I’m reading Judith Flanders’s The Victorian House (2003), which is answering a lot of questions I had about everyday Victorian life. As I spend most of my time reading Victorian literature, I don’t actually know a lot about they dealt with the mundane or gross things that everyone experiences in the typical day-to-day.
This is largely because these common practices could generally go without saying to the intended Victorian audience (for example, as a writer, would you need to explain to an audience of your same culture and time period what you used for toilet paper?). Secondly, some of that information (like toilet paper) would have been considered indecent to write about.
One of the things that I’ve always wondered was where and how women stored their huge dresses, especially ones that were accompanied by hoops, crinolines, or bustles. I have personally worn period-accurate Victorian clothing in various plays I’ve been in, and that shit is cumbersome and difficult to store. It’s not like you could hang up some of these dresses in a closet–the weight of the fabric would distort the shape of the shoulders as they pulled down on the hanger. Plus, there isn’t a ton of closet space in the UK (at least not in the old flats I’ve lived in, and certainly not compared to the closet space in the US), so hanging loads of dresses might not have been a viable option.
So what did women do with these heavy, bulky gowns? I know that if a woman was going to an all-day or overnight party, her maid would generally bring the dress she was to change into, and it would be laid out flat in a long white box, so it didn’t crease.
As it turns out, “[t]rays and boxes for storing clothes were common – hangers were not in general use until the 1900s (when they were referred to as ‘shoulders’), so clothes either hung from pegs or were folded. Small houses and yards of fabric in every dress mean that advice book were constantly contriving additional storage: in hollow stools, benches, ottomans. Even bulkier items were folded: Robert Edis, another interiors expert, recommended that halls should have cupboards ‘with shelves arranged for coats.'”
So, to answer my own question, where did women put their dresses?
THEY’RE IN THE CLOSETS AND CUPBOARDS
THEY’RE IN THE TRAYS AND BOXES
THEY’RE IN THE BENCHES AND STOOLS AND OTTOMANS
THEY’RE IN THE CHIMNEY AND THE BIBLE AND THE HAM
THEY’RE IN THE WALLS
GET OUT, SAVE YOURSELF