Here is a sentence from Dickens:

On somebody’s motion, we resolved to go downstairs to the dress-boxes, where the ladies were.

This is a scene in a theatre, when drunk Copperfield with friends goes to some specific part of the building where ladies were. But I can't find anywhere a definition of the word "dress-boxes", nor its picture.
It was translated into Russian as a "theatre box"(ложа, loža) in the Russian translation of the book. This makes sense, but why "dress"?

  • The 'dress circle' is the first level of seats above the ground floor in a theatre, en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/dress_circle – Nigel J Oct 28 '17 at 12:49
  • 1
    @NigelJ Why not post it as an answer? – Gherman Oct 28 '17 at 13:37
  • Why "dress"? Perhaps, at some time in the past, that was where the ladies would be, dressed in their most expensive and elaborate outfits, so everyone could see them. – GEdgar Oct 28 '17 at 14:27
  • From what I found, dress boxes were meant for people who wore fancy dress or evening attire (elegant attire). And the dress boxes were, naturally, on the level as the dress circle, which was the first balcony. But one description of a theatre says that that theatre's dress boxes were designed specifically for ladies and they (the boxes) had limited access so that they (the ladies) couldn't be 'molested'. Nowadays the dress circle does not have to be equivalent to the first balcony as theatres use different terminology. That's as far as I've gotten. Another source notes that dress boxes.. – Arm the good guys in America Oct 28 '17 at 19:55
  • ...were available for anyone (in evening dress) to sit in, as opposed to important figures, dignitaries, royalty, etc. That's about as far as I got before I stopped. – Arm the good guys in America Oct 28 '17 at 19:58

Dress boxes are boxes at the level of the "dress circle" or "dress gallery." This is usually the first level above the floor of the theatre. It is the level at which audience members are most visible to other parts of the audience.

If you're going to the theatre to be seen there, rather than to watch the show, which was commonplace in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the dress circle is the appropriate place to sit. People doing this would wear their best clothes, "dressing up" to improve the impression they made.

|improve this answer|||||
  • +1 except note that in some theatres the dress circle (with dress boxes) was not necessarily equivalent to the first balcony, since theatre design changed over time and geography. – Arm the good guys in America Oct 28 '17 at 20:01

Describing the "Old Vic," King Street, Bristol, Avon, Great Britain, Simon Tidworth wrote,

"The floor of the auditorium, known in France as the parterre and in England, and hereafter in this chapter, as the pit, was provided with benches and surrounded by two tiers of boxes. The nine lower, or dress, boxes, were each named after an English dramatist (Shakespeare in the middle) and held 267 people. The upper boxes were confined to the sides of the theatre, three on each side, holding 104 people, the space in the centre being left as an open gallery."

From Theatres: An Illustrated History, London, 1973 p. 121 - 122

|improve this answer|||||
  • 1
    -1 This doesn’t answer the question, why dress? Does lower mean dress? Anyway, the question does not show what research the OP did. – Arm the good guys in America Oct 28 '17 at 16:01
  • @Clare I did not find "dress box" in any of Webster's or Oxford dictionaries, but it seems I used wrong queries. Entering "dress boxes" in google didn't help either. The book has no annotations on this one. I don't know any other good ways to research. How do I normally attack such problems? – Gherman Oct 28 '17 at 19:45
  • OK, I had to reconsider acceptance of answers because Clare's point is valid, but still thanks for your help. – Gherman Oct 28 '17 at 19:47

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.