COUTURE COMMENT: What is a bias cut dress? How a 1920s classic style is still relevant today

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If ever there was a style of dress that could be described as the seductress of fashion, a bias cut dress would definitely be a nominee for the title.

Its influence dates back to ancient Egypt and Greece, where fabric was draped across the body and secured with jewellery.

Moving forward fashion to the 19th century, historians record Madeline Vionnet (1876–1975) as one of the innovators of this provocative dress that favours the body’s natural form.  A form of dress that was in rebellion to the rigid corsets of the time, which had a tendency to distort a woman’s body – the things we do for fashion!   The 1920s saw its popularity rise alongside Art Deco; it’s interesting to note that some 90 years later, a bias cut dress for day- or evening-wear, with its simple elegance, is still as desirable today as she always was.

So what is a bias cut dress and what makes her so alluring?

The magic is in the cutting technique. Fabrics have a grain line; dresses, for example made out of woven fabrics cut on the straight grain (imagine a straight line), well, they will hang uniform on the body straight up and down. However, when using a slinky fabric, for example a Silk Charmeuse, cut at an angle, you are not only creating a different look as to how the fabric drapes, but also a different feel. These dresses slide over the body caressing your curves; as a result of cutting the fabric at an angle it now has an elasticity, this aids with the wearer’s ease and fit.

A comfortable dress to wear as it allows for freedom of movement, bias cut dresses were a favourite of the Hollywood screen wardrobe along with their red carpet events, think film noir, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Bette Davies, Dorothy Dandridge, to name a few; their evening glamour would be composed of such a dress as they attended the Oscars.

The type of fabric used also has a direct impact as to the look, alongside its cutting technique. Silks, for example, have a more fluid movement, which is why you will see long evening dresses with puddle hems, or trains gliding across the floor; also think of lingerie.  A firmer fabric, for example a linen, tends to be more for daytime dresses. The bias cut is a very versatile style of dress.

I had the pleasure of making a bespoke bias cut evening dress for a client (a keen horse rider) – pictured top – to attend her end of year ball: a charcoal grey Silk Crepe Backed Satin, with spaghetti straps, lined in Habotai silk – see main picture above. It took my meditation skills to a whole new level, challenging and rewarding at the same time. I am pleased to say that my client still gets pleasure wearing the dress today as she adds varying accessories.  The bias cut dress is one that I would describe as luxury that is comfortable, accompanied with timeless elegance…  oh I get goosebumps just thinking about her.

To quote Madeline Vionnet “If a woman smiles, her dress must also smile”.

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