Elisabeth GernerdJan 14, 2024
The Modern Venus
Dress, Underwear and Accessories in the Late 18th-Century Atlantic World
From rumps and stays to muffs and handkerchiefs, underwear and accessories were critical components of the 18th-century woman's wardrobe. They not only created her shape, but expressed her character, sociability, fashionability, and even political allegiances. These so-called ephemeral flights of fashion were not peripheral and supplementary, but highly charged artefacts, acting as cultural currency in contemporary society.
The Modern Venus: Dress, Underwear and Accessories in the Late 18th-Century Atlantic World (Bloomsbury, 2023) by Dr. Elisabeth Gernerd highlights the significance of these elements of a woman's wardrobe in 1770s and 1780s Britain and the Atlantic World, and shows how they played their part in transforming fashionable dress when this was expanding to new heights and volumes. Dissecting the female silhouette into regions of the body and types of dress and shifting away from a broad-sweeping stylistic evolution, this book explores these potent players within the woman's armoury. Marrying material, archival and visual approaches to dress history, and drawing on a rich range of sources – including painted portraiture, satirical prints, diaries, memoirs – The Modern Venus unpacks dress as a medium and mediator in women's lives. It demonstrates the importance of these overlooked garments in defining not just a woman's silhouette, but also her social and cultural situation, and thereby shapes our understanding of late 18th-century life.
This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose forthcoming book focuses on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.