Sometimes I completely forget about things I’m not supposed to forget. This blog post is an example of that. I had this post 95% done sometime in 2014 and then promptly forgot all about it. I’m finally finishing it. I apologize to the person who inspired the post and I hope she still gets to see it, all this time later.
I got a query from a reader, Lady D of A Stitch in Time and Space, which I felt merited far more than a comment reply. The questions were:
- Is there a reason to choose a curved front over straight front?
- Does body shape make a difference?
- Is one easier than the other?
- Does it depend what closures or neckline you want to do?
Each one of these tempts me to fill reams of electronic paper with my thoughts, so I’ll do my best to answer them succinctly, based on my own experience and tailoring preferences.
Is there a reason to choose a curved front over straight front?
Perhaps. The two cuts will shape the body differently because they both have different tailoring and rely on the concept of negative ease (tight fabric pressing and molding the body). The curved front provides a more rounded bust silhouette and it tends to sit lower than the straight front dress, which provides more of a shelf/corset effect and tends to push the bosom high. So, if you’re going for a particular shape to the bosom, keep these differences in mind when picking which style to make. If you care more about which will be easier to get a flattering, proper fit from, I’d argue that adding curve to the sides and the front seams provides a lot more leeway for imperfect fit which will still result in a good bust shape than a pattern which only adds curve to the side seams. For the straight front, you really have to get it just right, or it’s very easy to make the bust look terrible. I’ve seen way too many straight front dresses with an unfortunate effect that squishes the bust on the lower outside quadrant in a diagonal that gives the lower curve an unnatural “V” shape. When done well, it’s magnificent. But far fewer people actually do it well than think they do. It takes either a serious affinity for tailoring or a LOT of practice to make it look right, in my opinion. If any of you got it in one, congratulations — you have a serious affinity for tailoring.
Does body shape make a difference?
It can, if you wish to be that discerning about it. Every rib cage and bust is different, and it’s possible that a curved front works better for one while a straight front works better for another. I believe that for large-busted women, a curved front is more forgiving. For a very small bust, it’s hard to make the case for a curved front, as the fabric does not need to swell out much at all to accommodate a modest cup size. But, even so, there are small-busted women who prefer a curve and there are large-busted women who swear by the straight front. This is the kind of thing each woman needs to decide for herself, in my opinion, possibly through trial and error.
Is one easier than the other?
Easier to fit? I’d say the curved front is easier to fit for a good look. Sewing-wise, the straight front is a bit easier, because your eyelets do not need to be distributed over curves. Also, if you lose weight, a straight front is a lot easier to take in without needing to redo eyelets. If you gain weight, it’s a tie, because proper expansion of the dress needs to occur along the side seams, armholes, and sleeves. The center front is the one thing that can get away with not being changed until there is a pretty large amount of weight gain.
Does it depend what closures or neckline you want to do?
If you’re fitting for serious bust support, you pretty much have to use lacing instead of buttons for your closure. If you’re making a fancier top layer, buttons have a better chance of laying down without the edge ruffling when that edge is straight. That said, we do have 14th century examples of extant garments (albeit men’s) with serious curve in their center-front openings where buttons are used to good effect. (Two of my favorites, if you are wondering: the coat armour attributed to Charles VI of France and the pourpoint attributed to Charles de Blois.) Neither of these tailoring styles rule out any particular closure type. I will point out, however, that if you are planning to side-lace, the curved-front design is risky, because when you sew your two curved panels together, it’s very easy to create a baggy pocket which does not get properly filled by the bust. People can easily misjudge how tight the bodice needs to be when doing this, and so I recommend using straight front tailoring for dresses which will side lace. Also, it will allow you to cut the front in one piece, creating a smooth expanse across the bosom. Here’s an example of me wearing a dress which side-laces and was cut in one piece across the front. The fit was nicely done by Charlotte Wurtzel Johnson. I used this dress as the base layer under my black dress with gold accents for my 1480s English Lady impression.
The neckline does affect the fit of the bust, and to repeat what I’ve said above, the harder fit is the straight front. So, the wider and deeper the neckline, the more challenging it can be to get the bust to fit well. I recommend you attempt a neckline that is as wide as you can manage it without doing away with the shoulder seam altogether. I also recommend covering the whole bust — not dipping too low into the cleavage that tends to occur with a tightly-fitted dress like this. The dress above has a square neckline with slight rounding at the corners.
Check out this past post about necklines for a survey of necklines on fitted dresses in the art of the time.