I could have put a crowbar in my wallet and bought a new one. They're readily available, and may be had in two varieties:
- fairly expensive and staggeringly ugly;
- staggeringly expensive and fairly ugly.
I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted a vintage dress form, made with care in the pre-plastic era. I did not something that had been made indifferently in China with toxic waste and strip-mined panda carcasses. My dream girl was a statuesque, attractively worn dame made from the time-tested combination of linen over jersey over papier-maché over wire, with a brass-plated skirt frame and a rolling, cast iron base.
I have friends who work with clothes for a living, so I made inquiries. "Where does one go," I asked, "to purchase a reasonably-priced vintage dress form?"
An hour and a half later, when the laughter died down, the replies were discouraging.
All of my friends outside New York City suggested a regimen of Craigslist, eBay, patience and prayer. The most knowledgeable of the bunch told me that old forms are the first thing snapped up any time a shop or workroom goes under (which is happening all the time–see "made in China," above) and when you do find them, they cost serious gelt. This fellow should know, since he has a small stable of them in his own workroom.
I asked if I could buy one of his. I offered cash, lifelong friendship, a kidney, and high-quality free sex. More laughter.
Then there were the friends in New York City. They gave the sort of reply friends in New York City always give to this kind of question:
Yeah, I know a place. You have to go out to Queens, and they're only open on the third Tuesday of every month from 10:47 am–noon. Unless it's November, then it's the second Tuesday and the hours are shorter. They don't have a phone, a Web site or email and they don't ship. Anyway, you just go out there and it's this warehouse and there's no street number and the entrance is unmarked, so you look for the boarded-up door with the PREZ BUSH SUK MY DIK graffitti on it and knock; and when they yell at you to get lost, ask for Sol. Unless it's November, then ask for Miguel. They have ten thousand of them and they're all $1.92, but if you try to take them across state lines they spontaneously combust.I took to half-heartedly searching for "dress form" on Craigslist now and again. This mostly turned up mannequins, which are not dress forms; and form-fitting prom dresses, which are not dress forms; and rants about forms of address, which are not dress forms.
Last week, the search yielded an estate sale ad. There, in a color photograph, was a beautiful vintage dress form. The sale–which for once was actually in Chicago, and not in a suburb seven hours away pretending to be in Chicago–was by appointment only and had ended two days earlier. I called anyway and left a message. I had as much hope of the form still being unsold as I do of the Republicans and the Democrats doing the Virginia Reel down Pennsylvania Avenue.
The lady who had placed the ad called me back the next day. "Yes," she said, "the dress form is available. Would you like to come and see it? How about this afternoon?"
I figured it was 50/50 that voice on the phone was bait in a Very Special Episode of Punk'd featuring on gay male knitters. I could live with those odds.
That evening, thanks to Tom Terrific and His Magic Volvo Station Wagon, I came home with Mildred.
She's a classic Wolf Adjustable, Model 1959, made (as far as I can tell from checking her patent numbers) some time in the 1940s.* And still being made, which tells you something about the quality.
The lady who sold her to me (for a very fair price) is an artist who just liked the look of her. She had spent the recent past as a decoration, but her little steel casters told an older story. When I bought her she was completely hobbled, and no wonder. Look at this.
Those are threads picked up over the years from the floor of a workroom–apparently a very busy workroom. This is the thread I pulled out of one side of one 1" diameter wheel.
Mildred is battle-scarred. I don't mind–it's honorable.
After a damp cloth, sandpapering to take the rust off her base and wheels, and a lick of brass polish, she has a patina you can't fabricate. For practical purposes, she's good as new.
The artist told me she'd had other several calls about the form, but something in my voice suggested I'd give her the best home–so I got her.
I'm grateful for the chance to put the old gal back to work. And it's been awfully difficult, until now, trying to do fittings on Dolores.
*Correction! Made in 1959, per her model number - a tip o' the hat to commenter Marcia in Austin!