I have one piece in my wardrobe that, no matter how shabby it looks now from serious over-wearing, is still my very favorite: My subtly sexy backless dress. My ex playfully named it my mo-cap (motion capture) suit, because it is black and liberally scattered with idiosyncratic, large faux-pearl beads (which are surprisingly not that uncomfortable to sit down in!). The long-sleeved, jersey dress of which I speak is a dear sartorial friend. Its slouchy shape with its batwings and full-length skirt (before it shrunk in the wash) is pretty demure. And its extra long sleeves cover my palms, and make me feel safe. From behind, however, a sweeping cowl reveals most of my back. As I dance after one too many, the shoulders fall down over my bare shoulders — the batwing sleeves voluminous as I spin around. Just thinking about it makes me excited. Maybe it's just my rosé tinted glasses, but I feel I've been at my most alluring in my mo-cap dress.
I think it's because I feel my most confident wearing it, and as we all know, a confident girl equals a sexy girl. My funny little mo-cap dress epitomizes effortless style. Because of its unusual detailing and striking cut, it can be pulled on, sans bra, 15 minutes before running out of the door. All it needs is a quick slick of red lipstick and a mascara reapplication to be night out ready. No need for fancy jewelry or ankle-crippling heels. A topknot and even some sparkly gold flats finish off the styling in five minutes flat. I love how the soft fabric feels on my bare skin, like wearing a comfy sweater. The large shape, draping over my shoulders, feels cozy and close. It is both sexy and subtle. As Bustle's own Marlen Komar puts it, my relationship with this dress is emotional.
(Me wearing my Mo-Cap Dress, 2012.)
I've since developed an unconditional love for dresses that play with the boundaries of comfort, modesty and sexuality. My favorite styles are definitely those that are fairly prim with the exception of a bare back — much like my much adored mo-cap dress. I like the way an exposed back and neck are almost a subversive alternative to cleavage.
Now, as some of you may know, I am no way opposed to showing off your girls in the name of fashion. I am a strong supporter of the Free The Nipple movement, and love to spend my free time browsing and reposting articles that point out the blatant nonsensical voids in what is social media friendly boob etiquette. However, the cleavage is not my preferred method of sex-ing up an outfit.
Blush Pink Open Back Maxi Dress, $162, etsy.com
Personally, on my own body, a cleavage-cut feels silly and a bit aggressive. I like to present my sexuality in an ambiguous manner. That's not to say I judge other ladies who flaunt their bazookas blazonly, Nicki Minaj style — you go girls!
It's not that I can't either, I'll point out. Although I'm not exactly Kate Upton, I definitely have the goods, but I actually really hate wearing underwired bras. They make me feel like my boobs are in a cage, and no one wants to put their lady pillows in a cage. When I do wear a bra, I often just wear a bandeau or a bralette, (yes, larger-busted ladies can wear an unstructured bra!) therefore donning a Wonderbra and a deep-V combo feels, well, alien.
(Me at a friend's wedding wearing a backless knit top.)
Although cleavage is often the go-to erogenous zone to flaunt if you're feeling like dressing a bit frisky, that's not the story the world over. The Japanese traditionally choose a bare neck and back over a well presented pair of bangers, hands down, every time. In The Naked Woman, his exquisite study of the female form, Desmond Morris writes:
"In Japan... exposing the back of the female neck is considered to be one of the most sexually tantalizing actions possible — the equivalent of exposing the breasts in the West....Traditionally, every Geisha was trained in the art of elegantly exposing her neck... Their costumes are high at the front and low at the back, with the collars pulled down to expose the skin of both the neck and the upper back... men everywhere seem to enjoy a plunging neckline, but in Japan it plunges backward."
He goes on to explain that the triangular bone at the base of the spine is named the "sacral," or "sacred" vertebrae. Apparently, he says, "In occult circles it is designed as the most important bone in the body and plays a special role in rituals involving divination by the use of 'holy bones.' It was also considered to be the bones containing the body's immortal spirit... the 'soul'" To me, this makes revealing the neck and back far more interesting than the sex-on-a-plate cleavage display — although the cleavage does hold it's own blatant merits.
Gold Champagne Open Back Mini Dress, $132, etsy.com
Although the cleavage and bare back are sexy in their separate ways, a naked back actually alludes to the unclothed breasts in a somewhat more powerful way than the cleavage by suggestion. Let me explain: To successfully pull off a backless number, unless you fancy doing a Carrie Bradshaw which has its own sartorial value, you have to leave your bra in your top drawer. By revealing such a large expanse of skin that is usually covered by a t-shirt on a day to day basis, you are basically broadcasting to the rest of the room, that you are "NOT WEARING A BRA." And rather than advertising your fleshy product in your balconette, you're employing the classic technique of the power of suggestion. It's just like the Blair Witch Project really, except not scary. The basic principals of glamour.
ASOS Sequin Cowl Back Midi Dress, $76, asos.com
Green Long Sleeve Cowl Neck Maxi Dress (cowl can be worn as a hood, or to the back), $55, dirfashion.com
What I think makes this dynamic the most sexy is the contrast to the almost nun-like stylings in the rest of the dress. Long, elegant sleeves, a high neck, and a sweeping skirt are demure and project a sensible kind of elegance — the more casual styles taking on a girl-next door vibe. These are the dresses that are both innocent and suggestive. They snigger at the Madonna/Whore complex; they challenge your onlookers. From one angle, you may appear prudish; from another, you blatantly allude to the nakedness underneath your clothes. (The slouchy styles are also pretty great if you want to drop your dress dramatically in a bedroom scenario. Just saying. Wear your lucky pants. Or go commando.)
Backless Long Dress, $80, etsy.com
Backless Jumpsuit, $75, etsy.com
So next time you want to dress for seduction, have a go at swapping your low-cut, boobie-baring number for a backless piece. You never know, you might like it.
Images: Courtesy Brands; India Hobson; Author's Own