32 thoughts on “SNARK WEEK: Back-Lacing Bonanza!

  1. Loved the article.

    For movies with back lacing:
    1) Scarlet Pimpernel w/Jane Seymour:
    2) Catherine the Great (Russian miniseries) has both or so it looks like.
    3)Desiree with Brando, Oberon + Simmons, I believe has 1950s version of Napoleonic fashion.

  2. So true about the spiral lacing.
    Was it a zipper I espied in the back view of In the Shadow of the Guillotine?
    If so. Bad costumer. (Said to costumer as if he were a puppy who pooped on the carpet)

  3. I’m interested to know what Sarah thinks about possible back-lacing earlier. I’ve seen GFD/Cotehardies made that laced in the back, but I’ve yet to see either textual or archaeological evidence for it. Same with the back-laced bliaut. And it sort of doesn’t make sense, unless you’re very high-born and have someone dressing you.

    On a kid, though- sometimes a CF back opening is the only way to keep their clothes on them! (My twin granddaughters were especially adept at this.)

  4. But then if Poldarks aqua dress didn’t lace up the back we’d have no sexy time. Which means no marriage, so the case could be made for that one….. ? But it probably would have been more fun from the front.

    1. Thank you! Why couldn’t she have gotten her lacing string knotted, and then Ross could pull out the knot with his teeth…

      1. EXACTLY! I was just thinking that as I read through this. Back lacing/closures are not required to create sexy-times. You can make it just as sexy from the front as from the back!

        1. *KOFF* Of course, you don’t _have to_ undo the bodice for sexy times… as I found once when the lacing to a GFD got sweaty and would not come unknotted. Oh wait- TMI? :-D

          1. If she can get the dress laced up by herself, then she can get it undone by herself, and frankly, that was a pretty sad way to get a marriage proposal. Plus, undoing the garment from the front is arguably sexier! Season 1 was alright, but once I heard about the upcoming ‘rape but it’s ok because she starts to like it’ horror that would await me, I was DONE with Poldark.

  5. One thing I will add to the Poldark commentary: in the book, it’s a gown of Ross’s mother’s that Demelza remodels herself, and Winston Graham (probably no costume expert) specifies it’s back-lacing. The costume is very true to the book and naught else ;)

    1. I heard that too (I’m not familiar with the books) and it’s the same argument for the red dress in Outlander (about which fans would probably have been even more militant). Those instances are tough for costume designers/technicians. Back-lacing outside of court wear simply had not been a thing for almost 100 years at that point – not even Ross’s grandmother would have worn anything back-lacing.


      We had this discussion over on FB as well — yes, it’s in the books, but Graham (the author) clearly didn’t know anything about 18th-c. costume, & why the hell didn’t any British TV writer (bec. it’s the same in the 1970s version) do a write-around? I can think of plenty of different ways for that scene to go that don’t use a dumb costume bit. It’s not that crucial to the story!

  6. I am mentally Kermit-flailing in frustration over this issue, specifically with regards to the 18th century. There are two main reasons why:

    1. I know that many costumers/designers defend back-lacing to supposedly make the fit more versatile, especially for extras. BUT – fit adjustability is EXACTLY what front-closing 18th century dresses do best! Even to the point that there is *almost* no such thing as maternity clothing for the 18th century because their everyday wear could be (relatively) easily adjusted to accommodate it!

    2. As someone who actually sews this stuff, too (albeit just for fun) I KNOW that it would require literally no additional effort/time to make 18th century dresses front closing as opposed to back lacing

    Ok, I actually have 3 reasons – although this extends to the general fuckery that so often happens with 18th century costuming

    3. 18th century dress is FABULOUSNESS personified JUST AS IT IS (I’m biased, I admit it but I don’t apologize for it!). It requires no alterations to styles or construction to make it either sexy – even WITH chemises under stays and handkerchiefs/fichus around the neck – or more fabulous/swoon-worthy or more practical from a wardrobe point of view.

    Whew! Ok, I feel a little better now.

    1. How about the fact that the skirt portion is already open in front, so adding back lacing means even more unnecessary work? ;)

  7. I’ve none off the top of my head that are particularly bad. I do know that History of the World Part 1 got at least the main female character’s gown correct. Since she tears it open at the front (her stays are even spiral laced!) So if a comedy with minimal historic base can get it right… I’d say there’s not much excuse.

  8. You’ve ruined me for life. I shall never be able to look at back lacing again.

    “PICK ONE OPENING AND STICK WITH IT” … could be really dirty, taken out of context.

    You started it. You opened the article with a Poldark sexytimes pic. ;)

  9. I think you’re too hard on Amadeus: Yes, the costumes are shitty, but it was the first period costume drama in YEARS!
    They almost had to reinvent doing stuff from scratch, and the budget was not that great, almost nobody wanted to finance that film. It’s success sparked period dramas as we know them now.
    Amadeus is like dear old grandpa: Looking older than he is, a little cheap, with some weird ideas… But he started the family business!
    That said, I can’t watch that film again even if you pay me. The main actor laugh has my hair standing up on ends every time!

    1. And Constanza’s scene with Salieri where she’s falling outbox her bodice and Salieri brings in ‘Nipples of Venus’ candy. So amusing.

    2. Oh we’ve gone back & forth about Amadeus, pro/con for years (I’m with you — it was the best of it’s time; search the site & you’ll find my more positive review). But it’s Snark Week! So all bets are off ;)

      1. Oh, I agree. Milos Forman and his costumer get a pass for Amadeus, but not for Valmont!
        Now there’s a tragedy, and I’m not only talking about costumes.

  10. There’s a 16th c woman’s doublet in a museum in Madrid that buttons up the front and has lacing 3/4 of the way up the back … from the waist to the shoulder blades. I think the purpose of the lacing is so that the woman can continue to wear the doublet in the earlier stages of pregnancy. … just pointing out the some front and back opening can be done

  11. OK so I’m very late commenting on this post, but since it’s a post about costume pedantery (is that a word?) and I’m here to be pedantic, I’m going to give myself a pass.

    I know a little bit about Elizabethan costume; the portraits here of Elizabeth Buxton and Elizabeth Howard do show front-opening gowns with stomachers. The stomachers are either attached to the gowns with a bazillion tiny pins, or, more likely, attached to the kirtle/undergown with a bazillion tiny pins and then the gown also pinned to the kirtle. 16th century ladies loved them some pins; Mary I’s wardrobe regularly ordered them by the thousands. Other possibilities exist, like hooks and eyes or lacing the gown and then pinning the stomacher over the laced front opening, but the last I delved into that area of research the prevailing theory was pins.

    In the case of Elizabeth Buxton, where she has a stomacher and then two strips of matching fabric on either side, those are called ‘revers’ and are essentially the same thing as lapels on a jacket. The inside edges of the gown bodice have been embroidered with the se pattern as the stomacher and are folded back to show. They may be sewn down, pressed, or pinned in place, I’m not sure if there’s a solid consensus on how revers were affixed.

    Of course you may already be aware of all this but I so rarely get to whip out my knowledge of 16th century dress construction :).

  12. As someone who is about to start a late 18th century gown sewing project, this is by far the most helpful thing i’ve come across online XD

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