Monday, August 2, 2010

Inspiration: the Shelf Bust

Image via Etsy
There's pretty much nothing I love more in a dress than a fancy, sculptural bust line. The shelf bust, written about briefly on the Vintage Fashion Guild, is a somewhat vague term that applies to a design that's built up in a way that makes the bust appear to be on a shelf. (And what a lovely way to display things!) This usually involves clever seaming in conjunction with pleats, petals, ruching, or shirring.

Image via Etsy
The Vintage Fashion Guild post differentiates strongly between an empire line and a shelf bust, suggesting that the two cannot exist simultaneously. Indeed, the most shelf-like dresses I've seen tend to look like the bust is "set-in" to a curve that goes from the underarm and dips down to the middle or the bottom of the bust line. So, I guess the yellow dress I'm making isn't technically a shelf bust, but it has a similar feel with the petal-like pleats.

Image via Etsy
Image via Etsy
 Ceil Chapman was a master of the shelf bust:
Image via Etsy

Designs like these are the reason I wanted to learn draping; I simply cannot resist the beautiful, architectural folds of these bust lines. I'm so looking forward to advancing my skills so I can try some of these!
Image via Etsy
Image via Etsy

It's worth noting that the shelf bust is a "lot of look," as they say. And some designs certainly build the bust up to rather, um,  dramatic proportions:

Image via Etsy
Image via Etsy

If you're trying to minimize your bust line, perhaps the above designs aren't the way to go. Which is not to say that busty gals shouldn't try this. I give you Elizabeth Taylor:

Her tightly fitted shelf bust creates a beautiful line here and keeps the fluffiness to a minimum. (Of course, she could have worn a trash bag and looked amazing.)

I've found some patterns that incorporate a shelf bust, but they're hard to come by. Here are a couple:

This one was given to me by a very generous reader; I can't wait to make it!

What do you think? Would you wear this silhouette?

52 comments:

  1. This silhouette is outstanding. I would definitely wear it.

    Thanks for posting your inspiration pics, and specifically for discussing the difference between the shelf bust and an empire waist. I feel like my eyes have been opened.

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  2. Have you seen the Burga magazine for Juli 2010? There is a dress that is very much a shelf thing. (Now I know what it's called. :-)

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  3. My first gut reaction (in the past) would be, "nice, but too hard to sew".

    However... :)

    Yeah, I would wear this! I'll let you figure it out and lead the way lol! I'll find a way to make it "age appropriate".

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  4. I would definitely wear it, and am in fact making a similar dress for my 30th B'day Party. I have a smallish bust and think it will suit my figure well. I'm going to wear a crinoline under the skirt to get that gorgeous silhouette happening.

    I've just appealed to people for some fabric choice help.
    Check out my blog at boodogg.blogspot.com if you'd like to see my pattern or help me choose some fabric!

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  5. Because my bust is what it is.... I stay away from anything that is specific about where they need to be and the exact size they need to be.

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  6. I love that look, too. Seven of Nine (from Star Trek Voyager) wore a dress in the show that I saw about ten years ago and still can't get out of my head. The fabric draped over one breast and under the other in an S-curve. She ripped her date's arm off, but the look was mesmerizing.

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  7. There were some extraordinary shelves going on at the Horrockses Fashions exhibition yesterday - one bust area had what looked like bags attached, presumably so you could do your shopping on the way back from the party.

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  8. I have that McCalls pattern and everytime I look at it, I drool. I'm not ready to try it tho... yet. Monique xx

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  9. Despite being a relatively small busted lady, I don't know if I would wear one of these shelf bust dresses... the vast majority of these don't really inspire the 'OH MY GOODNESS I WANT IT' in me. Odd, as I said, I imagine small busted ladies such as myself would wear them to accentuate what they do have, but I'm honestly not feeling the shelf bust on most of these, particularly the third image down. Some of them really do look a little awkward in my opinion.

    Saying that, I do like the Celi Chapman design you posted and the 2nd pattern actually had me drooling, so I guess I'm not completely anti-shelf bust!

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  10. I would have worn it before I had kids. Now my waist is bigger than my bust...So you do it!! For me....I will live through you...

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  11. If I had the figure for it I would wear it! It's gorgeous! But I don't know whether I could cantilever mine into the appropriate position. An actual wooden shelf might do it.

    Looks totally fun to sew!

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  12. being a dd cup, i can't do anything that comes even NEAR this type of design. even ruching is too unbalanced. However, if the shelf is a plain overlap without any pleating or ruching or smocking, it looks great.

    i have a couple of dresses with such a plain shelf, but i don't know if they're technically shelf bustlines or just considered dresses with wide midriff bands.

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  13. I'm all about the gathers and ruching and pleating around the bust - I have boobs but on a small torso and a pear-shaped body overall, so anything that makes my bust the focus is good with me. And what both Trinny'n'Tranny and Gok Wan suggest for us pear girls.

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  14. I love the look. But I'm short and a D cup I don't think I don't like wearing things that draw MORE attention to that area. However that image of Elizabeth Taylor is AMAZING and makes me think I could change my mind for the right pattern. I really dig the last dress pattern you posted.

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  15. Beautiful lines/dresses. I need to minimize my "shelf".

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  16. Beautiful examples. I remember my Mom wearing this style in the fifties. If you look at ladies' underpinnings from the 1700's and 1800's you find tight upper garments with rows of tiny ruffles in the area of the "shelf." Uplift came from that rather than a particular dress. Isn't fashion interesting!!!

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  17. Probably not every one of the examples you pictured - I love the one Liz Taylor is wearing, though! And really, everything that puts attention to my bustline and distracts from my belly is a plus in my book. ;-)

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  18. Clearly manikins can't pull off this look but Taylor is stunning. I really like the style and would love to sew it myself. But I see two aspects to it, the draping of the bodice and the engineering of the foundation. I don't think I'm up to either task but I'm probably more intimidated by the second. Perhaps there is the perfect undergarment that could be purchased as a starting point, but I would love to be able to build the whole thing. So far my attempts at boning and perfecting a tight bodice have been humbling.

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  19. Hi Gretie... is very nice dress.. I love it... compliments for blog and sewing..
    Hugs
    Deni

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  20. I really adore the shelf bust look as well (another reason why I need to dust off my draping skills! ;). Partially because I realize it'd work wonders on my small bust (at least creating the illusion of an hourglass silhouette!). lol. It's so feminine and sexy, without letting it "all hang out there" too--which is always a plus in my book! ;)

    Thanks for sharing all these inspiration images... I'm now thoroughly distracted! haha!

    ♥ Casey
    blog | elegantmusings.com

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  21. I wouldn't try the fluffed up tule looks, but the pleated numbers as the lovely Ms. Taylor is wearing, I'd give a go. I think personally the trick with this look would be to not make the skirt too fussy.

    It's obvious wear the focal point is so the rest should be in line with that.

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  22. Adore this bust style, lucky to have two vintage dresses in this style, and they were hard fought for.

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  23. I cast my vote for Liz too--love the fit, color, fabric and attitude!
    And I'm looking forward to seeing your version as it comes together.

    These styles reminded me that I have a fun version to share: http://pintuckstyle.blogspot.com/

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  24. I love the Liz Taylor dress, but with my DD bust, I'd end up looking like one of the "extreme"patterns...sigh..
    'cause it's a lovely look...
    Karen

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  25. I'm all for anything that enhances my barely-there bustline, so yeah, I'd be all over this look. :)

    Btw, I totally thought of you and your gorgeous vintage clothes last night. We were at Cicada Club in downtown LA - a 1920's art deco club that has swing/ballroom dancing and live music once a week. Most of the people were in period clothing from the 20s and 40s, complete with appropriate hair styles, hats, shoes, etc. It was one of the cooler venues I've been to and I immediately thought of you fitting right in there. :) If you ever happen to be passing through downtown LA on a Sunday evening, you should make it a point to go.

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  26. I hear you, Karen, I'm in the same boat. But I could swear I've seen Queen Latifah pull off the same look, and she's no shrinking violet.

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  27. love the look, can't pull it off myself - I've already got enough of a bust as it is, any more attention paid to it would make me VERY uncomfortable! :)

    Plus, I feel like it would be too visually top-heavy to look nice on me

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  28. I'm "busty" and I'd wear it in a heartbeat. But, I agree with you, it's all in execution and some of the busts on those dresses are just too much (litterally, way too much fabric). Others are rediculously fabulous.

    Oddly, I just bought a Marc by Marc Jacobs swimsuit with this sort of bust line. And this neck on a bathingsuit actually, ahem, downplays my assets...fist bathing suit I've ever owned that did that.

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  29. Oh, I'd like to be able to dress up like this every day! Love the look.

    Gertie, you just must get Kenneth King's book on bustiers for constructing the foundation and the bodice! It is by far the best instruction on strapless - and I consider these strapless in their construction.

    I have made numerous strapless gowns for various sized busts and everyone loved the fit that KK's construction gives. Absolutely no tugging or messing with the top as you wear it; no matter what the size is on top. Dancing is a breeze, as this construction is used for Las Vegas show girls as well.

    I also always use the steel spiral boning as it will move with you.

    Doreen

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  30. i think the shelf bust is one of the flattering silhouette!


    great post!
    xo,
    www.thecitybirdsnest.blogspot.com

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  31. I love, love, love this bodice style. If I could wear t-shirts with this style, I would!

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  32. I have always loved this style. Even more so since nursing two kids have left my, uh, resources, somewhat depleted. And you are right on about Elizabeth Taylor. Gorgeous!
    If you've got the ability to sew something like this, omg, go for it! I totally would! (Which means I look forward to your future tutorials on the subject!) ;)

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  33. Ehm... I've just finished a shelf-bust dress, made my own pattern. I blogged about it here: http://petitmainsauvage.blogspot.com/2010/08/new-dress-now-with-more-pictures.html and here: http://petitmainsauvage.blogspot.com/2010/07/new-dress.html Mine isn't quite as 'built up' as some of the pictures you show, both because I wasn't quite sure about that and because that was very hard to figure out from a flat pattern drafting point of view. Also, I'm quite flat-chested, so I can use the added 'oomph'.
    One more thing: I have noticed that designs with the full bust area 'put on a shelf' and those where the 'shelf' covers the lower part of the bust are both refered to as 'shelf-bust' (and you are showing both). To me, those styles actually look rather different and they would quite different in their construction.

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  34. yeahhh, the shelf bust is one the prettiest things ever. i like when it's called a "crumb catcher".

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  35. I'd never heard that term before, what a pretty term to learn today. I recognise a few of those dresses from a particular etsy seller I have bookmarked for inspiration , I especially love the pink chevron dress of theirs that you linked above! Looking forward to seeing your yellow dress, its my favourite colour!

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  36. I love the engineering on these, and the detail. I like the way they look on other people.

    As a G cup, would, for me anyway, feel like my entire statement was "May I present...my breasts?" to the exclusion of the rest of me.

    But I think this is an elegant look for other people as pictured--just not one I would feel able to pull off.

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  37. Have you seen the OOP Badgley Mischka 1806? I keep meaning to the shelf bust in that to create a 50s inspired number.

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  38. Oh my! The pink dress reminds me of a comment made my grandfather at the beach..."What they don't show, they point to".

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  39. I would wear this if only to experience the novel sensation of actually HAVING a bust... funnily enough I've just posted about being a bit lacking in that department...
    http://stylewilderness.blogspot.com/2010/08/boy-oh-boy.html

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  40. Doesn't the woman in green on the Simplicity envelope look like Liz Taylor!

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  41. I LOVE the shelf bust look. But for the opposite reason to the obvious one - I actually feel they can help minimise the appearance a generous bosom - by putting it on a 'shelf', it puts the bust high (while also emphasising the waist), rather than spreading it all over the chest for that delightful Edwardian pigeon-breast look.

    xx Charlotte
    Tuppence Ha'penny Vintage

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  42. I can't sew a shelf-busted dress, but I do own one. It is fabulous and always complimented. I'm a 34E bra size and I think as long as the skirt is full, it all balances out.

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  43. oh heck yes!
    I'd totally rock that bust line-wait I already have in a costume I used for a photo shoot at work! I felt sexy w/o feeling exposed.

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  44. Absolutely! They're lovely!

    Hmmm, I have a bra with a similar effect that I think of as my boobs-on-a-platter bra. "Shelf bust" is so much more tasteful ;)

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  45. vintagekitchenkitschAugust 6, 2010 at 6:59 PM

    I was perusing Flickr for patterns and came across a fairly new rendition of the shelf bust. It was Simplicity 8918. It's a Jessica McClintock design. Very pretty and I think it is probably in an etsy shop for sale. You might be able to just google the cover also. : )

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  46. Now I am armed with this new knowledge I keep seeing frocks and thinking "ooh a 'shelf bodice'" I must stop or I will go mad. But I thought you might like these two pretty numbers I have strolled across (in buttercup yellow and mustard of course):

    Floral mustard dirndl dress

    Buttercup frothy dress

    I recently bought lemon lace (for a full skirt dress) so similar to the lace pattern on the the buttercup dress the difference is almost discernible. I'm so pleased to see it on an inspiration frock!

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  47. Would I wear this? Absolutely! Anything that emphasizes and enhances a small bustline like mine is good with me!

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  48. Huh, I just stumbled on this post. And the answer is ABSO-friggin-LUTELY I would wear it. Its so slimming and graceful, has a lovely silhouette, and could be done in so many variations. I wish I had one of these dresses for every day of the week :)

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  49. Now you can find many "shelf bust" patterns here: http://vintagepatterns.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Shelf_Bust

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  50. Hi Gertie,
    This is an interesting look that has made it to my 'to make' list. i like it because it is quite structural and not over frou frou :) http://yourstylerocks.com/patterns/archive.php?pattern_id=1 i haven't downloaded the pattern, so no idea how it is constructed.

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  51. sorry, adding, that i do know how it is constructed... she has covered a bra!!! interesting technique :) http://yourstylerocks.com/_download/patterns/instr-ysr-010810.pdf

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  52. Hi Gertie

    I was just wondering whether you got around to making a shelf bust dress or if you cover it all in your new book which is on it's way to me? I'm making some 50's dresses with a Harley Quin and Poison Ivy twist to them but can't find an affordable pattern anywhere.

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Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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