Decadence and Aestheticism through Fashion and Textiles: Guest Editors’ Introduction


  • Robyne Calvert
  • Veronica Isaac


The description of Basil Hallward’s studio – provided in the opening lines of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)is a feast for the senses from the start, with the ‘rich odour of roses’ inviting the reader through the door, away from the ‘dim roar of London’ to the orientalist fantasy within. As in so many fin de siècle visual and literary texts, decadence is conveyed – or implied – through vivid descriptions of the material culture surrounding, or, as in this instance, carefully assembled by the central characters. At the heart of his description are ‘long tussore-silk curtains’ on which the ‘fantastic shadows of birds of flight’ produce ‘a kind of momentary Japanese effect’, an exotic invocation of the Asian-inspired Aestheticism to which Wilde subscribed in his own life. He was perhaps the most well-known male proponent of Aesthetic Dress – most obviously performed through velvet suits with knickerbocker trousers he famously wore during his 1882 lecture tour of North America, where he was photographed by Napoléon Sarony