The excerpt below is taken from the Introduction, by Kimberly Alexander, Ph.D., for Embellishments: Constructing Victorian Detail (Astrida Schaeffer, Great Life Press, forthcoming June 2013)
The history of the Victorian Age will never be written: we know too much about it. --Lytton Strachey
The nineteenth century certainly was a period of cultural clutter, as the three sisters of modern life--industrialization, immigration, and urbanization--excited and disturbed the rhythms of society and family. But, it was fashion that most powerfully organized the clutter, both triggering and mirroring the “tyranny of change,” as one historian has described this maelstrom of unsettling forces. Singer’s sewing machines enabled women to experiment with trends inside the home. The Delineator and other design journals excited their hopes and guided their hands by introducing Chicago and Omaha to current patterns from Paris and London. Godey’s Ladies Book and other magazines that catered expressly to woman and inspired them to develop themselves as domestic paragons.
Catalogues like those of Sears, Roebuck allowed them to make purchases from virtually anywhere in the United States.
The historic garments captured here, many published for the first time, date from the late Victorian period, roughly 1875 until 1909. As such, they reveal complications of nationalism and homage to European trends in fashion, like warp and weft, that Americans found displayed in the great exhibitions of their day. The fashion of the Gilded Age, on the eve of the 1876 American Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, are not as distant from the direct influence of Queen Victoria’s court and Parisian haute couture as one might expect........&.
Kimberly Alexander, Ph.D.
University of New Hampshire
Cover design: Great Life Press
Images: Brian Smestad, Astrida Schaeffer
Courtesy, University of New Hampshire, Irma Bowen Collection
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