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“Dress malfunction!”
“Help with strapless dress, please!”
“How do you make your strapless stay up?!”

Readers, these are just a few of the many, many cries for help from those who have had bad experiences with strapless dresses. Who wants to have a dress slide down and expose your bosom while you’re trying to enjoy a night of dancing, right?

But wait, look at some solutions offered to solve this problem:

“… double sided tape your bra to the dress”, or “wear a tight tube over the strapless bra
and then wear a dress over all of that… it’s kind of wearing a strapless cami – good for
extra protection…”

Hmmm, readers…don’t try this at home!

An easy trick, used extensively in couture and sometimes found in vintage dresses, helps avoid these problems with strapless dresses AND offers solutions to many other problems.

Some of you may already guess the answer! Right, it’s the waist stay!

A waist stay acts as an internal stabilizer by anchoring a garment, usually a dress, at the waist. This helps minimize distortion in the upper part of the garment and prevents it from sliding down (or up).

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The waist stay, which is made from an approximately 1-inch (2.5-cm) wide grosgrain ribbon, is placed at the wearer’s waistline and fits very snuggly. It usually has ½ to 1 inch (1.25 to 2.5 cm) less ease than the garment, depending, of course, on how fitted the garment is. Being shorter than the waist circumference of the garment, it is proportionally anchored to garment seam allowances. A hook and eye is attached to the ribbon ends, which are located just next to the zipper but not underneath it to avoid bulk.

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The waist stay in anchored to the garment on the both edges of the grosgrain ribbon with catch stitches and waxed thread.

When I first discover the waist stay, I was so happy knowing that I could now confidently wear so many garments that used to make me feel very uncomfortable before. So, let us have a look at what garments would benefit from using a waist stay:

Strapless garments: a waist stay (combined with boning!) will provide support and prevent the garment from sliding down. You can dance non-stop without having to hold your bodice all night.

Fitted garments with zippers crossing the waistline: a waist stay will reduce the strain on the portion of your zipper at the waist, and extend its life.

Garments with deep V-back or neckline: those plunging necklines are not cut on grain in most cases, and require more stabilizing. In addition, without an anchored waist, such a neckline would tend to open up every time you change your posture. In some cases, you can add boning to the neckline to offer additional stability, but the waist stay is a good start for this type of garment.

Garments made of knits: with the waist stay, the part below the waist won’t pull down the bodice, reducing distortion and keeping the seamline where it is supposed to be.

Maxi dresses: every time you deal with a lot of fabric below the waist, consider a waist stay, otherwise it will always pull the garment down. In maxi dresses, a waist stay will help keep that perfect length.

These are just a few examples, and I am sure you can find more reasons to use a waist stay. If you are not sure when, remember, that the waist stay is a great tool to fight gravity, as well as distortion caused by the moving body. The amount of fabric below the waist, grain, and type of fabric are important factors when deciding whether you need additional stabilizing or not. Some styles would also require boning.

You may ask, readers, what to do if the garment doesn’t have a visible waistline or hardly any seams to anchor the waist stay to! This is a slightly trickier situation, but often, it can be solved using a corselet foundation. This a whole new story, however…

Have you used a waist stay in your garments? Please, share your experience or ask questions!

~Marina

Marina von Koenig is a couture enthusiast and blogs at Frabjous Couture, where she writes reviews of couture classes, books and resources and shares new techniques she learned and used to create her own garments. Check out her blog to learn how to make a waist stay and for additional resources.

31 Comments

  • Missing

    Oct 29, 2014, 05.56 PMby Igor Enzo Matos

    i love this look, really very nice :)

    http://www.lecorpet.com

  • Missing

    Nov 21, 2011, 04.21 AMby jix

    This is great, thanks! I read it when you posted it and now I finally have something to use it on! I want to make a strapless dress and possibly add boning to the bodice. Can you add the waist stay on top of the boning? Or is it one or the other? Also, what do you mean by: “A hook and eye is attached to the ribbon ends, which are located just next to the zipper but not underneath it to avoid bulk.”? Do you have a photo to show this better? Thanks!

  • Patti_12-28-2011_large

    Oct 19, 2011, 07.37 PMby patti-r

    Excellent visual of the stay techniques!!!

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    Sep 15, 2011, 05.32 PMby mixtlii

    Very interesting, probably very useful! THanks!

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    Sep 6, 2011, 05.44 PMby bodicegoddess589

    I learned about waist stays in watching all of the “Royal Wedding” coverage last April – there were quite a few dressmaker interviews on at midnight in my time zone, and I just ate them up! I used what I learned when I made my Platinum Benedikta gown, and that waist stay worked wonders!

  • Missing

    Sep 5, 2011, 10.30 PMby sewgirl423

    I just made a sort of waist stay for a dress that was still slightly big but there was no way to take it in anymore. I used wide elastic and added hooks and eyes to the ends. I tacked it into the seams and boning and we’re just praying the dress stays up for the pageant! Definitely made it stay up better than before. I like the adjustability of elastic, especially for a young teen that is still growing.

  • Image_large

    Sep 3, 2011, 01.21 AMby metropolitanfrock

    I’ve seen these in couture garments, but I’ve never tried using a waist stay before. It’s worth adding to my fitted garments even if just for the simple fact that it makes zipping easier.

  • 958f82a55d1f911aea11daf7f2e4e6295bbe805d_large

    Sep 2, 2011, 02.58 PMby bohemiannow

    I haven’t stopped thinking about the waist stay, and I did google it too. So I see some anchor it to the seam allowances and some sew it along the waist seam, like Tasia did here:“http://sewaholic.net/sewing-a-waist-stay-in-a-full-skirted-dress/”. I’m wondering, since the waist stay has to be smaller than the dress and it is anchored across my waist, but the edges are let loose, so that I’ll be able to pull it, won’t that create a shaggy look at the back of the dress? I mean, a grossgrain ribbon is not elastic, so you anchor it totally flat on the seam allowances, and the front will look ok, but on the back of the dress there will be some extra fabric, cause the waist stay is smaller, right?

    2 Replies
    • Marina_large

      Sep 3, 2011, 09.06 PMby Marina von Koenig

      Examples I used are mostly fitted garments with max. 1" (2.5 cm) ease at the waistline. A waist stay, accordingly would be 1" shorter. Now, with an 1" ease, I would not stitch it along the waistline, but anchor at seamlines and, possibly darts. The ease would be then distributed evenly. Let’s say, the dress has 4 seams (two side seams, center front and center back seam) then, the waist stay ease for each section of the garment would be 1/4" (~6mm). This is not noticeable at all. For garments with more ease I would consider a foundation corselet.

      If your garment is very fitted and the ease is max 1cm (~3/8") then stitching along the front section of the waist would work too. The ease could then be distributed along the back section.

      My preference is, however, just to anchor it to vertical seamlines like on the image above.

    • 958f82a55d1f911aea11daf7f2e4e6295bbe805d_large

      Sep 4, 2011, 10.04 AMby bohemiannow

      Yes that makes sence. Thank you.

  • Mypicture_large

    Sep 2, 2011, 01.03 PMby Toria Young

    JUST WHAT I NEEDED!

  • Holy_large

    Sep 2, 2011, 12.23 PMby tungufoss

    I’d have never have though of that. Simple yet brilliant solution. Thanks for the tip.

  • Photoge01_large

    Sep 1, 2011, 10.26 PMby gedwoods

    I love finding out about such “hidden details”. The waist stay makes some much sense for lots of different issues/problems, as you so clearly point out. Great article!

  • 058_large

    Sep 1, 2011, 08.44 PMby cuada

    I’ve added waist stays to dresses that I’ve been altering- it makes a huge difference, especially in wedding gowns with heavy skirts :)

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    Sep 1, 2011, 03.11 PMby ichigogirl

    Mmm… waist stays! I had just discovered them when I discovered that one of my 80’s patterns (by Calvin Klein) included one, so I made a dress partly to try them out. Works perfectly well. A great, great detail.

    I like the idea of multi hook- waist stays below, after all tummy-size varies even for non-preggie-girls (at least mine).

    Here is my waist stay-Calvin!

    Great post. I’d love more like it (with other construction secrets)!

    1 Reply
    • Fase_large

      Sep 1, 2011, 09.20 PMby themisslinds

      Wow that is a beautiful dress

  • Missing

    Sep 1, 2011, 02.44 PMby papa

    can you use a waist stay to keep a skirt from riding up? My pencil skirts always ride up

    1 Reply
    • Pixie_redux2_large

      Sep 2, 2011, 07.44 PMby dilshadburman

      Mine too! I’d like this answered too!

  • Missing

    Sep 1, 2011, 09.59 AMby Ruth Brown

    I’m just about ready to start making a vintage reproduction side saddle riding habit with lots & lots of boning in the jacket. At my age (gravity afflicted/strapless or not), waist stays may become a standard item in my sewing kit.

  • Dodo_large

    Sep 1, 2011, 08.43 AMby lila-1

    this is fabulous! I gave up on strapless dresses years ago because i got sick of pulling them up, i cant wait to try this :):) also, doublesided taping your strapless dress to your strapless bra can unfortunately pull the bra down with the dress…. not good.

  • 958f82a55d1f911aea11daf7f2e4e6295bbe805d_large

    Sep 1, 2011, 08.05 AMby bohemiannow

    Pretty usefull information. I’m going to use this!

  • Image_large

    Sep 1, 2011, 05.14 AMby luxihere

    Very useful! i will keep this mind!

  • Poe_large

    Sep 1, 2011, 03.04 AMby ladykatza

    I saw somewhere that someone had done a “multi hook waist-stay”. That way she could loosen it just a tad after having a big meal. (Or for those days when mother nature decides to say HEY WATER RETENTION IS A GOOD IDEA)

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    Sep 1, 2011, 01.00 AMby lisamarie

    Could a somewhat stiff length of elastic be used instead of the grosgrain ribbon so it’s not quite so restricting?

    1 Reply
    • 058_large

      Sep 1, 2011, 08.41 PMby cuada

      I’ve altered a few dresses that had strong elastic instead of grosgrain- it works ok, as long as the elastic has only a tiny amount of stretch, and the skirt of the dress isn’t too heavy :)

  • Hpim0231_large

    Sep 1, 2011, 12.37 AMby dnembhard

    I learned about the waist stay a few years ago, and it’s my favourite thing! I once made a strapless gown for one of my dance costumes, and never once had to worry about it falling down. It’s now a required part of any strapless dresses that I make.

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    Aug 31, 2011, 10.07 PMby kelerabeus

    Oh dear, now it all makes sense! I’ve never used a waist stay before and I was always wondering what’s the purpose of it, but now I get it! It’s so useful, makes me wanna go back and sew it in half of my dresses. Thank you for this post! I only have a question about comfort, since it has to be fairly tight is it too restrictive?

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    Aug 31, 2011, 08.42 PMby peaches2218

    This trick is about the only reason my Magazine-Inspired New Year’s Dress was zippable! In a really fitted dress, a waist stay also anchors the dress in place as you’re getting into it, allowing whoever’s zipping you up to let go of the dress itself (assuming it has a hook and eye at the top) and free up his or her hands for tugging in the necessary places.

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    Aug 31, 2011, 08.40 PMby katrena

    OMG this is going to be great idea for the Sew Along the halter dress. I have started my garment for the Sew Along as well.

  • Pics_046_large

    Aug 31, 2011, 08.36 PMby katrena

    This is a great idea. Too bad those ladies did not have one made into their garments.

    • This is a question
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