Strapless Dresses: A hands-free, slip-free tutorial

STEP 1: Take the length of bone you need, add half an inch (1/4 inch for hemming). Make the casing from the bias tape, then pin to the garmet. I prefer to align them with the existing seams. 

From the steady stream of graduation and wedding invitations rolling in, to the promise of vacations on far-away beaches (or Lake Erie), the strapless dress is the ultimate warm-weather party attire. It can be cute and flirty, or elegant and sexy. Cut it short for day-time festivities, or long for an evening wedding. 

Unfortunately, all strapless dresses have an ever-present peril: that of unwanted slippage, as the dress, free of sleeved support, tends to creep down, down, down. But falter not, oh members of the fairer sex!; for we have a secret used by our sisters of days gone by: boning.

Metal boning, to be precise. Ever wondered how Elizabeth I, Marie Antoinette, and Scarlet O’Hara did it? How those seemingly impossible dresses kept their shape as yards and yards of fabric poured off them every which way? The truth is they couldn’t have, not without some serious support holding them up.

We all know about corsets; the old-timey ones made of whalebone (or caning, or even super stiff reeds) that later came to be stiffened with metal boning. But few of us know that the dresses themselves utilized a form of boning as well. The reasoning is simple: the corset gives shape and support to you, the wearer, and the dress boning gives shape and support to the garment being worn.

Today we don’t wear corsets per se, if anything we wear “shape wear” or the like, and our clothes get little to no extra support. This is not an issue when one is wearing a simple cotton T-shirt, but it can become a problem when our strapless gowns insist on slipping all over the dang place. Usually if they have anything it’s two pieces of polyester “boning” along the back, sides, or front of most formal dresses and some less than formal frocks.

In my experience, these are never enough, and I end up spending a great deal of my night tugging at the front of my dress or wishing (a little too late) that I had. The biggest culprit, in my humble opinion, is that cursed poly boning that barely warrants the name. It’s simply not strong enough, with a tendency to mold and bend too frequently to get the job done.

Fortunately, metal boning is more than up to the job. It is relatively inexpensive and, depending on your level of sewing experience, simple to laughably easy to complete. Of course, always take the dress itself into consideration; adding to an inexpensive sun dress is very different from attempting to do the same to a several-hundred dollar formal gown. Inserting metal boning, or having an experienced or professional sewer do it for you, is well worth the effort.

You’ll need:

  • Metal boning. I get mine from Jas. Townsend & Son, Inc.; you can order all lengths on their online store ( for the very reasonable price of 55 cents per bone.
  • Bias tape. Found in any sewing supplies store; you’re going to be inserting the bones into the tape, the fit needs to be snug (but not so tight you have to fight to get them in); I ended up having to stitch down the center of the tape and iron the edges flat.
  • Thread and needles.

How To: 

  • See photos with helpful commentary

Rachel Polaniec

I live in Westlake with my husband and our two sons. I work part time at Kohl's, and full-time at home. In my free time I like to read, write, and cook. My family and I take part in War of 1812 reenactments throughout the summer. My lofty dreams are of traveling abroad, visiting the great museums, and drinking all the coffee. For now I content myself with antiquing and Keurig sampler packs.

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Volume 6, Issue 13, Posted 9:24 AM, 06.24.2014