The Dress Diary of Mrs Anne Sykes by Kate Strasdin review – the fabric of Victorian life

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In May 1848 merchant’s woman Anne Sykes rustled connected to nan dancefloor successful a dress made of pinkish and purple silk taffeta. Her husband, Adam, was rather perchance successful nan pick velvet heap waistcoat that he had sewage for his birthday. Or possibly he had opted for nan agleam silk tartan one. Either way, nan young mates must person shimmered arsenic they waltzed, giving nan dishonesty to nan thought that nan early Victorians mostly preferred to look arsenic if they were disconnected to a funeral.

Found connected a marketplace stall successful nan 1970s, an medium that Sykes kept passim overmuch of her early big life contains 2,000 swatches of fabric, each neatly snipped and mounted. Rather than cod her friends’ and family’s autographs, she asked alternatively for a sample of their clothes, which she past cautiously transferred connected to insubstantial and annotated, overmuch arsenic you mightiness do pinch seashells aliases overseas stamps. The consequence is an extraordinarily rich | grounds of middle-class Victorian life, some astatine location and overseas (the Sykeses spent 7 years successful Singapore, which is wherever nan pinkish and purple silk taffeta made its dazzling debut).

Kate Strasdin does not coming america pinch a facsimile of nan album, though location are coloured plates to springiness america a consciousness of its riotous diversity. Instead she uses it arsenic a instrumentality to unpick nan dense web of economic, societal and taste threads woven into nan samples. In nan process she touches connected everything from Britain’s continued importation of fabric from nan American enslaved states to nan permissive delights of going to a fancy dress statement dressed arsenic Dolly Varden, 1 of Charles Dickens’s saucier heroines. There is moreover a snippet from a pirate emblem donated by Admiral Cochrane, a reminder that life a agelong measurement from location was not ever a matter of lace trimmings and pearl buttons.

Some of Anne’s friends and family made aggregate deposits successful her collection, which allows Strasdin to stitch together a consciousness of them arsenic individuals. There is Mary, Anne’s elder sister, whose sensation tends to nan blowsy: agleam roseate motifs splattered complete achromatic silk, and plentifulness of ombre gauze to instrumentality nan eye. Even much chopped is nan aptly named Bridget Anne Peacock, who enthusiastically embraced nan agleam caller palette that arrived aft 1860 courtesy of aniline dyes. One of nan large revelations of Strasdin’s fascinating book is nan grade to which men participated successful this move worldly culture. Adam Sykes was intelligibly partial to a fancy waistcoat, which connected occasions must person made him look for illustration a courting vertebrate of paradise. Rather sweetly, men presented each different pinch waistcoats arsenic tokens of esteem.

It was Adam excessively who had fixed “my charming Anne” nan pink, silk-covered medium soon aft their matrimony successful 1838. When Strasdin acquired it she had nary thought who nan Sykeses were. Careful sleuthing done census and parish records has allowed her to soma them out. Both were calved into Lancashire manufacturing dynasties astatine a clip erstwhile Britain produced much than half of each nan world’s cotton. The move to Singapore allowed Adam to make his measurement up nan merchant hierarchy. The couple, who had nary children, returned to Lancashire successful 1849 and settled into a life of gentrified status successful a state location extracurricular Blackpool, acold from nan spinning machines and nan counting houses connected which their luck depended.

To date, nary photographs of nan Sykeses person emerged, contempt them some surviving good into nan property of nan camera. But possibly this is apt. It was image photography, aft all, that displaced each those pastimes of hairsbreadth snipping, autograph hunting and moreover frock sampling, pinch which nan earlier Victorians tried to support bonds pinch their loved ones and which we now find truthful strange. It is telling that arsenic Anne Sykes moved into nan 1870s her liking successful her sample book dwindled, and nan last pages stay blank.

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