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The traditional image of the Victorian woman presents her as strait-laced and prudish, her clothing an outward sign of her sexual repression and exploitation. This situation supposedly persisted until the Women's Rights Movement and World War I forced the world to acknowledge that women were liberated individuals with legs. Yet Valerie steele demonstrates that eroticism formed the basis for the Victorian ideal of feminine beauty and fashion--indeed, that the concepts of beauty and fashion are essentially erotic. She shows that, far from being passive sex objects, Victorian women, like their modern counterparts, themselves chose to emulate an erotic ideal as an aspect of their own self-fulfillment. Even the notorious corset was neither fetishistic nor an unhealthy instrument of torture, she argues, although its comlex and ambivalent sexual symbolism aroused controversy. Fashion and Eroticism shows how the New Look of sexy modern naturally from within the pre-war world of fashion and not as part of an intifashion movement.
Steele's conclusions are based on prodigious documentary evidence, including visual and material research, in costume collections in the United States, Great Britain, Europe, and even Japan. Fashiona and Eroticism is not only a radical revision of the Conventional understanding of Victorian fashion; it is a major contribution to the histyory of women and sexuality.
About the Author:
Valerie steele received her Ph.D. from Yale University in 1983, and was the 1984 First Ladies' Fellow at the Division of Costume, National Museum of American History, the Smithsonian Institution.
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