Fibres, Folds, and Trimmings: The Decadent Materials of Sarah Grand’s Emotional Moments


  • Stefanie John


The emergence of the late Victorian ‘New Woman’ – a term popularized in a series of articles by Sarah Grand and Ouida, published in the North American Review in 1894 – has often been linked to fin-de-siècle sartorial discourses such as the rational dress movement and Aesthetic dress. ‘Rational’ ensembles inspired by menswear ‘allowed women physical and social mobility’ and were therefore an important means of expressing dissent towards Victorian gender ideologies.[i] By contrast, the connotations of Aesthetic or artistic dress, associated with ‘looseness and lack of structure, natural waist’ and ‘disavowal of the corset’, were less explicitly political.[ii] As Kimberly Wahl writes, Aesthetic dress ‘was rarely viewed as a direct challenge to hegemonic norms of gender in Victorian fashion culture’, but it was based on artistic conceptions of naturalness instead.[iii] Yet Aesthetic dress, too, appealed to New Women, in both fiction and fact.


[i] Madeleine C. Seys, ‘Rational Dress’, in The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Victorian Women’s Writing, ed. by Lesa Scholl and Emily Morris (Cham: Palgrave, 2022), pp. 1317-20 (p. 1318).

[ii] Kimberly Wahl, Dressed as in a Painting: Women and British Aestheticism in an Age of Reform (Durham: University of New Hampshire Press, 2013), p. xi.

[iii] Kimberly Wahl, ‘Bifurcated Garments and Divided Skirts: Redrawing the Boundaries of the Sartorial Feminine in Late Victorian Culture’, in Crossing Gender Boundaries: Fashion to Create, Disrupt and Transcend, ed. by Andrew Reilly and Ben Barry (Bristol: Intellect, 2020), pp. 22-34 (p. 22).