Designing Women: The Dressing Room in Eighteenth-Century by Tita Chico

By Tita Chico

Dressing rooms, brought into English family structure throughout the 17th century supplied elite ladies with imprecedented deepest house at domestic and in so doing promised them an both exceptional autonomy through offering an area for self-fashioning, eroticism and contemplation. Tita Chico's Designing girls argues that the dressing room turns into a strong metaphor in late-seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature for either revolutionary and conservative satirists and novelists. those writers use the trope to symbolize competing notions of women?s independence and their objectification indicating that the dressing room occupies a relevant (if missed) position within the background of non-public existence, postmodern theories of the closet and the advance of literary types.

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Additional resources for Designing Women: The Dressing Room in Eighteenth-Century English Literature and Culture

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While one might consider other feminine spaces of privacy—Gertrude’s closet in Hamlet, for example, which is more famous than it is representative, and precedes the historical incorporation of the dressing room into English domestic architecture—the fact of architectural change gives us a point at which to note the appearance of ‘‘dressing room’’ as a figure of speech. 15 On the other end of the century, the dressing room as a representative of femininity becomes diffused into the feminization of domestic space more generally, as evidenced in Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda (1801) and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) (discussed at length in chapter 7).

91 In effect, Sedgwick’s method—privileging men over women—replicates her thesis about the conceptual erasure of women in a homosocial economy. The queer theory in Sedgwick’s work therefore institutes a simultaneously structural and theoretical elimination of women, whether gay or straight. Sedgwick’s model of the closet also allows us to apprehend the dressing room’s centrality in the cultural imagination of the eighteenth century as a repository for a range of debates about femininity, the arts, epistemology, education, and motherhood.

The dressing room’s material history indicates, however, that it was also a space of privacy that could stage any number of activities, ranging from tea parties and card games to reading and writing in solitude. These uses of the dressing room indicate its status as a descendent of the early modern closet, that site of patriarchal privilege; women’s dressing rooms thus challenged the spatial hierarchy of the early modern home. The lady’s dressing room might be designed as an inferior counterpart to the gentleman’s closet, isolated by architectural marginalization.

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