Vintage Sewing

Advice on backless dresses

October 26, 2014


I was hoping to get some advice on a project I’ve been working on. I’m making a dress to wear to a Christmas party at the end of the year, and will be drafting the pattern myself. I wanted a simple design to show off a beautiful silk brocade fabric I bought on a trip a few years ago, and when I flicked through my old pattern catalogues for some inspiration I was immediately drawn to this design (Style A, the short version):


I love the demure neckline at the front and the dramatic V-back. Of course, though, with a backless design comes the bra dilemma: I’d like a bit of support, but a normal bra isn’t going to work!

I was wondering if anyone has any advice or recommendations about backless dresses.

  • has anyone made a similar dress (or owns a vintage one) and has tips about how they are constructed on the inside?
  • I know that backless evening/wedding gowns usually have a built in foundation with bra cups/boning etc. Would such a foundation be appropriate for a simple dress style like this, or will it be too much/too bulky?
  • If a foundation is recommended, how would you attach it on the inside, given the dress has a high neck at the front?
  • what materials would you recommend to make the foundation from in a light dress like this?

The easy option of course is to just find a backless bra, but since the fabric is really special I don’t mind putting in the extra effort to make a foundation if that would be the best option.

Thank you in advance for your help!


  1. What a gorgeous pattern. I think the answer to your question depends a bit on how busty you are, but I would:

    1. Add a waist stay. This is a must to keep everything where it should be. Check out Laura Mae’s (lilacs and lace) latest gown if you want to see how this is done.

    2. Add some boning. You can choose how much you need and where, If you’re even moderately busty you’ll need some. Make a toile/muslin to check the placement. You could even adapt a pattern, If you are brave try Marfy 2630.

    3. Stabilize the daylights out of that V. Stay stitching will not be enough I suspect – get some silk organza or at least vilene tearaway. You could also use the selvedge of your brocade now I think of it.

    I have a whole Pinterest board full of corselet construction from making my wedding dress, I’ll dig up the link for you…

    Sorry if my tips are obvious, looking forward to what others have to say on this!


    1. Tanya, thanks so much for your advice. The Pinterest board was great to have a look at. I’ll definitely put in a waist stay and I really like your tip about using the selvedge of the brocade to stay the back edge. Thank you!!

  2. Basically, I agree with Tanya.
    You already mentioned the fabric you are using is special and you are willing to put in the hard work to make the dress really work, so I’m not going to assume you have constraints on the time or amount of work needed.
    Personally, I have made dresses with low backs in simple fabrics and sometimes I’ve just opted to go without bust support, but that was only in more casual styles and I am rather small-busted.
    In other cases, I have made boned bodice linings but that usually involved dresses with a seperate bodice with vertical seams.
    Looking at the inspiration for your dress, I would recommend making a corset-like foundations which is only attached to the dress at the edges. And again, the best example of this is in Laura Mae’s work here:
    This post is about the corset itself, you’ll have to read the ones before and after it to get the whole saga of the dress.
    Of course, with such a simple design as the one you picked, seeing the foundation layers is point of concern. To prevent that, I think you may need a normal lining/interlining to go between the silk and the foundation. Oh, and make sure the dress doesn’t stretch taut over the underpinnings. In some styles, that looks great, in this one, it would definitely take away from the impression of effortless elegance.

    And when drafting, pay close attention to the shape and length of that back V. You will need to take some length out to keep it from gaping. And if you decide on a rather solid foundation layer, that will be the thing keeping the dress in place, not the shoulder straps. Which can make fitting those a bit tricky. Not at all impossible, but quite different from the way it would be in a normal dress.

    As for materials, I would recommend spiral steel boning for the foundation piece. It’s more expensive than the plastic stuff and if you don’t buy pre-cut and pre-tipped pieces, it’s harder to cut to size, however, it’s flexible in a better way and it doesn’t bend out of shape.

    1. Lauriana, thanks very much for the construction tips. I was concerned that a full foundation might show and look bulky, so the interlining between the dress/foundation sounds like a good option. I’ll keep in mind to leave enough ease so that the dress doesn’t stretch too tight across the foundation. Would you recommend putting the dress zip in the centre back or the side? I was thinking the side because the back will be the main feature to draw the eye so it might look ugly to have the zip there. I would do a hand picked regular zip. Thank you!

  3. I Would go the strapless bra option but then backless is not an option for me at all, I am just to big in the bust so it also depends on what you have to work with.

    you can get these cool sticker things that hold the girls up a bit if you aren’t to big and bouncy. Putting in the boning may be difficult I would say in this style without it being visible. But that’s just me.

    1. Thanks Heapha. I’m just a medium size bust so could probably get away with braless, but would feel much more “secure” with some sort of support there!

  4. I found this tutorial very helpful when making a bias cut gown with a plunging back Since the inside of the V is likely to be on an angle rather than straight grain it would apply here too. This method of easing only shortens the edge and leaves ease in the back panels where you want movement. Patience is key. Hand work and hand basting will make life easier when you do the final stitching!

    As for foundation, I’d build it into the lining. You can sew in bra cups and waist support. In this case don’t be afraid to use something a bit heavier than you’d normally line with or at least reinforce key areas with an interfacing or interlining. If you don’t want to use boning, a sturdier lining at the waist will help smooth things out and make a nice line. just make sure your outer fabric is ‘relaxed over top so that it floats just over the foundation without pulling at the seams. Making sure the back opening has a nice stable edge will help support the girls too! I second the waist stay – even without boning it will make the line of the dress more flattering and secure!

    I’d also very much recommend a muslin/mock-up in fabric of a similar weight.

    Good luck!

    1. Thank you – that is great advice and a fantastic tutorial! I’ve read as much as I can find about foundations etc, but it’s sometimes hard to visualise how to apply the techniques to my own project, so having the photos is really useful. I had some back gaping on my muslin but hopefully this easing technique will fix it. Much appreciated!

  5. I certainly agree that you have to start by evaluating you body before you decide on construction , but if it were me , I would buy a commercial convertible backless bra since you have the added bonus of STRAPS on this dress , it seems a bra with straps would add some comfort and wearability ,Add loops under the strap in the shoulder of dress to keep the bra from moving , perhaps a few more places to tack in or use body tape . Sending a link to such a bra , but this is by no means the only one out there . It’s great to anchor your waist seam in the dress , I might also use a clear elastic with a little tension inside the facing of the back V to keep the dress with you, Not pretty on hanger , but great on the body !

  6. What would you do if the back was slightly below the natural waistline? That seems to be too low to use a waist stay.

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