he intends to do. http://www.dummieswa.com.au/

  15. Amber says:

    Wow, that’s interesting, I made a dress form of myself from masking tape with a friend and the arm hole is exactly that triangular shape. I just sort of felt it must be a little screwed up. And since it doesn’t have real armplates I had to just sort of draw one on, and it follows that triagular contour. I don’t know how to draft well for this shape.

  16. Asinknits says:

    The revised dress form also has a swayback.

    I recently went shopping for jeans, and every pair of jeans I tried on assumed I didn’t have much of a back curve/swayback. I ended up buying the pair that had the smallest gaping at the back. There may be a lot more to the constant issue of back gaping in pants, but I can’t help but wonder if poor dress forms without the back curves natural to humans could be part of this.

  17. Lia says:

    Hi, I’m a fashion design student in Ireland and I have been looking desperately for a quarter sized form! Have any of you successfully bought one? Can anyone help me get one? Any advice or information would be appreciated, Thanks.

  18. Donna says:

    HI Kathleen
    I was wondering whether you have posted on the difference between draping, cutting and fitting forms. I am interested in the difference but have been unable to find the information. I am guessing that a draping form is slightly bigger to fill out the ease that you would have in a fished garment?? Thanks.

  19. Brina says:

    Not Kathleen, but I’ve never heard of using different forms for draping, cutting and fitting. Generally you use a live person to fit–so okey that’s different, but technically not a form. when you drape, you add the ease you need while you are draping, or add it while transferring the drape to flat patterns. Not sure what a ‘cutting’ form would be. Where did you heard of there being a difference? Different people and different manufacturers might use one or another adjective to describe their forms–but that does not necessarily mean anything in action.

  20. Donna says:

    Hi Brina
    Kathleen’s reply above (June 11 2008) refers to the various forms, hence my question.
    I have noticed that clothes on dress forms look a lot smoother and tighter than when photographed on bodies (e.g. patternmaking books) and I wondered whether a form was body dimension+ease ie. the garment would have ease on a real body but not on the form of the same ‘size’.

  21. Kathleen says:

    I have no idea of the difference between these forms. I use them so seldom anyway. The content from above was a translation provided by Teijo, copied word for word.

  22. Brina says:

    Thanks Donna,

    I looked at Kathleen’s June 11, 2008 reply and then at the various forms via the links. So here’s my take:
    The draping forms are what we would generally call mannikins–full bodies with head and arms–what is used to display items for sale.
    The cutting forms are torso and lower body forms used in the workroom to drape patterns and to check pattern fit and style lines.
    The fitting forms are lower body (below waist) and/or leg forms, used to display undergarments, stockings, socks, etc for sale.

    Interesting, because most of the premium dress form manufacturers in the USA, such as Wolf, do not make mannikin display forms.

  23. Donna says:

    Thanks Kathleen and Brina, I haven’t heard to term mannikins before (but I am an Australian and not in the industry). The general public call them dummies or shop dummies here!
    Regards Donna

  24. Pennie says:

    I have been using Bunka and other Japanese
    patternmaking books and mags since the 1970’s and love them. Nothing compares! I teach Fashion Design & Pattetnmaking and thoroughly tested every other method I could find.
    Outside of draping a sleeve on the wearer I have found
    the best way to conquer the sleeve form issue is to make your own form. With cling wrap and snug long sleeve tee and some plaster coated gauze as they use for medical casts. Slip on teeshirt ,wrap neck, bustline and wrist with cling wrap and wrap in light mummy style around neck, upper chest , around back at chest level and down arms. Once off mend cuts with coated gauze. It dries quickly and cut off going up both arms using surgical scissors. I know this sounds time consuming but the time it will save a serious patternmaker is worth it.

  25. Yasuko says:

    I purchased an adjustable form on Amazon about a year ago and it has been
    a pain in the neck because of its uneven shoulders and armholes. Recently I contacted
    a Japanese form maker in Tokyo and they said they ship overseas including
    USA. Most of the forms are small but they also have European sizes and their professional
    types with heads are used in fashion design schools in Germany (I read their homepage with photos).
    The company has about 100 years of history and is called Kiiya. They said
    they have many customers in Europe and China.

    company profile

    products (some English words on the top of the page)

    I bought a basic “Kiiya couture type” which is handmade by Japanese workers
    of the company and the shoulders and armholes are exactly the same in length
    and diameter. The body is beautiful with nice fabric and it is easy to pin.
    Quite impressive.

  26. Yasuko says:

    I meant the shoulders and armholes of Kiiya’s form
    are perfectly even in length and diameter when you
    compare left and right.

  27. Hiromi says:

    Here is in Tokyo,Japan. Thank you for your advertisement .
    Additionally I’m really appriciate your words,”quite impressive”.
    This is beyond my mind.

    I would say thank you again,Yasuko.
    I hope your patternmaking time spred widely by kiiya dummy.
    And useing this improve your skill of making.

    A dummy is next to you.
    Hiomi Ogata

  28. Reita says:

    When I first started studying draping & pattern making at FIT in NYC, I wondered about the
    non organic shape of the standard Wolf dress forms we used. I thought I wanted the form
    to be more realistic – true to the shapes women come in, but after giving it thought I realized
    the forms were giving us the standards of the time in terms of the finished shape of the garments.
    It made sense. Pencil skirts have a very flattering effect if not completely tailored to your natural shape – how could a woman go to the office in something that showed every curve! And then there are those of us that could use a little disguising, or help. When I needed a more intimate fit, I used the lingerie forms that have the bust and buttocks defined closer to nature. The Japanese form looks lovely, in the photo, but I think many times I would be correcting the draped pieces to reflect the more geometric standard forms, simply because the garment has it’s own flow and shape and doesn’t necessary need to mimic the body, exactly.

  29. If anyone is looking for one like I was I found mine here finally!!!


    Shipped from US, I already started a pattern from “Pattern Magic” by Tomoko Nakamichi (http://www.amazon.com/Pattern-Magic-Tomoko-Nakamichi/dp/1856697053/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1372178872&sr=1-8&keywords=bunka) that I had been waiting soo long to try and it is just amazing, pins go in great and the fit is an incredible godsend.

    Thank you so much for introducing me to this amazing dress form!

  30. Louisa says:


    Does anyone know if Bunka is still making the 1/4 scale forms?

    I’m looking at doing a proxy purchase – I am based in Australia – and I can’t see them on the website? Only 1/2 scale.

    Also, were there ever 1/2 or 1/4 sleeve forms available? I’d like to pick them up in one fell swoop, and a trip to Japan is not in the near future!


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