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The Dress Diary

A revealing and unique portrait of Victorian life as told through the discovery of one woman's textile scrapbook.

In 1838, a young woman was given a diary on her wedding day. Collecting snippets of fabric from a range of garments - some her own, others donated by family and friends - she carefully annotated each one, creating a unique record of their lives. Her name was Mrs Anne Sykes.

Nearly two hundred years later, the diary fell into the hands of Kate Strasdin, a fashion historian and museum curator. Using her expertise, Strasdin spent the next six years unravelling the secrets contained within the album's pages, and the lives of the people within.  Her findings are remarkable.  Piece by piece, she charts Anne's journey from the mills of Lancashire to the port of Singapore before tracing her return to England in later years. Fragments of cloth become windows into Victorian life: pirates in Borneo, the complicated etiquette of mourning, poisonous dyes, the British Empire in full swing, rioting over working conditions and the terrible human cost of Britain's cotton industry. This is life writing that celebrates ordinary people: not the grandees of traditional written histories, but the hidden figures, the participants in everyday life. Through the evidence of waistcoats, ball gowns and mourning outfits, Strasdin lays bare the whole of human experience in the most intimate of mediums: the clothes we choose to wear. Paperback, 320 pages.

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