Where can I find a bra for awkward party dresses?

Strapless, backless and stick-on – all we want for Christmas is a bra that actually works under our party dress. But do any really deliver? Lauren Bravo finds out

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By Lauren Bravo on

December is a time for tradition and repetition. For some, this means carol concerts or drunken karaoke. For others, fleecy PJs and Home Alone. For me, it is an annual rant about how nigh-on impossible it is to wear a bra with a modern-day party dress.

“Deck my baubles with boughs of holly!” I yell, up and down Oxford Street, ringing my bell. “O come, all ye tasteful!” Because the greatest festive wrapping challenge I face isn’t a squash racquet – it’s upholstering my tits in a way that looks alluring, feels comfortable and doesn’t cause a scene on a night bus. I don’t want a lot for Christmas; there is just one thing I need. A party-ready bra that actually does the job.

I’m sure you know the story. Once upon a time, the Grinch decided to shift his attentions from Whoville to the high street and started stealing the backs off all the nice frocks.

Oh, how he laughed when woman after woman lifted what looked like a fabulous dress off the rack, only to turn it round and find a gaping great hole where the fabric should be! The more demure and wearable the dress looked at the front, the more fun it was to slash the back from neck to bum like a £200 sequinned hospital gown.

I don’t want a lot for Christmas; there is just one thing I need. A party-ready bra that actually does the job

And as the tyranny of backless/sideless/frontless dresses continues, every year women are forced to resort to strange, fanciful contraptions in order to wear them. Sticky bras and grippy bras, bras with no middle bit, bras that can reconfigure themselves on command like a Transformer. We buy tit tape and nipple petals, “invisible” straps and jelly pads. We try to believe in them all, the way a child tries to believe in Santa Claus. But come the big night, we’re inevitably disappointed by a different bulging sack – the one we’re wearing.

So, what’s the answer? Do underwear “solutions” really exist or is our choice still: go braless, go cardigan or go home? While we are still a long way off my ultimate dream of slinky dresses that come with discreet, in-built underwiring, there are (some) options out there…

Strapless not hapless

Once the impossible Holy Grail of the busty gal’s wardrobe, strapless bras seem almost quaint compared to the feats of tit engineering we require today. But for dresses that only expose half your back (when will that be an ASOS filter?), a sturdy strapless, tugged down low, can still be the best solution. My all-time favourite is Next’s Jamie Non Padded Minimising DD+ Bandeau Bra, a cult bra so effective in its deeply unsexy, bandage-like way that all brands now seem to sell a copycat version. Also impressive is Marks & Spencer’s Olivia Embroidered Strapless, which goes up to a GG and is the only lace strapless bra I’ve found that genuinely stays put.

The trade-off, however, is that the best strapless bras for bigger cup sizes all “tend to have a high profile”, as M&S bra fitter Abi explains to me. In layman’s terms, this means they come up high between the boobs, so will poke out of even the most modest V-neckline (don’t get me started on how many low-backed dresses are also low-fronted; we’ll be here till Easter). Luckily, there’s Panache’s Porcelain Elan, one of the best strapless plunge bras around – far more comfortable than the much-lauded Wonderbra Ultimate Strapless, which does the job but tends to feel like you’re wearing a stab vest under your slip dress. And for a classic divide-and-conquer balcony shape, the longline Nancy Ganz Enchanté Multiway is lovely, but only up to a DD.

Multiway wonders

For backs too low to get away with strapless, but not missing entirely, your best bet is conversion. I don’t mean religious, although frankly a little prayer couldn’t hurt either.

Low-back converters are extra straps that hook on to any bra clasps and wind around your waist, pulling the back of your bra down into a ‘V’ shape for those few crucial inches of bare skin. It’s not the most comfortable thing in the world, but at least it’s cost-effective. Most lingerie brands will sell converters and they’re generally much of a muchness, but I recommend Maidenform’s Low Back Converter Clips – they’re wider than most, which means better support for bigger boobs and a minimisation of the cheese-wire effect round your waist. You’ll need to keep your straps on, though, because: gravity. In bras, as with so many things, we can never truly have it all.

Alternatively, Marks & Spencer’s 100 Ways To Wear (“Please don’t ask me to list them all,” says Abi) bra is a determined multitasker, with both a fabric and clear plastic low-back converter, additional clear straps and a clear back. Clear plastic might look unspeakably 2001 to the naked eye, but it actually works a treat under sheer lace or mesh. Two snags, though: it’s push-up and it only goes up to a DD. Clearly, we’re not all invited to the party.

Stick or twist

One of the many, many downsides of a stick-on bra (and ‘“downsides” really is the word, because uplifting they ain’t) is that you’re not allowed to try them on in the shop, or return them, for obvious adhesive-based reasons. Which means that those of us who’ve actually tried one are duty-bound to report back.

Do they work, you ask? And I say… define “work”. If you’re looking for an extra layer between boob and fabric, so you don’t feel technically braless, then yes. They work. But don’t expect “support” in any form except moral. Do expect sticky red welts on your sides in the morning. Stick-on bras work best under clothes that fit snugly and have a bit of rigidity to them, and it’s best to carry extra tit tape as a steamy dancefloor can cause things to come unstuck.

The best I’ve found are by Fashion Forms, whose Voluptuous styles go up to an optimistic G cup. Its gelatinous Silicone Lift design feels like wearing the slimy orange centre of a Jaffa Cake, but the underwired or non-wired strapless bras are more conventionally comfortable. Adhesive strips along the top of the cups help keep it in place, and the eco-conscious among us will be glad to know that if you follow the care instructions, it can be worn up to 25 times. That’s if you don’t end up removing it in the corner of a bar and leaving it with the abandoned Secret Santa presents. Which you will.

Baby got (decorative) back

Your final option: bra, but make it fashion. Beija London’s Buff Z Bra is a halterneck that fastens in the front, with a smooth band of lace across the back – perfectly acceptable peeking out of a party dress, and just as good under a jumper come January. And, of course, there is the M&S lace-backed bralette – perhaps the comfiest option of them all. No need to write me a thank-you letter.

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