I can live quite happily without seeing a closeup of the diamond trilogy ring and I can’t claim to have watched the entire 20-minute interview. I got to the part about the proposal being prompted by roast chicken, which as far as I am concerned is proof that this couple knows how to live – but there was one image from the rolling-news Harry and Meghan engagement-fest that turned me instantly soppy. The back-view candid portrait, in which the couple are walking away from the camera, arms around each other’s waists. Body language is so much more eloquent when there is no rictus camera face. That rear view was the money shot.
Going into 2018, it usually is. The key fashion pieces of the season are as likely to wow from the back, as from the front. Maybe you are eyeing up the £145 open-back crepe-and-sequin midi-length dress by party-season name Needle and Thread, where the bodice is fastened at the rear with delicate sequin ties, leaving a dramatic stretch of bare skin above an elegant grosgrain waist band. Or perhaps you have snapped up a stretch, rib-jersey tie-back black sweater with diamond-shape, bare-back section from Helmut Lang to wear with jeans and boots.
The ascent of the rear view is a sign of how sophisticated fashion that real people get to wear has become. Two decades ago, one of the characteristics that set haute couture’s made-to-measure Paris fashion fantasies apart from the rest was that haute couture is designed to look perfect from all 360 degrees. (You would hope as much at those prices, quite frankly.) As ready-to-wear became more ambitious, though, this attitude was picked up across the fashion weeks.
Alexander McQueen loved to highlight the spine: once there was a metal “spine” corset that looked to be straight out of the Natural History Museum, another time a tiny trail of breadcrumb-sized crystal buttons traced down the back of a dress. At Céline, Phoebe Philo often uses back detailing to convey the message that this sweater dress or that soft trench coat is, while understated, utterly considered.
With chicken-and-egg timing, just as clothes began to be designed with a rear shot in mind, the art of celebrity portraiture embraced the back-to-camera angle. By the mid-00s, the default red-carpet stance for any celebrity was looking over a shoulder to camera. (This is, handily, also an excellent way to ensure you are only photographed from your best side.) By 2008, Sienna Miller had sparked a trend for wearing necklaces backwards, to embellish the bare back shown to camera.
The back view has form as a way of showcasing a pert bottom. (Meghan’s soon-to-be sister-in-law once removed, Pippa, knows a thing or two about that, ever since her backside became the breakout star of the last royal wedding.) Everyone knows that when you try on a pair of jeans, for instance, you check them out by turning your back to camera. The Roland Mouret dresses that spawned a million 00s copies, with their eye-catching zip snaking the full length of the back view, were a sanctified take on an age-old salaciousness. The newness in the back view 2.0 is that it is no longer about sex. It is a backless Gucci loafer, not a slinky pencil skirt. While it is not, really, an easy-to-wear look – for all the charmingly laid-back mood, open-back clothes are hard work for anyone who relies on a bra – the focus on the back does shift body consciousness away from cleavage and the push-up bra, and towards lats and the pull-up bar.
Borderline pretentious storytelling has crept into amateur self-portraiture, as evidenced on Instagram. The slight frown as you look down on the phone that is taking your mirror portrait shows that you are not vain, you just take fashion super-seriously and therefore are concentrating really hard on getting a good shot of your new shirt. The play-with-your-hair, gaze downward-to-the-left selfie tells your audience that you are actually really shy and sensitive despite posting multiple selfies. (I’m not being sarcastic, I genuinely think this pose is an Instagrammed cry for help, but that’s another matter.) Nonetheless, in a world where the No 1 aesthetic rule (as decreed by none other than Kate Moss) is Don’t Be Basic, the back view is your best friend. A party dress with a bow on the back is more considered, more subtle, than the same dress with a bow at the front.
If you are posing as a couple, there is deep romance in a view that mirrors how a congregation looks at a couple making their vows. (No, YOU are googling Pete Souza photos of the Obamas with their arms around each other.) And if you are solo, you get to keep a little bit of mystery in a TMI world. Any flash git can make an entrance. Instead, make an exit that leaves them wanting more.
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