Why Queen Victoria is your new style muse

Next time you're looking for some #sexpo (that is, sexy inspiration, not the adult products exhibition), look no further than 19th-century royalty. Yes, like Queen Victoria.

High neck, high volume … Musician Vera Blue.

While sexiness was once measured in midriffs and miniskirts – just think of Britney Spears' Baby One More Time – shifting times means shifting hemlines.

This season, skirts are going down (as in below the knee) and necklines are going up, up, up. It seems covering up is the new benchmark for sensuality. That is, creating allure by what you don't see more than what you do.

Credit must go in part to the popularity of Downton Abbey, The Crown and a creeping backlash against "naked" dressing. Let's call the new trend Not Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

Just this month, WWD reported that New York brand Batsheva has been a runaway hit for its "pastoral" inspired dresses that leave almost everything to the imagination.

And while it's easy to dismiss the modesty dressing trend as a fad, its spread to the high street is undeniable.

Victoria Beckham has ditched her 1990s’ bodycon dresses for a more sophisticated look.

First, there's the return of the turtleneck. At stores including COS, there are fine wool knits with high necks that are thin enough to slide effortlessly under a slip dress. And long dresses, in floral or graphic prints from Zara to Mister Zimi, have never been more prominent.

One local label championing the high neck is Banded Together, whose signature silk shirts offer a conptemporary take on the 1980s' pussy bow.

For founder Dana Burrows, modesty dressing is about power, not subservience.

"The high neck, necktie and frilled collar are redefining power dressing now in a way that the shoulder pad did in the '80s but in a much more connected and comfortable way. When women wear a necktie they exude confidence and poise," she says.

Kristin Scott Thomas

But not everyone is raving for the trend, with some commentators accusing brands of trading on modesty in a way that's insulting to religious women, by creating garments that are not only ostentatious but expensive – two qualities that fly in the face of the modesty ideology.

British retailer Marks & Spencer even copped criticism for creating a "modest" section in its stores, after customers rebelled over the implication that customers who shopped in other departrments were "immodest".

Still, there are plenty of positives. Take a look at the Instagram account for Batsheva. There is nothing sack-like or unsexy about the images. On the contrary, the sexiness comes from the woman in the dress, rather than the garment itself.

Empowerment from within is at the core of fashion right now. So how best to wear it? Pair a prairie dress with a pair of glitzy trainers or a motorcycle jacket, or a block-heel suede boot.

Wearing exaggerated silhouettes is a balancing act, so choose volume on the top or bottom half. A culotte with a blazer, or an oversized jacket with a pencil skirt. If you're feeling daring, layer a short dress over skinny pants, cropped at the ankle. After all, what defines modesty is a very personal matter, so make it your own.

Get the look

Thurley, $399

COS, $190

Banded Together, $165

Rebecca Taylor at Order of Style, $570

Skin, $220

Stockists

Skin: skin-footwear.com

Banded Together: banded-together.com

Thurley: thurley.com.au

COS: cosstores.com/au

Order of Style: orderofstyle.com

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