How Victorian Art And A Castle Curse Inspired The Now-Iconic Nap Dress

Generally speaking, cults are (understandably) frowned upon, but then there's the nap dress cult, which combines the feminine grace of a flowing dress with the potential dalliance of a nap. So, needless to say, we're ready for you to teach us the secret nap dress handshake and point us to the worship altar because we're all in! Since its release in 2019, the original Hill House Home Nap Dress has made quite a name for itself, especially once it started trending during the early pandemic.

What is it about this dress — and the menagerie of nap and lounge dresses that tagged along for the sweeping ride to fashion stardom — that makes them so irresistible? You'll likely get a hundred different answers if you ask a hundred fans. First, there's the undeniable femininity of its body-skimming bodice and flowy skirts, but just below the sweetly smocked surface is a sense of power. Not to mention, the long dress provides both comfort and freedom of movement. So, a spontaneous game of croquet or horseshoes is just as doable in your "Bridgerton"-inspired clothing as a lingering afternoon of bookworm beauty endeavors is.

Or, you know, you could just take a damn nap! Napping is great for your brain health, and sleeping in a comfy, flowy dress enhances the experience even further. Did you know, though, that the trendy nap dress was actually inspired by Victorian art and a castle curse?

The origin of the nap dress is a notoriously harsh work environment

The original Hill House Home Nap Dress is designed for whatever feminine agenda you may employ from one day to the next. In fact, the woman who created the now-trademarked dress, Hill House Home's CEO Nell Diamond, told The New Yorker that the inspiration came from her trading-floor days at Deutsche Bank. At the time, she said she was gravitating toward her signature look, which she describes as a "Victorian ghost" aesthetic.

There she was in her flowy frocks among the sharks in the choppy waters of cut-throat financial trades. Looking back, she acknowledges the exhilaration. "I walked into that trading floor full of all of these men in their Patagonia vests," she said. "I did it with my bow in my hair and my headband and my cute little part and my cat-eye. And I said, 'Watch me.'"

That certainly sounds empowering but exhausting at the same time! Rather than take a nap, though, let's refresh our senses with the historic paintings that inspired Diamond's iconic nap dress and those that followed in its serene path.

Escape a castle curse or shatter the glass ceiling in a nap dress

In an interview with The New Yorker, the creator of the original nap dress, Nell Diamond, mentioned three paintings from which she drew inspiration for her design. One painting is John William Waterhouse's "The Lady of Shalott," which was based on a poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson (via Tate). The woman in the poem and subsequent painting was cursed to live a lonely life in a castle tower, but in an 1832 moment of power, she burst out of the castle to look for the man she longed for.

We're not necessarily saying you need to grab hold of your true destiny in a nap dress, but you certainly can if you feel so inclined. This Vineyard Vines nap dress is embellished with pure optimism: Sherbet-hued threads woven through gauzy, lightly colored material. It's a solid wardrobe choice for wooing a prince or smashing the shackles of the patriarchy.

Along those lines, Sunshine Tienda offers a dress that's bursting at the seams with sweet, fluttery femininity. Don't let the subtle ruffles fool you, though. This dress is perfectly poised for storming castles, shattering glass ceilings, or rosé all-day agendas.

You can do almost anything in a nap dress

Another of Nell Diamond's inspirations for her Hill House Home Nap Dress was Sir John Everett Millais' painting, "Ophelia." Let's put aside, for a moment, that it's based on the tragic death of the "Hamlet" character Ophelia. According to museum records at Tate, the model, Elizabeth Siddal, who posed for this painting for over four months' time, was required to float in a tub of water day after day. 

Keep in mind that this was a situation without modern-day running water, so Siddal was casually floating in cool water for much of this time. Attempts to keep the water safely warm using lamps often failed, leaving the muse quite ill. It wasn't until Siddal's father threatened legal action against the artist that Millais stepped up to cover the costs of her medical bills. So, what can we learn from this?

Well, obviously, no matter how graceful you look in your nap dress, you shouldn't use it as an excuse to lounge endlessly in the bath. There aren't many limits to feminine fortitude, but we'll concede that one. We suggest you allow the water to be your muse and choose a watery-colored lounge dress, like the Linen & Cotton Tie-Waist Maxi Dress from J. Jill or MERSEA's Esmeralda Maxi Dress, instead.

Dominate the world with good hair and the perfect dress

Alas, we arrive at Dante Gabriel Rossetti's 1867 masterpiece, "Lady Lilith," the final painting of the three artworks used as inspiration for Nell Diamond's popular nap dress design (via The New Yorker). In an iconic early lounge dress power moment, the woman depicted here is swathed in a flowy frock while she combs her beguiling hair. Described as a "femme fatale" by The Met, it's said that the artist attached a quote from Goethe's Faust to the original work of art.

The quote in question reads, "Beware ... for she excels all women in the magic of her locks, and when she twines them round a young man's neck, she will not ever set him free again." We're not sure if the love spell was rooted in her come-hither hair or the laidback appeal of her loungewear, but we'd love to emulate her age-of-innocence meets femme fatale vibe, too. 

Dondolo's Daphne Dress is the answer since it also nods to the immeasurably poised "Bridgerton" Duchess of Hastings, Daphne. If you're looking to channel the diamonds donned by the Duchess herself but come up short on shekels, no worries! Instead, grab one of the emerald-hued Natalie Embroidered Maxi Dresses from Boden. It's 100% approved for promenades, Zoom meetings, and perfectly lazy afternoons.

Whichever nap or lounge dress you choose, remember to raise a toast to the many muses who came before us. Cheers!