Russian Princesses and the Female Neck


I recently read Anna Karenina for the first time; I was charmed by the drama, the humor, and the strange formality of 19th century Russia. I was captivated by the inclusion of actual shops, performers, and historical details. It seems almost every woman in the book is a princess.  Tolstoy is generous with his descriptions, particularly of clothing. Anna is portrayed in simple but expensive ensembles that draw attention, not to themselves, but to her. Her necklines are given special attention since they alluringly frame her elegant neck and round white shoulders.

Necklines are important to women. Most of us have a preferred cut, a particularly flattering line. While Anna is usually described in open, plunging shapes, my own preferred neckline is high and swan-like. High-necked garments recall the fierceness of Elizabeth I, the irreverence of Andy Warhol, and a beatnik-era poetic sincerity. Covered up to my neck, I feel comfortable and safe, yet somehow mysterious. The high neck elongates and smooths, a gentle truss, encouraging proper posture. It is modest yet seductive.

I wear high-necked tops most frequently in the summer, as a sort of counterpoint to bare extremities and flowing shapes. The shape of a high neckline draws the eye up, toward collar bone, neck, and shoulders, areas of my body I rarely find fault with. Unlike my legs or my waist, this upper portion never seems to change, it’s stabile, sinewy structure seems more essential than the parts that shrink, swell, and sag.

I’ve heard the high neckline described as restrictive, but I find the confinement calming. Wrapped in fitted fabric I feel the security of a dog in a thunder blanket. As a young girl, on cold winter nights, I would lie on top of my blankets and my mother wrapped and tucked them into a snug bundle to keep out the cold.

I cannot sleep uncovered. I use a blanket even in the hottest weather. I’ve always enjoyed a certain amount of restriction, finding myself freer when their is a boundary to test. This, I believe is something I share with Anna, who enjoyed her affair only as long as she was restricted by the confines of marriage.


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