The last time strapless dresses were around, women wore push-up and boned long-line bras to hold them up.

Now the strapless is back -- no surprise in a season of clothes fitted close to the body -- but not, thank heavens, all the heavy corsetry. After all the freedom of soft-cup bras or none at all, women are unlikely to go back to that kind of armor.

The new strapless is a breed apart from the old variety. Women don't look as bosomy in them, and they are generally far more comfortable.

But what holds them up? Karl Lagerfeld in Paris, who showed many strapless styles in his innovative collection, constructs his dresses with boning held away from the body by a soft layer of foam. Yves Saint Laurent uses tightly tucked chiffon that often looks like an expensive tube top.

John Anthony has found a new variety -- spiral boning which is very soft. You can roll it up in a ball, but it has enough firmness to do the job,

Other designers use a variety of wrapped styles, and sarongs are a popular version. Calvin Klein insists that a tight fit alone will hold up his strapless. And if the fit isn't tight enough, you simply alter it -- Even if it is suede.

Pictured, left to right; Richard Assatly's yellow tiny pleated strapless;

Calvin Klein uses bantamweight suede for a strapless top and skirt, and marks the waistline with a wrapped cotton cummerbund;

Karl Lagerfeld's strapless printed crepe de chine dress from the Chloe collection for spring;

John Anthony uses spiral boning for strapless tops worn with pants or sarong skirts under jackets;

Julio's short evening dress is tiered chiffon;

Geoffrey Beene wraps an orchid- printed silk crepe de chine sarong-style for evening.