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Won’t somebody think of the boobs (Image: Archi Banal)
Won’t somebody think of the boobs (Image: Archi Banal)

SocietyJanuary 22, 2024

Why must every dress be backless?

Won’t somebody think of the boobs (Image: Archi Banal)
Won’t somebody think of the boobs (Image: Archi Banal)

I’m sick of the stress of a backless dress and I’m not going to take it any more, writes Alex Casey.

To navigate the absurd rules around wedding attire is to gently grapevine through the roaring fires of hell. Must be wedding-y but not bridesmaid-y. Must be breathable in summer, but still modest enough not to frighten the elderly. Must not be white. Must not be a Jed the Evil Jester costume. Must not have been worn to another wedding (much like not sending a chain email, repeat wears risk summoning the ghost of a flute-playing Victorian girl to the foot of your bed at midnight).

On the hunt for a few upcoming weddings, I also encountered a bizarre new rule: a dress must not, under any circumstances, have any discernible back to it. Scouring through Trade Me and Designer Wardrobe (if I must stave off the phantom flautist I’m going to do it as cheaply and sustainably as possible) I found dress after dress that looked perfect from the front, only to find that its back had either been completely hacked out, or simply never existed to begin with. 

I am simply asking for more fabric

Far be it from me to deny the allure of slinky exposed spine, a trend which has pervaded popular culture since the 1920s when the flappers wanted to flaunt their tans. In the 80s and 90s, Princess Diana was notorious for her love of backlessness. In 2009’s ‘Freakum Dress’, Beyonce praised the appeal of a “short and backless” dress. Our own Chelsea Jade added to the discourse in 2022: “It’s bad enough to lead you on, but tonight my dress is backless.” 

And then there’s our First Lady Rita Ora, who subverted the form phenomenally just last year

But for many of us, to wear a backless outfit requires the kind of terrifying rigging that saw Anthony Starr exclaim “fuck my life” (the boobs are Starr). At my school ball, my first dalliance with backlessness, nervous sweat ruined the adhesive on my stick-on bra, forcing me to sellotape around and around my uniboob in the stickiest mammogram of all time. When I got home, I had to gingerly slice myself free with a pair of scissors, just like Cinderella!

if you know, you know

Over the years, I’ve learned precisely nothing in this particular field of structural engineering. Attending a recent media awards in a backless jumpsuit saw the return of the same bad chicken fillets (at this point old enough to hold a learner license). Terrified that the single clasp at their centre was going to ping apart and send each boob back to their natural habitat (armpits), I took to using industrial-strength double-sided tape to stick the front of the jumpsuit to my skin. 

Genius, until you have to use the toilet for the first of many, many, many times.

“Just go braless, you millennial prude,” you bellow. Look, I know that Gen Z don’t wear bras any more and yes we all love what Florence Pugh is doing, but you’ll notice a trend in all this empowered viral bralessness: they are all tiny beautiful people with tiny beautiful boobs. Many of us cannot simply “go braless” and still happily belt ‘Wagon Wheel’ at a wedding, as if we don’t have two sweaty, sad, heavy wagon wheels of our own, hanging on for dear life, to our chests. 

One could just put up with the bra being visible, but that only works when said bra is a nice, clean lacy number and not a creaky, corpse-coloured, moth-eaten terror last seen publicly in an early concept sketch for The Blair Witch. There’s also the possibility that people might “helpfully” point your bra out – I once wore a low-backed dress with a visible bra and a man sprinted across St Luke’s Road to tell me, breathlessly, that I was wearing my dress backwards.

There’s probably a few reasons why backlessness is back. Reportedly, the pandemic changed the way many feel about wearing bras (although other reports say we love bras more than ever). The explosion of undergarment empire Skims has created an endless appetite for expensive fleshy flim-flam. We’re also living in the hottest temperatures on record and will take every inch of ventilation we can get (this also explains all those damn shark-bite cutouts). 

It’s also likely because the people designing garments are still doing so with a certain body type in mind. My plea is that they also consider those who can’t so easily go braless, or can’t be arsed buying a whole new set of hoists and hoicks, or who simply don’t have the confidence of Diana at the Back to the Future premiere in 1985. Until then, I’ll just be a girl, sweating through nipple covers and duct tape, asking if you would please, once again, sunblock my back. 

Also in The Spinoff’s pop-up prude fashion festival 2024: Why is every bikini bottom a thong now? 

Keep going!