Strapless dresses: is there any other garment that promises so much, but at such high risk? If you've owned or worn a strapless dress, you've probably spent at least one night pulling the damn thing up every couple of minutes. That's because most strapless dresses are too cheaply made to provide sufficient support to stay up like they should. And while double-sided tape can be a temporary fix, with nothing more than a length of ribbon and some hand sewing, you can effect an easy, permanent remedy. Here's how.
The technique is simple once you understand the problem. The reason strapless dresses want to fall down is because there's nothing holding them up. Think about it: most clothing isn't skintight; what keeps it in position is the fact that it hangs from the human shoulder. But a dress that ends at your armpits has nothing to hold onto. A strapless dress can't be supported from above, by the shoulder, so it needs to be supported from below, from the wearer's waist. It needs a belt — a "stay" — to wrap around that waist, and it needs vertical structural elements — boning — to run from that stay all the way up the dress, propping it up. This combination of horizontal and vertical structural elements is called a "waist stay," and it's common in couture clothing and older ready-to-wear (you might have already seen one on a vintage dress). Boning + ribbon belt = waist stay = no more falling-down dress. It also = a dress that is more comfortable to wear.
To demonstrate, I'm going to use a purple silk Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti sheath that I bought about four years ago — $88 at Filene's, which was both more money than I had to spend and too good a price to pass up. It was an impractical extravagance, and one of the first pieces of designer clothing I ever purchased. I loved the complicated draping, the rich color, and how the vaguely '50s silhouette almost made me look as if I had curves. I didn't love how the damn thing kept falling down. So into the back of the closet it went. Until now.
To get started, you'll need from left: 1) A strapless dress whose stay-up ability is currently of concern to you. 2) About 1-2 yards of fabric-covered plastic boning (or sufficient boning to fit the bodice of the aforementioned dress). 3) Thread. 4) Fabric scissors. 5) Pins and sewing needles. 6) Grosgrain ribbon in a sufficient length to wrap around your waist, plus about 10". Click any photo to enlarge.
Note: if your dress doesn't have existing channels for boning, fear not — that's why I recommend fabric-covered boning. Instead of inserting the boning into channels, simply hand-sew the fabric-wrapped boning to the dress lining. Stitch through the fabric cover and into the lining, being careful not to catch either the plastic boning itself or the fashion fabric on the dress's exterior. Start the boning about 1/4" from the top of the dress, and leave the bottom 1" or so of the boning unattached and free of the lining. Lastly, do a line of firm back-stitches at the top of each piece of boning to close it up and prevent the boning poking out (or poking you).
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