A bustier, sometimes also called a merry widow or long-line bra, is a garment that has been worn by women for centuries. It fits tightly to the torso while strips of stiff material known as boning create structure that slims the waist and supports and enhances the bust.
Here are a few tips to wearing a bustier well:
- Get the correct cup size. The most important element of a bustier is the cup size. If the bra cup fits well, the rest can be adjusted to fit your frame. A professional bra fitter can help you to fit a bustier much in the same way that you fit a bra. Remember that no matter how much you fall in love with a particular bustier, if the cup does not fit well when you buy it, it will never fit you properly
- Think abundance. Bustiers are about abundance - think cornucopia, overflow, spillage or whatever word works for you to bring to mind a sense of plenty in the chest department. This concept (or illusion) is what the bustier should create; if it compresses or flattens your chest, then you have not found the right fit. Boning is the stiff material that creates the shape and structure of the garment. Full-figured women will need a bit of extra boning in the bodice and cup while less full-figured women can get away with mesh panels instead. Boning got its name from supports that were originally made from (you guessed it) bone, and sometimes wood and even flexible steel. These days, boning is made out of plastic.
- Classic bustiers. A classic bustier is strapless, though there are myriad variations on the strapless bustier theme, some of which do include straps (removable, off-the-shoulder, spaghetti and so on). Bustiers are also considered women's underwear because they make the perfect undergarment for strapless dresses and gowns as they not only support the chest but tend to slim the waist as well. At the very least, this undergarment prevents unsightly sections of fat from spilling over at the waist or hip line of an item of clothing. If you need compression in the waist area, buy a longer bustier, but if you are slim through the tummy, you can go with a shorter style.
- Closures. Bustiers are traditionally tightened at the back via zig-zag lacing (lace, string, leather or ribbon), hook and eye closures and/or zippers, but these closures can prove challenging when dressing alone. Many are now made with front closures for the do-it-yourselfer.
- Choice of fabric. Bustiers come in just about any fabric that you can imagine--velvet, cotton, leather, Lycra, denim, PVC, urethane and even tarp. Consider your comfort as the fabric will be right next to your skin and cover most of your torso; if you have sensitive skin, you should probably choose a fabric that breathes. Keep in mind that you will likely sweat, too, which can make some fabrics more uncomfortable than others (i.e. PVC).
- Inside or out? Is a bustier outer or inner wear? Many are designed specifically to be worn in the boudoir, as intimate apparel, but that hasn't stopped certain people from wearing them while out and about. Lady Gaga has already answered this women's fashion question for herself; for the rest of us, it's really a question of taste. If you plan to wear your bustier out, it's best to choose one that is adequately sturdy and has cloth covering the outside of the cups.
- Accessorize. A bustier is a very feminine garment. A matching garter belt and thigh high stockings can complete the look while high heels, elbow-length gloves and a feather boa can take it over the top and down the next side again. The point is that for many people, a bustier is only the starting point for an evening in or out.
- Handle with care. Though it seems that it should go without saying, in this day of wash and wear, it never hurts to mention that bustiers require special handling due to their boning. Never throw one in the washing machine; gently wash it by hand and allow it to air dry. Occasionally, a bustier will have boning that can be removed; if this is the case, remove the boning before cleaning.
Have you been wondering all this while why bustiers are also referred to as merry widows? Though it's tempting to invent a story about the effect of this garment on one's husband, truth is that it comes from the 1952 film, "The Merry Widow," starring none other than foundation-queen Lana Turner. Maidenform capitalized on Turner's well-known assets by naming a foundation garment after her, and the name stuck.