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Strapless Gown 101

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Strapless gowns have a magical quality to make a lady feel beautiful.

They also have a frustration factor that can spoil a bride's dreams. It's not hard to get the magic and avoid the frustration. All you have to do is understand that all strapless gowns have one very important thing in common: Boning. Knowing how to examine the strapless gown you are contemplating buying for it's boning content is the key to success. The placement and type of boning will determine if the gown will fit like a dream or a nightmare. Sadly, wedding gown designers do not all understand the structural needs of a strapless gown. A poorly designed gown will make the wearer feel like she has to keep tugging on it to keep it up while a properly designed gown will sit comfortably where it is supposed to be and not sag, bite, droop or shift as the bride goes about her happy celebration.

I have seen many strapless gowns this season that have insufficient or no boning. The best advice I can give you is: DO NOT BUY ONE OF THESE.

Here are the essential things you need to understand about boning.

Thing 1 - How to identify boning in a gown.

Boning is a strip of stuff plastic that is sewn into the inside of a garment to give it support. Sometimes it's sewn into the lining or, as with many wedding gowns, there is an extra corselet designed inside the gown where the boning is set.

Boning comes in several forms. One is a solid plastic stick that is wrapped with a thin cotton fabric sheath. It is the sheath that is sewn into the garment and secured at each end so the boning stays put. This is a favorite form of home sewing enthusiasts because it's easy to use and can be purchased in most fabric stores.

Another form is a webbed strip of plastic that can be sewn directly into the garment by the sides or the holes in the webbing. This is the form that is found mostly in retail wedding and formal gowns. It comes in varying widths. 1/2" being the most popular and the type that is found in fabric stores, it also comes a in 1/4" that is less stiff and is used for special purposes where the 1/2" may be too restrictive.

There are many other forms of boning, from other variations of the plastic strips to metal plates that go from super stiff to very flexible metal mesh strips that offer great support while allowing the wearer a great range of movement.

For strapless gowns boning is sew into the bodice to hold it up. Usually at seams it can also be found placed strategically to support other design elements of a garment like a heavily decorated bust line. It is usually sewn to the lining of a bodice so it does not show any impression on the outside of the bodice. To find where boning is one must poke at the bodice until you feel the strip. This can be done while the garment is on or off the body. It's not difficult to feel the boning even if the garment is heavily beaded.

Thing 2 - What type of boning is best?

There is not any real good answer to this question. There are different types and sizes of boning because there are many reasons for using each type. For this discussion, I will refer to the boning that is found in most retail garments - 1/4" to 1/2" plastic webbed strips. It's my opinion that the 1/2" boning is better. Though there are good reasons for 1/4" boning use, I have never seen a bride's or maid's gown with this boning that I did not think the 1/2" would be better.

Thing 3 - How boning works.

There is a popular misconception that a lady needs large breasts to hold up a strapless gown. I can't tell you how many times I've heard a maid tell me, "I just don't have enough to hold up this dress". Proper strapless design has nothing to do with the women's breast size. Boning is used in a gown or dress bodice to hold it up. Just as I have stated in other places on this page and site: your breasts don't get supported by the dress. The reverse is also true: the dress is also not supported by your breasts.

Boning is properly placed in a bodice vertically, running from neckline to the waist seam. Often boning is set past the waist to stop well into the hip area and it is sometimes found in horizontal strips in various places in the bodice. It is placed to the waist so it can push against the top of the hip up. The waist area of the bodice needs to be snug to support this pushing point. The neckline should not be snug so it does not compete with the base of the boning or produce flabby flesh pockets at the top of the bodice. This not only feels odd but looks very unlovely in the wedding pictures.

Thing 4 - Were boning should be.

In a wedding or maid's gown, the minimal amount of boning should be in each side seam and princess seams, front and back. That's 6 strips. Each strip should run from the neckline to at least the waist. It is not unlikely to find up to 16 strips in a bodice. Six strips is minimal but the more boning the better.

The empire waist style seems to be popular this season (2010). Boning in this style is usually placed in just the bodice area. This is totally unacceptable. I don't know what designers are thinking, but the boning can not do it's job correctly, placed this way. It needs to go to at least the waist so it has something to push against. Otherwise, it can't hold up anything. The bodice can be super tight but the wearer will feel it slipping down and spend her whole evening tugging at it to hold it up.

Thing 5 - Strapless gowns with a low dipping back neckline have a difficult time staying secure even if they are generously boned.

Another important factor in bodice security is the back neckline. Though very dramatic, low back necklines lessen the result of the work boning is trying to do to support the bodice. The lack of fabric in the back shifts the boning's push from the waist and redirects it towards the front of the dress. This gives the bride the unhappy feeling that her chest might get exposed if she tries to dance or give a hug to a loved one. Two activities she will be wanting to do often during her reception.

Looking good in a strapless gown is one part gown design and one part posture.

There are just so many things any gown can do to make you look good. Strapless gowns are designed in a special way to sit on a lady's body to show off her assets in the best way. Many a lady who puts on a strapless gown for the first time feels very odd if she has no idea that there is a special posture she needs to have to make the gown sit correctly on her body. This has nothing to do with the way most woman normally stand. It is also not that soldier stance that has you setting your shoulders ridged. It is a straight back stance where your shoulders are back slightly but softly. Think of it as squeezing your shoulder blades together and easing them down your back. Your bust does perk up and show more prominently, but it's not like sticking-your-chest-out soldier stance. Another way I tell brides to think of it as, maintaining contact with the bodice front. The skin of your breasts will be in full contact with the bodice front. Keep them in contact and they will be set into the design of the gown as they were meant to be, and show off your figure to it's best advantage.


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