The Acme Dress Form, 1956

Vogue Pattern Book, February/March, 1956. Click to enlarge

At first glance this seems like a really good idea, an adjustable dress form that could be used by women of varying sizes and ages. The examples show a slim teenager, a young woman, and their mother all using the same device. The bust, waist, and hips have expanded a good seven to eight inches from youth to maturity, supposedly showing the changes in a woman’s body as she ages.

But wait!  If you chart the measurements closely, you will see that the proportions remain pretty much the same.  Young Joan, whose measurements are 31” x 23” x 33” has an eight inch difference between her bust and waist and a ten inch difference between her waist and hip.  Ruth, with the measurements of 34” x 24” x 35.5” has a ten inch difference between bust and waist, with a 11.5 difference between waist and hip.

Click to enlarge

The woman who interests me the most is Mrs. Marsh, no first name mentioned, with her “matronly figure.”  She measures up at 38” x 30.5” x 40”.  Although the numbers have increased, she has almost the proportions as her youngest daughter Joan, with 7.5” between bust and waist and 9.5” between waist and hip.  In other words, Mrs. March still has a version of an hour glass silhouette.  Isn’t this a false assumption, since many women gain weight in their middle as they age?

Of course, most women in the forties and fifties wore girdles that would probably cinch in their waists.  But for many, it would take some serious shape wear to create a waist that was a seven to eight inches smaller than the bust. In my case, for example, the difference is only four inches.  Without extra padding around the waist, this dress form would be very difficult for me to use.

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1 Response to The Acme Dress Form, 1956

  1. Susan says:

    Right you are! That was also my reaction to the illustration for “Making Clothes for the Older Woman.” I have measured literally thousands of people (although at least half were male) and there is definitely a female body type which, even in youth, has very little waist indentation relative to her hips, and (lucky them!) legs that remain muscular and firm well into middle age. Unfortunately, they tend to store their fat around their midriff, belly, and upper arms, which puts them at higher risk for type 2 diabetes. The hourglass or pear-shaped woman often stores her fat below her waist, around hips and thighs. (It is normal for a woman’s body to store fat! Before it became possible to store food, all humans experienced yearly periods of near starvation, and pregnant or lactating women needed extra fat deposits to draw upon.) I notice that the dress-form measurements given are not too dissimilar to the pattern measurements standardized around 1968, with hips two inches bigger than the bust. And you are right: costume shops simply pad their mannequins to match the shape of the actor/actress. Perhaps, when dresses had darts in the bodice and skirt, pattern manufacturers assumed that letting out the darts would solve the fit problem for women with larger-than-the-mannequin waists — a relatively easy alteration. But older women would still need to pad the personalized mannequin to match a lower bust or bigger waist — or a pot belly, a sway back, large buttocks, or a dowager’s hump. Small pattern alterations can really help camouflage those common variations from the “ideal.”

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