Halter Tops, Trailer Trash Barbie and Grace Kelly

Sometimes I re-think my style choices.  I used to think “halter top” and images of exposed brassieres and Trailer Trash Barbie raced through my mind.  (Then there’s the strapless bra issue, but that’s another post.)  I never wore them much.

A few weeks ago, I saw Rear Window on the big screen at Goma’s Alfred Hitchcock Retrospective (if you’re in Brisbane, check it out, they’re showing films to the end of the month).  I’d seen Rear Window before but the big screen and chuckling audience transformed the movie.  It was so alive.

Click to visit one stitcher's lovely and whimsical take on this suit

One thing that struck me was this ensemble worn by Grace Kelly.  Very pretty, very chic, very demure.

Click to visit an excellent suit write-up at Clothes On Film

Then Bam.  She took off her jacket.  I thought- Grace Kelly wore a halter top and she looks good.  Still well dressed and tasteful, perfectly unimpeachable in her jacket.  When she takes it off, she’s still well-dressed and tasteful.  I started looking into 1950’s Halter styles.

Still Casual, but with a pert little collar

I recently made a halter-back cotton dress, and I have to confess I’ve taken to wearing it around the house.  It’s hot here right now.  Worse, it’s still and humid (though not yet mid-summer humid).

Still Casual, but too adorable to resist sharing. I used front bust pleats like this recently.

The ease-y, backless dress in a cool fabric is fantastically comfortable in this weather.  I tend to wear summer jackets for sun cover.  This evening, as I swanned about in my Terra Incognita dress, the penny dropped.

I like the alternate back, this could easily be a shirt. This would look well under a jacket, made in a pretty fabric (or that tiny piece of Ahimsa silk I have floating around...)

Strategy: make a few backless shirts/blouses for summer and possibly channel the Grace Kelly “tasteful and comfortable” look more than the other “too casual” look I used to associate with halters.

I like the way the little jacket slips over the dress.

I don’t wear jackets in the house, and when I go outside I’m covered anyway.  No one would necessarily know (or care) I’m backless, but I would feel cooler and comfortable.

A little bolero with cut on sleeves- love it. Check out the button/pocket detail.

Once again, I dug around Vintage Pattern Wiki to see if I could find “shirt/blouse” fronts with halter backs.  Click on any image in this post to view the source.

Oh! Bias cut! Neck Bow! Gorgeous Fabric!

I have this pretty pink houndstooth.  It’s cotton and from a quilting range, but the hand is more what I’d think of as “shirt.”  A shirt which would be smart, yet comfortable and wearable with the charcoal summer suit that’s marinading in the back of my mind.

So- can a halter top, worn well, be a chic addition to the tropical lady’s wardrobe, or have I been too much in the sun?  What design details from these patterns jump out at you?  Do you have any more classy-suit-halter design inspiration for me?  Articles?


  1. Oh, I loooove halter-necks, they look good on women with large or small busts.

    I like the construction of the Grace-Kelly one – it seems to be a long strip of fabric (silk?) which is just spread out in the waist and connected/attached to a waistband. I hope this is understandable, can’t explain it better in English.

    • Yes, it does. It looks so effortless, but I have to think there’s some careful draping and stitching in her top. She’s a bit of a fashionista in the movie, a socialite.

  2. I took the online Bombshell Dress class with Gertie. It was a halter top sarong. I think I only paid $25USD which is no more than a vintage repro and it included the pattern download from Burda. Gertie gives complete altering and fitting instructions so don’t worry about its being a modern pattern. http://www.craftsy.com/class/Sew-Retro-Perfect-Fit-Bombshell-Dress/29
    Also, I am even chestier than you and I have been thrilled with the strapless longline bra I bought from here. Here is a link to their plus sizes. I know you are slender. I am talking about you cup size.

    • Thanks for the links. :) Was your craftsy experience fun? It looks like such an interesting place and concept.

      Mmmmm, strapless longline bras… I think it’s a shame that moderate foundation garments have fallen out of fashion, they’re so good at smoothing and accentuating the figure.

      • I loved the Craftsy class and I can access the lessons FOREVER! I gave the course to my sister as a gift, too. It never expires so as long as the company is in business, whee! I had taken three online knitting courses before with Stephanie Japel and they were very good. She is now teaching through Craftsy, too.

  3. I’ve been wanting to try a halter top myself. Not normally my thing, either, but I’ve been entranced by the beauty of them with vintage fashions. I find I’m drawn to those that have a bit more of a blouse/shirt effect – the pointed collars – the bow one in the last picture, etc. Although, I do love what Grace Kelly is wearing – maybe it’s because it closes up high on the neck, that gives it that chic and tasteful look?

    I’ve been worried about the whole bra situation myself – I’m not exactly small in the bust area, but I’m not gigantic either. There has been a number of really great blog posts around about bra shapes in the different eras which explain how the shaping is achieved and a few bra sew alongs for 40’s bras I’ve actually been been considering making my own bra specific for wearing with halter tops, or trying to do a built in bra structure.

  4. Your choices are so far away from what I imagine when I hear “halter top”. I live in an area with lots of bad examples, and long for tastefully exposed skin. :-)

  5. Pro-classy halter here. I bought a floor length halter dress this summer because it had a built in bra that actually worked. I feel both classy and cool while wearing it and with a little shrug, I have enough sun/cool evening cover.

    Bra issues typically hold me back. I need support and be secure that my cups do not spillith over. A convertable bra with the strap at the back gives me a headache (as does my halter bathing suit I made). The strapless bra I bought ages ago had one of the bones snap and it’s too hot to wear in the summer anyhow.

    That Grace Kelly blouse is stunning. Butterick 606 is particularly lovely.

    • The dress sounds so lovely… I found a 30’s halter back style that didn’t make it into the post- floor length skirt, it was lovely.

      I might do a “build a bra into your halter” post, it’s not terribly hard to do and the resulting garment is that much more comfortable…

      • Ooh! Yes, please.

        I’ve seen a couple how-to’s where people built padding into dresses for support, but I’m a little too busty for just that to work. I am, however, willing to sacrifice a bra for either a pattern, or to stitch it into a dress.

        • Hehehe. If you have a look around a crafting or habby store, you may just find bra cups for sale. I’m sure they must be available for sale online somewhere… :) Will look that up and include it on the “build a bra into your halter top” post. :)

      • I always veer away from anything that will show straps or will need a strapless bra cos they’re so uncomfortable and fall down. So I would love to see a tutorial on how to build a bra into a halter top…would make summer that much cooler.

        • Well. I can totally do that as a post, but probably not any time in the next week. :) I only just recently found a strapless bra that’s just right for me, it used to be such a pain to work around not having a strapless bra..

  6. Funny how associations drive us away. I love the McCall’s pattern–very pretty with the two back straps and pleats (?) at the neckline. I’d like halters a lot in the summer, especially something drapey like the Grace Kelly look, but have to be careful about my linebacker-looking shoulders–they really draw the eye there.

  7. totally agree with you on both how much more amazing rear window is on the big screen (they played it in a proper movie theater in NYC last summer) and how classy grace manages to make the halter top look. i love all of your examples and look forward to seeing if you proceed :-)

  8. I think halter tops fall under the ‘only have one area of skin revealed’ rule. So a halter with decent bust and leg coverage (a la Grace Kelly) is wonderful and classy, but a halter with a plunging neckline and a short skirt and your midriff hanging out = trailer trash Barbie. I had no idea that existed btw. I’m assuming it was an artwork/joke!

    I’m now madly in love with the late 50s Simplicity pattern with the big hip pockets and wrap buttons! Thank you for posting (puts in folder for Winter 2012 wardrobe and hopes she has time for making it!)

  9. In Vancouver there’s this wicked store called Dressew that has cups and wires and all sorts of other bra making accoutrements. Alas, they do not carry moulded cups in “huge”. :) It might be worthwhile for me to play around with wires and a pattern made from a deconstructed bra. Perhaps over Christmas holidays, if I don’t get distracted with something else!

    • Vancouver sounds like such an amazing place. (Not just for the Dressew store, but that does add to its charm. ;)) I’d be interested to know what you discover while playing, sometimes the BEST ideas come to me while I’m fiddling with something that has very little practical purpose.

  10. Pingback: So Grateful for Creative Collaboration- Help! « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  11. A halter top to let the back breathe plus a light jacket for sun/modesty makes me think of an Indian choli (backless, can be supportive) plus a dupatta/scarf/veil (for modesty).

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