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A Complete Guide To Backless Dresses & Bras

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I keep turning around in changing rooms to find a great big hole where fabric ought to be. Suddenly it's as hard to find a dress with a back as it was to find one with sleeves five years ago. Back and shoulders are the new arse, which was the new midriff, which was the new thigh, which somewhere way back in the mists of time was the new cleavage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as seduced by a lovely expanse of bare back as the next human with eyes and a secret bridal Pinterest board. But I have to ask, because apparently nobody else in the production chain is: WHERE DO THE BRAS GO?

‘Nowhere’ is the first answer. Fashion has a history of forgetting breasts exist. It’s also famously absent-minded where hips, calves and crotches are concerned, but boobs are a particular sore spot – quite literally, after we’ve crammed them into a strapless multiway minimiser and tried to push them cunningly into each armpit. Bras are a great fiction in the land of fashion; something you should see the effects of, but never the thing itself. Like the wind. Or God.

Blessed be the braless of all shapes and sizes. And if you’re happy, and comfy, going to a wedding in a state that can only be described as ‘the full Dimmock’, more power to you and your mammary muscle. I want to believe all the happy braless ladies are out there buying up all the backless things and wearing them all day long. But while we might love the idea of flowing wild and free, I’m pretty sure there are more backless tops and dresses around at the moment than there are women who (for reasons of backache, nipple strength, perpetual motion, whatever) actually feel comfortable going sans bra. By a ratio of about 50:1.

Should we only enter rooms backwards? Keep our arms crossed at all times? Hire one of those trays the ice cream sellers have at the theatre to carry our tits around on?

So those of us reliant on some engineered uplift, what do they think we'll do? Only enter rooms backwards? Keep our arms crossed at all times? Hire one of those trays the ice cream sellers have at the theatre to carry our tits around on? Perhaps they think we can just take them off and stash them in a tote bag at our convenience.

How can we take on the army of backless dresses and emerge victorious? Well, I've done some fieldwork and am here to present my findings...

1. Stick-on

If you’re over a B cup, expecting a stick-on bra to support you is like wanging a mini top hat fascinator on your head and expecting it to keep you dry in a rainstorm.

“Do people find they actually work?” I ask the saleslady in John Lewis. “Well,” she says brightly, “People definitely buy them!”

In fairness to stick-on bras, if what you’re looking for is just a shapely barrier between your nipples and the outside world, they do the job. In dresses that are tight enough for them not to move too far, ones like this by Fashion Forms (£25), plus some extra lingerie tape, are an option. But there’s something about knowing that in six hours you’re going to be peeling adhesive off your boob-skin and whimpering that kind of kills the backless allure.

2. Plastic straps (no)

We are also going to cast out clear plastic bra straps and backs because you are not 14 and this is not the youth disco you wore a chainmail butterfly top to in 2001.

3. Low-back converters

Next, the John Lewis sales lady shows me low back converters (£6) – the kind you hook onto an existing bra and wrap around your waist to make the back lower. Now we are getting somewhere. Far sturdier than the stick-ons, they keep you contained and have the added benefit of letting you wear your own nice bra rather than spending £25 on something that looks like medical equipment.

The downsides of the back converters, though: these will only lower your bra a few inches, so better for scoop backs than anything completely down-to-the-crack backless. There’s also the discomfort of having a bra strap digging into your waist all day, rolling up and flipping about each time you slouch. Good, but not a game-changer.
4. Fancy backs

When I take to Twitter to voice my backless crusade, among all the stories of women doing wince-making things with gaffer tape, comes a diamond of a tip from @miametro: bras with fancy backs. This sports bra beauty from H&M (£14.99) would be entirely useless for actually doing sport, but for wearing under a backless thing it works like a charm.

Also in the fancy-backed arena, Victoria’s Secret’s Perfect Coverage bra (£25.37) has a crochet back that would look good on show, as would SilkFred’s cotton bralette (£19.80) and Maidenform’s pure genius t-shirt bra (£30.36). Free People has a vast selection of delicate strappy-backed ‘bras’ such as this one (£18) and this one (£18) in a whole rainbow of nice colours – but with two generic sizes, soft cups and no underwiring, they’re more like wearing a bikini top than a real bra.

5. Bikini tops

Which brings us to another viable option: just wear a bikini top. Although finding one of them that fits well above a D cup is another rant for another time, a bikini top will on the whole look much more intentional peeking out than a bra will. Let’s not forget low-backed swimsuits either, especially since Gillian Jacobs in Love made them a legitimate substitute for a top. This red and pink suit from Quontum would provide (some) support under a dress, while also keeping you primed in case it turns out to be one of those parties where everyone jumps in a pool.

6. Front-closing bras

Meanwhile a simpler solution for bigger boobs would be just to wear a front-closing bra with a smooth back strap – since, for unknown reasons, it’s the fastening bit of the bra that society deems unacceptable. Trouble is though, front-fastening bras are rare mythical beasts that only seem to feature in films, or come in giant white cotton varieties that your gran might buy in a box from the market. Find me a nice front-fastener in an F cup and we’ll talk.

7. Nipple tape

Aka, desperate measures. The “dammit I will wear this backless dress even if I die in the process” last resort. Let’s not ignore the potential of lingerie tape, nipple petals and a structured dress with no wiggle room (the dream team) to get you through the night securely. We won’t necessarily trust it, but we won’t ignore it either.

8. Sew-in cups

If you’re nifty with a needle and thread you could try sewing in your own cups – this tutorial by Pretty Prudent covers the technique from scratch, though you could just cut up a bra and improvise.
Finally, we’re left with the option that is easiest in effort but possibly hardest in attitude: just let your bra hang out, and haters be damned. Draw your strength from Beyoncé in the "Hold Up" video, smashing windows and taking names in those yellow Cavalli ruffles with her sturdy black balconette unashamedly front and centre. And back. Because while some outfits demand a whole behind-the-scenes production of seamless illusion, some can be like a GCSE maths exam: better if you show your working.

So there we have it; your complete armoury for taking on the backless brigade and winning. Let’s see what fashion throws at us next. Crotchless? Please not crotchless.
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