Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How to Construct a Personal Dress Form

I've wanted a dress form in my own size for a long time. Not only would it make fitting a lot easier, I would be able to post pictures of my outfits on this blog. See, I'm violently non-photogenic-- not so much as in looking particularly bad in photographs as simply hating having my picture taken. I also don't model clothes well in pictures, and would rather not stand around for photo shoots, to say nothing of finding a photographer. In addition, I have quite a few skirts and things that I'm going to attempt to sell online, and clothes on models tend to sell much better.

Professional adjustable dress forms cost a lot more than miserly me is willing to shell out, and I've read that many will only be an approximate fit because while it might get the basic proportion of hip-waist-bust, it can't simulate the exact shape of an individual's torso (for example, very narrow or broad shoulders). Even more expensive ones can be custom-made, but if I were ever to gain or lose a significant amount of weight, I might very likely never fit that size (or shape) again.

I read a few articles about how to make dress forms out of duct tape. This involved having someone mummify your entire torso in several layers of duct tape. Comments from some of these people indicated varying levels of success mingled with reports of overheating and panic attacks because of the restrictive procedure. Many said that the resulting form would not hold its shape and needed to be stuffed with insulation foam. The forms also commonly came out a size or so larger because of all the layers. I have asthma to begin with, so this didn't seem like the best way to spend an average of three hours. Other equally uncomfortable-sounding methods involved paper tape, papier-mache, plaster bandages, and other things that you'd have to be cut out of with a buzz-saw.

Later, I came across an article on how to make decorative dress forms out of rusty chicken wire and got the idea to make one in my size, by the same general principle.

Here's how I did it, for around ten dollars and a little over an hour.

All you need is about six feet of about two-foot-wide chicken wire, duct tape, and wire cutters or tin-snips, and someone who can spare five minutes. Mesh could work instead of chicken wire; the point is that the wire has to be stiff enough to hold its shape but pliable enough to bend with the fingers. Here are some diagrams, since photographs might not be as clear.First, I measured from the top of my shoulders to my knees in front and back, taking all curves into account, and cut a piece of chicken wire of that length. It ended up being a little longer than I am tall. I covered the ends temporarily with a strip of duct tape to keep from scratching myself. Then I clipped a hole in the middle big enough for my head to pass easily through and taped the edges of it, too.Next, I slipped it over my head so that it hung down in front and back like a poncho. My particular roll of wire was two feet wide, so it extended several inches past both shoulders. It's advisable to wear very thin clothing for this, and nothing that would bunch up around the waist.With the chicken wire rolled tightly around me and fastened with a couple spare bits of wire at the sides, it was easy to cinch the front to fit my shape. I found that scrunching the wire a little smaller than I was made it sit at just the right shape when released. My brother shaped the back and shoulders. This whole process took less than ten minutes. It is perfectly comfortable, since the wire isn't tight enough to inhibit breathing, and the entire thing can be taken off and finished later without losing what you'd begun. You also get to experience what it's like to be a tomato plant.
All right, now for photographs.After unfastening the side wires, I took off the form and put it together again, making sure that it fit my measurements. At this point the shape should definitely look familiar, but unless you're accustomed to seeing yourself in a wetsuit or leotard in a three-way mirror, it might seem odd in places. If it's fitting your measurements, resist the urge to make it "look right." Since I cut the initial hole for my head a little large, I used a smaller piece of chicken wire to reshape the shoulders. I used empty duct tape rolls to make a neck.I covered the form in a single layer of duct tape to keep the wires from poking out, and to keep it from losing its shape outward. I might also sew a stretchy velour cover for it, just to give it a nice finish. Here's the just-about-finished product modeling the clothes I'm going to wear to work tomorrow (from Goodwill, of course). That's the sweater rumpling up on the side, not the dress form. I need to find some tape to finish covering up the rest of it, and also adjust the slope of the shoulders (right now they're unnaturally square).There are only two drawbacks about this model that I can see. Firstly, it can't be pushed hard against; it can support a good weight, but has the potential to collapse if squeezed or punched in frustration(I also wouldn't leave anything very heavy on it, like a ballgown or winter coat which could gradually press the wire out of shape, for long periods of time). Stuffing it with newspaper or insulation foam might reduce the chances of being crushed. Secondly, it can't be pinned to as a model with a layer of cloth or foam could. I guess if I sew a covering for it, I could conceivably pin things to it.

And there you have it-- an affordable dress form which can be made in any size and shape imaginable.


  1. It's you! With no head! Weird.

    Also, your pretty coordinated outfit has caused me to fall into envy and despair. And I just went to Confession yesterday. Shame on you for being able to color-coordinate.

  2. terrific! thank you, this will save big money on a display.