Christine Davies

University of Kent

Project Title: Sartorial Narrativity: Subtexts of Women’s Dress, 1750-1830

The period 1770-1830 witnessed remarkable transitions in the fashionable female silhouette and in attitudes towards women and their wardrobes. This was a time renowned for its fractious socio-cultural contexts for impressive or transgressive image-making, and presents a fascinating moment for the study of women’s sartorial expression in both private and public spheres.

It was also a period in which women’s rights, roles and responsibilities were a subject of fiercely-contested debate, and one in which consumer-driven anxiety sought to establish a moral legibility to one’s material possessions, notably one’s dress.  Expanding on the dressed/expressed paradigm, my research explores and elucidates divergent sartorial signification systems evident in the personal and professional lives of novelist Frances Burney, actresses Dora Jordan and Sarah Siddons, and proto-feminist Mary Robinson. Noting that expression in both word and wardrobe are multiplex, entangled in ideological and gendered scripts and yet also a platform for personal and polemical negotiation, I also look to the sartorial experiences of contemporary, now anonymous, women, in order to suggest the importance of dress to feminist history. This agenda complements recent scholarship in the field of eighteenth-century women’s studies, and my research mobilises an interdisciplinary and object-based approach in order to creatively bridge the domains of academia, heritage and the fashion industry. By focusing specifically on women’s dress as a site for story-telling and ideological engagement, I hope to demonstrate the ways in which dress enabled women as a body to develop identities that troubled gendered expectations – identities as both writers and citizens.

To complement my doctoral research, I am currently planning an exhibition to explore continuities between women’s experiences with dress in the eighteenth-century and today, entitled: Pose: women’s self-fashioning past and present. Making use of local print, book and textile collections, and specifically targeting a student audience, the exhibition will focus on the gender politics attending individual fashion consumption and image construction, and will combine historical eighteenth-century content with an interactive approach that engages modern concerns about student work and well-being, concerns of image, wardrobe, purpose.

Supervised by Dr Jennie Batchelor, Dr Helen Brooks .

About me

I commenced my doctoral research at the University of Kent in 2014, having previously completed BA and MA degrees at Sussex, and spent time working in Germany as a teaching assistant and at the Museum of English Rural Life, Reading.

Research Interests

Studies in the long eighteenth century, especially women’s writing, gender politics and material culture (notably that which pertains to dress, textiles, theatre, portraiture, books and magazines). In addition, histories of the self and sexuality, fashion theory and dress history, children’s fiction and toys, museum studies.

Follow me on Twitter @xtine_dav