Tuesday, April 26, 2011

In Praise of the Cut of the Back of Regency Dresses

Emma in the 2009 BBC Emma

I know that for me to praise the back of a dress will likely scare a few people, and scandalize others. The fact is, most people pay more attention to the front of a dress... probably due to a combination of the face and the bust... however, last year I realized that the Regency dress actually is lovely from any angle.

Emma and Mr. Knightley in the 2009 BBC Emma

The goal here is to show in the best way (though words do not do justice!) how the topic is neither frightful nor scandalous. In fact, what I hope to do here is to point out how Regency dresses manage to avoid both the old world sin of artificially increasing the size of a woman's rear (think of excessive padding, etc.) and the modern sin of trying to virtually paste the dress onto a woman and leave nothing to the imagination.

Miss Aurora's blue Regency dress

Instead, my dear readers, please observe... the back of the regency dress does a number of very interesting things:
  • It gives room for the lady to walk (the gathering in the back prevents billowing at the front and allows the dress to actually have give. If a 'Regency' dress is constructed without the gathering and extra material, the lady may not be able to walk easily... and will look significantly more awkward and less elegant)
  • It does not cling to her rear unnecessarily (again, a feature of the gathering and interestingly, the empire waist... by starting the waist higher, the upper back is accentuated, rather than the lady's behind)
  • Depending on the lengh of the dress, the gathering may even form a miniature train (again, due to the extra material/gathering)
  • It gives the lady a more slender upright figure (this is the result of the empire waist combined with the floor-length skirt)
  • It frames her upper back in a most lovely fashion (look at the picture and observe the lines of the stitching and how the neckline at the top lines up with the waist and the sleeves... the buttons also frame the center in a way similar to how the 3 buttons on a white-tie men's waistcoat frames the lower part of the waistcoat)
  • In summary... there is no other dress style that gives the exact elegant, statuesque, graceful attitude to the wearer from the back. (and the front)
Close up of Miss Aurora's Regency dress

Northanger Abbey: notice how the dresses allow the ladies room to move, while remaining completely graceful and modest in the process

Another additional point that is important: I've heard girls complain that modern empire waist attire makes them look as though they are with child. My observation is that with most properly constructed Regency dresses, this is not an issue. Why? Because the length of the skirt pulls the dress down with its weight. Additionally... the length of a dress not only makes it more formal (if cut right!) but also prevents anyone from being in danger of questioning a girl's reputation. Something I cannot say for the ever popular cocktail minidresses that many girls today seem to be having a passionate love affair with.

In Bath, England with Miss Aurora during the 2009 Jane Austen Festival

Many thanks to my good friend, Miss Aurora, of The Secret Dreamworld of a Jane Austen Fan, who kindly gave her permission for me to use some of her pictures for this post!

The snapshots from iTV's 2007 Northanger Abbey and BBC's 2009 Emma are used for informational purposes and I hold no rights to the images.


  1. Ok, I'm glad I'm not the only one who is slightly obsessive about the back of regency dresses! Of all things :)

    Do you ever look at Vintagetextile.com? My favorite section is the "early" bit, there are often great detail photos of amazing early 19th century frocks.

    Great post!


  2. Hey Solanah,

    I meant to reply to your comment when you first wrote it! I am so glad I'm not the only one who thinks about these things... it's nice to know I'm in good company! :D

    I hadn't heard of that, but looked it up, and it looks pretty awesome! :D

    Thanks so much!