While fitting to a dressform can never replace fitting to a live person, when you sew for yourself it can be an invaluable tool. I know when I first started I didn’t see the need for one, but after about a year of contortionist tricks and pin stabs, I was ready to find an alternative method. I have nowhere near the budget for a custom built form, nor the weight stability to warrant that sort of a purchase. I’m also not very close to industry standards for sizing, so I looked at my options for adjustable forms. Different forms fit my needs at different times, so I thought I do a comparison/summary post of my findings.
Duct Tape Dress Form
My first attempt was everyone’s favorite DIY tutorial – the duct tape dummy.
Although I think it was a valuable experience to see my body form cast into another shape (hello, swayback!), this, ultimately, wasn’t the best solution for me. I actually tossed this form, not finding a desire to bring it with me when I moved home from grad school.
- Cheap. Like, less than $50 for materials cheap, if you don’t build yourself a stand. Possibly “free” if you ignore sunk costs and have an old shirt you don’t want, and have lots of duct tape and fiberfill lying around.
- It is completely your body shape because you are making a duct-tape “cast” of your own body.
- Fun(?). You definitely need a partner that you trust to not slice your back open with scissors. It’s a bonding experience.
- Gender neutral. You can use duct tape on anyone, so your form could be for a man, woman, or (very patient) child.
- It won’t be completely painful to your soul or wallet if you try an experiment (i.e. fabric paint, etc.) with the form and something bad happens to it.
- The dress form comes out slightly larger than your body. It’s just the nature of making an outer shell and not using it as a means of creating an inner cast, but as the final product itself. For me, this made it impossible to use the form for close-fitting garments or even draping, because everything came out much too big.
- Rigid. Despite being filled with fiberfill, the form itself comes out pretty rigid and heavy because of all the tape.
- Not pinnable. I couldn’t get my pins to stick through the tape. And, let’s be honest, I wouldn’t really want to ruin my pins that way anyway. I did try the extra t-shirt over the top trick, but that wasn’t really cutting it for me either.
- Time consuming. It takes quite a while to tape someone up, and a long time to fill the form.
- Not the most aesthetically pleasing. Even though there is pretty tape out there, something about having a professional looking form is just more pleasing to the eye.
Verdict: I’d make one to use for building cosplay armor, as I wouldn’t mind if it got messed up with the paints or thermoplastics, but I would look for an alternative if you just want something to use for sewing. In the end, the cost of materials and time would be better saved to use on a higher priced dress form.
Dritz/Singer Adjustable Forms
Ok, so I have to preface this by saying I’ve never actually owned one of these forms. But, they are the most readily available and I’ve played with them in the craft stores, so I thought I’d best include them in the comparison.
- Adjustable. You can dial them up or down in size, which is great if you have to sew for many people or are often having fluctuations in weight.
- Comes with a stand. This is true of most pre-made dress forms, but once you include the cost for the stand in the duct tape form, the price (with coupons/sales) is pretty comparable.
- Affordable. Of the available pre-made dress forms, this is the cheapest, especially if you wait for a $99 sale.
- Fast. Buy it, pull it out of the box, twist a few knobs, done. No spending hours twirling around in duct tape. No scary scissor incidents. No finding fiberfill in your nose for a week.
- Independant. Assuming you can lift the box, you don’t need a friend to help you out.
- Empty space. If you expand this a lot, you will have gaps in the form. This means it isn’t fully pinnable.
- Flimsy. The stand certainly isn’t as robust as one would hope.
- Might require additional padding. If you really want to get a form that looks like you, you may have to add additional padding to the bust, waist, or hips area, which would be an extra cost.
- Ladies only. As far as I can tell, these forms only exist in women’s size ranges. If anyone knows different, please let me know.
Verdict: I’ve avoided buying one of these forms because I’ve always rationalized that, for the money I could save up a little more to get something a bit better. This is something I’d consider buying if I were going to get heavily into making cosplay armor though; for the cost it’d be comparable to the duct tape form and come with a stand. If you need a form NOW then it could also be a good choice, as you can find them at Jo-Ann and other local craft stores quite frequently.
I bought one of these forms early in my sewing journey. For the cost of around $150 (the prices have gone up somewhat), I figured it was a much better investment than the Dritz form from Jo-Ann. In the changing landscape of sewing supply resources, turns out you can order them on Amazon now. I was certainly much happier with this than the duct tape form, and I think it fits the needs of most sewers much better than a duct tape dummy would. However, it isn’t a perfect solution to the dressform dilemma; there are certainly some drawbacks to this particular form.
- Pinnable. The entire form is foam, encased by a muslin cover that you tailor to your body. You can stick pins everywhere, except in the zipper up the back.
- Shaped like you. If you follow the instructions that come with the form, you should be able to get a very tailored cover that will mush the form into your body’s shape. Since this is much thinner than the duct tape form, it actually works much better for close fitting garments. I also found that it did a good job replicating my sway back and (at the time) uneven shoulders. (I think I no longer have as much of this problem after a major chiropractic adjustment to my back and lots of PT. The chiropractor said the adjustment was over an inch… And skating on it afterwards there was certainly a difference!)
- Flimsy stand. The stand, while somewhat better than the plastic ones with the Dritz forms, is a pretty thin metal, and the topheavy form is likely to flip over.
- The struggle is real. Getting the cover fit to my body took the better part of a day, with help. Getting the form into said cover was also a real effort.
- Phone a friend. Then buy them dinner. Some people say they have set the form up on their own but I don’t know how they managed it. With two people working, we barely got the form set up in a full day of work.
- Torpedo tits. Perhaps one aspect that the Uniquely You form is most famous for is the “Madonna Boob” situation. See, the form, uncovered, has really, really pointy breasts. Really long, pointy breasts. Now, while I’m sure we all appreciate the manufacturer’s attempt to give us all plenty to work with, the shape is a bit crazy. Most people complain of the boobs being too high, but I had the opposite problem of them being too low. While I was able to smash them into the form in their entirely, the taking of a turkey carver to the foam form is not unheard of.
- “Adjustable.” While the form is, in some sense “adjustable” in that you can re-tailor a new cover for the foam body, having gone through the experience once, I can tell you I had no desire to do it again. When I gained weight, I didn’t want to re-configure the form, but found myself using it for little more than a display rack, as it was now too small to really use for fittings. Similarly, now that I’ve lost weight again, I’m glad I didn’t go through the process, as I’d have hated to redo it a third time.
- No men. Same problem as the Dritz forms. Though, here you have a bit more opportunity to get a man’s shape, if you aren’t afraid of carving off the boobs and making a lot of adjustments to the form.
- No pants. You can fit skirts and dresses easily, but there is no leg separation, so you won’t be able to fit a pair of pants.
Verdict: For the price point, this is actually a really good form. I’ve enjoyed using mine, though I do wish the stand was a bit sturdier. The original set up is a royal pain, but the end result is pretty good. It is a Made in the USA product if that is important to you, and I didn’t have any problem with weird smells or fumes that other reviews may have reported. At this point I’ve had the form for about 6-7 years; it’s yellowed quite a bit in that time, and the foam is significantly less squishy, but it has done its job or providing a great pinnable dress form that has, on the whole, been pretty comparable to my own body shape. (Here’s another pretty good review that shows the steps for setup as well as the size ranges.)
I reached a point earlier this year where I realized I was no longer using my dressform as anything other than a glorified hanger because it no longer represented my body shape. I was resigned to either fitting a new cover for the Uniquely You form (and, at the time possibly needing to order a larger sized form) or purchasing a different type of dress form altogether. One of my main complaints was the inability to try leotards and pants on the form, as I wear a lot of these, and it was not possible with the shape of the Uniquely You. So I thought I’d shop around a bit and see if I could find something that would suit my needs a bit better. I was contemplating getting a professional form and padding it out to my measurements using batting, but then I stumbled on the Fabulous Fit system. This system starts the user off with a base professional-ish quality form, then uses two layers of knit covers and many foamed pad inserts to replicate the shape of the body.
- Solid metal stand. And I mean solid. It’s a heavy metal stand, with metal wheels, and a metal attachment to use as a stop to prevent it from rolling around. So much better quality than any of the other forms I’ve discussed so far.
- Easy to adjust. Although it takes a bit of work to get the pads inserted “just so” to replicate your body shape, it is nothing in comparison with the effort of fitting the body cover of the Uniquely You. I’ve been thinking I might need to re-measure myself against my form to adjust, as I’ve lost a bit of weight since I first set it up. Unlike my older form, I’m not terrified by the prospect of setting this up.
- One man show. You can totally set this up by yourself. It requires a fair bit of measuring and fudging about with the foam insets, but I was able to get mine set up in less than an hour.
- It’s a man’s world! Yes, they have dress forms for men! A bit more difficult to find for the home sewing market, so this is really exciting. If you’ve ever fit a guy, it’s a bit like fitting a child – they have no patience, they squirm, and they expect perfection when you’ve finished. If you sew a lot for men, then a dressform is definitely something worth looking into.
- Can use a hanging stand. At least, I think you can. It looks like the neck attachment has a hook so that the form can be hung. I don’t have a stand to try this with, so I can’t say for certain.
- Pants! Or not. Your choice. There are several versions of the forms, with partial legs or without them. Honestly, I’m not sure why you’d get the form without legs when you have the option with legs; the legs aren’t going to inhibit the fitting of dresses or skirts.
- Arms! As far as I can tell they just pin onto the form, but it is still cool to have them.
- Sturdy, but not too heavy. It’s definitely weightier than my other forms, but not too heavy to manage on one’s own, especially if you are rolling it on the stand.
- Pinnable. It is super pinnable where the foam padding goes, but you can really pin anywhere because of the knit covers.
- Starts with a more anatomical body shape than most forms. This is one of the claims on the website, and I have to say I do think it is a pretty good body shape for a starting point. They assume you will add padding, so some regions are a bit flatter than you would expect, but this actually helps you get more accurate vertical proportions.
- Foam pads are well shaped and are good anatomical approximations to use for padding. I don’t think I used all the pads for their intended purposes, but they are all well shaped and actually blend rather smoothly to create the body shape.
- Foam pads can be used with any dress form. You could just order the foam padding set, and apply it to an existing dress form. For example, mixing these pads with the Dritz form could be a pretty cost effective alternative to spending the money on the Fabulous Fit form.
- Black or white. There are color options. I went with the white, because I thought I’d be better able to see contrast with the fabric and the form, but the black ones do look cool.
- Not an exact body double. The body shape replication is only as good as your eye, measurements, and ability to position the foam. I’ve read others who said they couldn’t quite get it right, until someone else came to adjust it. I’m actually pretty happy with the way mine came out; I took extensive horizontal and vertical measurements to compare between me and the form. I could also visually compare to my old form, so see if the shape was pretty close.
- It comes with one foam set, but you will likely need more. I think I bought 2 additional sets to pad out the boobs and butt. I will say, however, that being able to get a narrow shouldered form and pad it out to my bust and hip size was totally worth the extra cost.
- The shoulders aren’t collapsible. I feel like this is a feature that most people rave about, but it is also one that starts showing up after getting into fairly higher price jumps. I’ve survived without this feature so far; I’m hoping this won’t be a problem for me moving forward.
- Need to take it on/off stand to try on pants. I don’t have a hanging stand, so I have to unclamp the form anytime I want to try fitting of pants with the sides sewn. I might have to rethink my construction order a bit to avoid this.
- More expensive. This form is certainly more expansive than the other options; the studio forms have a list price of $475, but go on sale for as low as $387. Add to that a couple of set of additional pads (on sale at $77) and you are looking at a form anywhere from $400-$600, factoring in taxes.
- Professional forms are very expensive. You can get a form with full legs and hanging stand, but it’s going to run you over $2300 once you pay the tax man. Similarly, the professional women, men’s jacket, and plus sized forms get close to that $1000 mark. For those prices, I’d probably order a standard sized professional form from The Shop Company, then get some Fabulous Fit pads to buff the forms out.
- Plus sizes only come in professional. The studio forms come in sizes 2-14 (I ordered an 8 for reference), but the professional line also has sizes 16-20. At that price point, I’d also start poking around The Shop Company for a base form, then get some additional padding as a more affordable option.
- Men’s sizes are limited. The studio line for men only comes in sizes 38 and 40, whereas the pro men’s line comes in sizes 38-44, but can only be used for fitting tops. Oddly, while I think having a man’s form would be great (I make a lot of men’s skating costumes), I also tend to sew for people who fall greatly outside these size ranges (both much larger or much smaller), so I’m not sure how helpful these would be for me in particular, even though they would be helpful for placing decoration on the skating costumes. I looked at the men’s forms in The Shop Company professional line, but they are very similar in range.
Verdict: Definitely the best of everything I’ve tried, and well worth the money for the studio forms. I love this dress form, and I’d definitely buy from this company again. The men’s form and full-legged professional form are something of pipe dreams at this point; I don’t think I have either the space or income to justify them, and I am quite happy with what I do have. But, it is nice to know the option is there should I ever decide I need to make the investment.
Here is a side-by-side rundown:
As my skills have improved, so has the quality of my dress form. To be honest, when I first started sewing, I couldn’t have imagined spending $550 on a form, but the $200 price tag on the Uniquely You made more sense than buying the less-customizable Dritz or Singer models. Of course, now that I have the Fabulous Fit, I find I much prefer it to the other options, and think it is definitely worth the money. It certainly helped me fit my skating costume this past summer, which I couldn’t have done on my older form, which lacked the leg separations:
Ultimately, if money were no object, the ideal would be to have a custom dress form made to measure. However, since most of us live in a world of budgetary restraints, it is nice to know what other options exist. Hopefully this run down has been helpful in weighing the pros and cons of several dress form options ranging from about $50-$600. So, readers, time to ask – do you have any particularly positive or negative experiences with various dress form options? Do you have a prefered brand or style? What sort of budget would you set for dress form shopping? If you have any helpful dress form tips, feel free to discuss them in the comments!