The year was 1884, and Oscar Wilde was already something of a London celebrity. Though he had not yet published the plays that would earn him his spot among the Victorian literati, he had made a name for himself as aesthete, man-about-town, and lecturer—with public views on everything aesthetic, including clothes.
At the beginning of the year, he announced his engagement to Constance Lloyd, who he had met in Ireland some years earlier. Newspapers frothed about the news, and appeared relieved that Wilde, and his new wife, would not be moving to Dublin: “there was some fear lest London should lose its lion and society its favorite source of admiration and ridicule. … Happily this danger is averted. We keep Oscar.”
But Wilde also appeared in the papers that year for another reason. In a series of letters published in the Pall Mall Gazette, he wrote about how women ought to dress. The following year, in the New York Tribune, he published his essay “The Philosophy of Dress,” in which he stressed the important relationship between clothing and one’s soul.
At that time, women commonly wore heavy, restrictive underwear, and long, cumbersome skirts with crinolines or bustles. Corsets were certainly uncomfortable, but they could also be lethal, deforming skeletons, compromising fertility and even driving internal organs into places they oughtn’t have been. Despite that, people continued to wear them, and to “tight-lace,” ignoring doctors’ concerns and claiming these devices improved posture.
The rest of this piece, originally published by Atlas Obscura, can be read here.