Kate StrasdinApr 10, 2023
The Dress Diary
Secrets from a Victorian Woman’s Wardrobe
Pegasus Books 2023
The Dress Diary: Secrets from a Victorian Woman’s Wardrobe (Penguin, 2023) by Dr. Kate Strasdin presents the hidden fabric of a Victorian woman's life - from family and friends to industry and Empire - told through her unique textile scrapbook.
In 1838, a young woman was given a diary on her wedding day. Collecting snippets of fabric from a range of garments she carefully annotated each one, creating a unique record of her life and times. Her name was Mrs Anne Sykes.
Nearly two hundred years later, the diary fell into the hands of Dr. Kate Strasdin, a fashion historian and museum curator. Dr. Strasdin spent the next six years unravelling the secrets contained within the album's pages.
Piece by piece, she charts Anne's journey from the mills of Lancashire to the port of Singapore before tracing her return to England in later years. Fragments of cloth become windows into Victorian life: pirates in Borneo, the complicated etiquette of mourning, poisonous dyes, the British Empire in full swing, rioting over working conditions and the terrible human cost of Britain's cotton industry.
This is life writing that celebrates ordinary people: the hidden figures, the participants in everyday life. Through the evidence of waistcoats, ball gowns and mourning outfits, Dr. Strasdin lays bare the whole of human experience in the most intimate of mediums: the clothes we choose to wear.
This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose doctoral work focused on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.