The Strand Letters
~ an addendum to ~
Oscar Wilde On Dress
Opposite are letters from The Strand Magazine,
[Volume I, Issue 2, February 1891].
This series of correspondence was published by the then new Strand magazine under the title ‘Letters from Artists on Ladies' Dress’ following an invitation to ‘a number of our leading painters to state their views upon the subject’. These letters are transcribed and included in the ebook version of Oscar Wilde On Dress but they are not in the original collectible printed edition. Therefore they have been reproduced here in their original format as supplement for all users.
The letters are historically pertinent for Wildeans because of the comparison they afford, as a group, to the precepts on dress and fashion that Oscar Wilde was expounding years earlier.
The correspondents, all of them painters, are significant because they were familiar to Wilde’s artistic circle and mostly shared his grounding in Pre-Raphaelitism. Moreover, the letters were published in the same month that Wilde produced his ‘Fashions In Dress’ letter to the Daily Telegraph, and so together they can be seen to form a benchmark for how the artistic sensibility towards dress had developed by 1891.
Much of the dress debate of the late-Victorian period was between the tight strictures of 'fashionable' designs and the relaxation sought by Wilde and his contemporaries. These letters express views in both directions, and, at the end, the Strand comes to a balanced consensus. However, there is sufficient thought in them that runs parallel with the views of dress reformers to demonstrate that their work had not been in vain—indeed one correspondent (Collier) observed that the demise of dress tyranny was ‘a glorious triumph that we mainly owe to the much-abused æsthetic movement’.
Throughout the letters there is a general air of equivalence to Wilde’s philosophy, plus several distinct allusions to some of his specific observations. These similarities (in order of correlation to Wilde) include:
- how sculpture can serve as a test for dress shape;
- the ugliness of fashion and its tendency to change;
- the disagreeability of hats decorated with dead birds;
- the nobility of the Lancashire peasant shawl;
- the need for dress design to be taught in art schools;
- the guiding principles of Greek costume;
- his allusions to dressing the statue of Venus de Milo;
- the importance of drapery and fold;
- the outrage towards tight lacing and unnatural shapes;
- the harmony of color;
- the position or existence of the waist;
- how women should be dressed by women.
© John Cooper