- Research & Collections Center, Springfield
Brown Bag Series presented by Dr. Holly Kent, Associate Professor of History, University of Illinois-Springfield
With the rise of American print culture in the mid-1800s came the rise of advice books—particularly those targeting female audiences. While many middle-class Americans were eager to read such guidebooks, women, especially, were often both the subjects and the creators of these guides. Women (the era’s authors seemed to agree) required even more advice about how to speak, walk, decorate, and dress appropriately than men did.
This presentation considers popular advice guides published in the U.S. during the mid-1800s. It will examine the counsel these books gave female readers about how to think about dress, the ideals they should work for in their appearance, and how to make the best daily style choices. Analyzing these guides offers valuable insights into how central fashion was in constructing and upholding beliefs about class, gender, and sexuality during this era. Authors argued that white, middle-class women and girls played central roles in ensuring the successful social advancement of their male family members and the respectability of their families as a whole by dressing “correctly.” Yet at the same time, they worried that women’s (supposedly innate) love of vulgarity and display in fashion would lead them to both financial ruin and sexual immorality.
Holly M. Kent is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Illinois-Springfield, where she teaches classes on fashion history, U.S. women’s history, and nineteenth-century U.S. history. She is the author of Her Voice Will Be on the Side of Right: Gender and Power in Antebellum Antislavery Women’s Fiction, and the editor of Teaching Fashion Studies.
Bring your lunch and join us for a different speaker and topic on the third Wednesday of each month. Brown Bag Series programs are held at the ISM-Research & Collections Center at 1011 E. Ash St. in Springfield. For additional information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or (217) 558-6696.