What is a Dress Form?

Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus
A cocktail dress on a dress form.
A cocktail dress on a dress form.

A dress form is a three-dimensional shape used for sewing or displaying clothing. Dressmakers use dress forms to work with garment pieces to construct a clothing item of a specific size, while fashion merchandisers or designers may display finished garments on a dress form rather than on a full-size mannequin. Mannequin dress forms differ from full-size mannequins in that they don't have a head or limbs. Dress forms model a female figure from the neck to the top of the thighs and the form is attached to a wood or metal stand. The stand may feature small rollers for easy movement.

Dress forms are designed to emulate the form of an actual woman.
Dress forms are designed to emulate the form of an actual woman.

Having a stand on a dress form allows dresses, skirts and sometimes pants to hang down at an appropriate height. It also lets the dressmaker work with the form at a reasonably comfortable height. For display purposes, the stand holds the dressed form to allow viewing at a comfortable eye level. Clothing store owners may prefer having some dress forms rather than all mannequins as they are easier to dress since there is no head or limbs. Dress forms are also easier for fashion designers and merchandisers to transport than full-size mannequins for travel to designer shows.

Sewing pins are often used to keep excess fabric in place when using a dress form.
Sewing pins are often used to keep excess fabric in place when using a dress form.

Dress forms are usually lightweight and may be made of wire, rattan or foam although most are made from layered paper materials covered with cloth. People who make their own dress forms often use foam. Foam pads may also accompany purchased dress forms so that extra sizes can be created. Many, but not all, dress form mannequins are adjustable in size.

Dress forms make it easier for dressmakers to work.
Dress forms make it easier for dressmakers to work.

A dress form may be a basic ladies size small, medium, large or extra large and then be adjustable within those ranges to different sizes. For example, a ladies size small mannequin dress form may have adjustments for sizes between 0 to 6 or 7. The fashion merchandiser would adjust the size to the one that most closely fits his or her display outfit and may pin excess fabric at the back of the form to adjust the fit. The cloth surface of dress forms is designed to hold pins well. Dressmakers sew sections of garments and then pin them onto the dress form to adjust the fit to the particular clothing size of their pattern.

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    • A cocktail dress on a dress form.
      A cocktail dress on a dress form.
    • Dress forms are designed to emulate the form of an actual woman.
      Dress forms are designed to emulate the form of an actual woman.
    • Sewing pins are often used to keep excess fabric in place when using a dress form.
      Sewing pins are often used to keep excess fabric in place when using a dress form.
    • Dress forms make it easier for dressmakers to work.
      Dress forms make it easier for dressmakers to work.