All About Dress Forms & Mannequins

Updated: Jan 5

All About Dress Forms: A Complete Guide to Dress forms & Mannequins. Dress forms can be a very helpful, perhaps even vital tool for budding and professional dressmakers. To get you started you'll need a few basic tips. Which I've broken down into three parts.

Part 1: Breaking Down the Anatomy of a Dress Form.

Understanding the parts of your dress form and how to properly utilize them can be very helpful during the design process. Below, I've created a diagram that will assist you in identifying key features.

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Part 2: Types of Dress forms

I've often had my students, as well as other inquiring minds ask if it was necessary to have dress form. I then posed the question, "Is it necessary to have washing machine?" Surely, you can clean your clothes without one but, it certainly makes things a lot easier when you do! The same goes for a dress form, you can sew with out one but any one who has finally bit the bullet and purchases one, usually ends up with several. Especially, if you are using them for your business. Being able to place your clothing on a 3D model, makes all the difference in seeing how it lays. So the next question is "What are the different types, and what is the best form to use?"


Standard Professional Half body Dress form

I have two versions of this dress form in my studio. One in a size 8 with two arms, and another is a size 18 with *collapsing shoulders. (the collapsing shoulder form works for removing garments that hug tight, usually around the waist or hips and are difficult to remove unless you narrow the shoulders). I use these two most often, as I specialize in dressmaking and they have the corresponding lines and markings that are very helpful.

Full Body Professional Dress Form

Even if only to complete my collection, this particular form has been in my shopping cart on Etsy for quite a while. I don't often create pants unless its going along with some formal dress design with a detachable train. However, I love the height and I think it would work well with long train dresses and jumpsuits.

Half Scale Dress Form

The measurements on this particular form vary, I purchase one over a year ago and it is truly a game changer. For one, if you are like me and you create a lot of complex formal garments, being able to map them out on a smaller scale saves times and most importantly fabric! Sometimes you'll have a look envisioned in your head, and with this you are able to see exactly what is required to make that vision a reality. This is also great for those intermediate designers and dressmakers who are looking to increase their skills. Using pattern blocks that are scaled to this size are often helpful as well.

Children's Dress Form

This is not necessarily mandatory for those who will not, or have no interest in creating clothing for children. If you do go that route, just know that unlike the standard dress forms where padding can be added to create size differences, children's dress forms often vary between ages so, you'll need to keep that in mind.

Display Mannequins

Now, I've often seen display mannequins get confused with dress forms / dress making figures. There are distinct differences. Display mannequins as the name indicates, are for display purposes, they do not have any real helpful guides on them to assist in the dressmaking process. Although they can be very eye catching and even a great substitute for a live model, it should be noted that if you are looking to use the form in the creative process as an assist, make sure you are searching for a "dress form" and not just a mannequin. Dress forms are also more sturdy as the intension is to move and use them a lot, including inserting pins and needles. Display mannequins are primarily used for showing a completed design or as decorations.

(Genesis Display Mannequins) These are my favorite, their mannequins have so much expression and glamour!

Here's some images from a dress I designed, using my Genesis display mannequin to showcase the garment.