Jane Austen-era dresses are hitting the red carpet | EW.com

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Jane Austen-era dresses are hitting the red carpet

Empire-waisted gowns worn by Nicole Kidman and Gwyneth Paltrow receive mixed reviews by fashion critics

Jane Austen-era dresses are hitting the red carpet

They’re as retro as a fashion trend can get. Not only have Jane Austen’s books swept Hollywood, but the high-waisted (or Empire-waisted) dresses of her era are attempting a comeback too. Last spring, Nicole Kidman wore an Austen-style dress designed by Prada to the Oscars — the same night Sense and Sensibility took home a best-screenplay statue. And at the recent couture collections in Paris, designers John Galliano for Givenchy and Oscar de la Renta for Balmain sent models down the runway looking as if they’d just stepped off the set of Emma. ”They have a simple line to them,” says Emma costar Jeremy Northam, ”but it’s a difficult aesthetic for us to get our minds around these days.”

Even in the early 1800s, the dresses were considered a risque import from France. ”To people at the time it seemed naked,” says Professor Valerie Steele of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. ”The top was so low-cut and sheer.”

But today, the Empire waist may have trouble pulling in supporters. (Kidman’s Oscar outfit was panned in the fashion press.) The risk is that while the top is sexy and revealing, the surfeit of fabric below isn’t always flattering. ”Gwyneth Paltrow was fabulous in them in Emma,” says New York fashion stylist Inge Fonteyne, ”but she looks good in anything. If it balloons up too much, people can’t see that you’re thin. They could be good pregnancy dresses.” Madonna, are you listening?