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 unraveling 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. 

About the author(s)

Dr. Kate Strasdin is a fashion historian, museum curator and lecturer at Falmouth University, where she teaches the history of Fashion Design, Marketing and Photography.


"A vivid portrait of 19th-century life. Like an intrepid detective, Strasdin follows each thread and reconstructs Anne Sykes’s life. Using a combination of highly illustrative prose and reproductions of fashion plates, the author details the evolution of fashionable silhouettes and helps us to envision how the small bits of fabric might have looked as complete garments. Strasdin’s detailed explication of Victorian-era dress is sure to delight the fashion history enthusiast, but The Dress Diary has much wider appeal. A compelling narrative that challenges the 'deep-seated perception of dress as superficial and inconsequential.'"

The New York Times Book Review

"An irresistible glimpse into fashion from nearly two centuries ago. It’s a life in fabric; a poignant illustration of something seemingly ephemeral that has nonetheless endured."

The Seattle Times

"An extraordinarily rich record of middle-class Victorian life, both at home and abroad. A fascinating book."


"A questing and poignant social history."

The Observer

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