Importance of being earnest

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Copyright 2002 United States Institute for Theatre Technology, Inc.


by Tara Maginnis

Published in TD&T, Vol. 38 No. 2 (Spring 2002)

58 S P R I N G 2 0 0 2 TD &T Copyright 2002 United States Institute for Theatre Technology, Inc.

In the late Victorian era, fashion was, according to Oscar Wilde, "a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six

months." Wilde was a notable dress reformer in the late 1870s

through the 1880s, known for wearing purple velvet knee breeches

and shoulder length hair, when more conventional men dressed in

black wool tube trousers, frock coats, short hair and long whiskers.

From 1888-1890, in his magazine The Woman's World, Wilde wrote not only of art, poetry, and socialism, but at length on the tyr- anny and absurdity of modern fashion. The corset, worn by nearly all adult females in the Victorian era came under particular attack, on both health and aesthetic grounds.

By the 1890s when The Importance of Being Earnest was written, Wilde had opted for a somewhat more conventional look for himself, but his generally poor opinion of the overstuffed absurdity of uncomfortable items like "that modern monstrosity the so-called 'dress improver'" (bustle) continued un- abated. Fashionable English dress in the late nineteenth century was...