I got a copy of “Victorian Secrets” yesterday – In short, the book is about a woman who got a corset for her 29th birthday and decided she would wear corsets and Victorian clothing 24/7 after wearing it a couple of times.
It’s an unabridged audio version and I’ve had it on in the background while doing other stuff. I will admit that I am only about a quarter of the way through the book. I will post a review of the whole book when I am through, but for now I wanted to post about what I have read so far.
It’s entertaining, but I really have to comment on how much of this is snark about how other people dressed in historical clothing replicas look like “a sack” and other unnecessary jabs – at the stage I am at right now, she is still very new to historical costuming and is currently at her first event. AKA she is still a “n00b” herself.
She has also had a snooty rant about someone being horrified at her wearing antique clothes.
I used to wear my own Victorian stuff when I was younger (read: slimmer). In fact I wore Victorian or Edwardian clothing probably 50% of the time – I wore it to sixth form, I wore it for photoshoots, I wore it to laze around the house, I wore it as part of a burlesque performance and I wore it clubbing on more than one occasion.
The reason I stopped is that I caused some damage to an 1870s bustle dress and I was really really upset because it can’t be repaired. This was a very sturdy museum quality piece, it was extraordinarily beautiful, and I had damaged it. That’s not a nice feeling to live with. Because of this my attitude shifted from “It’s my property and it deserves to be appreciated if it’s in wearable condition” to “I feel I should respect the age of my antiques and preserve them for other people to love as well.”
I resolved that I would learn to make replicas – and make good replicas, and when I could do this, I would wear Victorian clothes again.
The thing is, it’s now been two or three years since I stopped wearing my Victorian clothing. It’s all packed away in the special wardrobes I have for it. I add to it when I can afford to, and sometimes I take particular pieces out to study when my knowledge and ability have increased a little and I can learn from them.
I’m getting there with the sewing skills which will allow me to make a full Natural Form era gown, but I do take a long time to learn new skills, and I know it would be very intimidating to most people and not just me.
It has also cost me over £300 for the materials for my first outfit, and that is using a material I don’t consider particularly expensive. It’s cost me c£50 to enrol on an online Victorian day dress class (which I consider a BARGAIN by the way, and I am really enjoying every moment of the class)
Making a good, authentic looking Victorian dress is expensive, and difficult. Commenting on the “polyester” dresses which make their owners look like garbage is unnecessary. Commenting on the “plastic childrens umbrella with some cheap polyester fabric adhesed to it” is unnecessary.
Not everyone can afford to buy a decent quality Victorian clothing replica. Not everyone has the skills or money to make one. Not everyone can afford an original wearable quality Victorian ensemble. Not everyone feels comfortable wearing one.
These are things the author of this book really seems to have overlooked at the start – it’s a shame as the book is described as being about how she gained confidence, and if she continues to gain her confidence by sneering at the supposed faux pas of other people who are passionate about the same things as her but approach them differently, I think I will feel a bit uncomfortable reading the whole book.
I don’t really see any difference between her attitude so far and attitude of a lot of people in the cosplay scene – if you don’t look exactly like your character you can’t cosplay them. If you are an ounce overweight you don’t deserve to take part and have fun with your friends. If you can’t afford an exact replica of the costume you shouldn’t be there. If you deviate at all from the film/book/comic version of the outfit you are a fake.
I’m pretty judgemental when it comes to corsets – I can’t stand seeing things put on upside down etc. What I am able to do, however, is realize that some people just don’t care. They are not into corsets for the same reason as me, and that is FINE. Some people just want a £20 piece of lingerie they can impress their boyfriend with and then chuck out – and that is fine. Some people don’t have much money and want to try a cheaper corset out before committing to something which will cost them £200+ and that is also fine. Some people are still learning about corsetry, at their own pace, and haven’t learned everything there is to know yet. They may not appreciate being told they are doing everything wrong, and they may make silly mistakes until they learn better. This is all fine. All of it. It’s just as fine as being a leading expert on corsetry and doing everything by the metaphorical book.
This goes for historical costuming too. It really infuriates me to see people in non-era-specific costume store stuff made from cheap man made fabric, but if that is what they are into at the moment that is fine. They aren’t hurting anyone, they’re just having fun with their friends. if they enjoy it, they might get more into it and invest in something more but if it’s just once with a group of friends because the event is local why *would* they spend £300 or more to look “right” ? They have as much right to be there as the people who go to these events every weekend and need everything to be stitch perfect.
All that said, I am looking forward to reading the rest of the book. I am anticipating more specifically about her journey with corsets, because this is what the book is supposed to be about. I am interested to see if her attitude changes as the book goes on – will she embrace people who are in the same stance that she was before trying the corset on (OMG IT WILL KILL YOU) and try to educate them. Will she laugh it off when they make comments, or will she sneer at their ignorance the way she did when she encountered this for the first time?
I want to stress that I do not have anything against the author of the book, and I really am interested to see how the book develops – I am just a bit frustrated that so far she seems more concerned with how her costumes are better than those everyone else has.