Symbolic Consumption: Dressing for Real and Imagined Space

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The boudoir cap had a lifespan of about fifty years, arising as a distinct dress expression in the last decades of the nineteenth century, encompassing an era of radical change in the social roles and expectations of women in New Zealand. During this time evolving styles reflected these variations, and can be understood both as expressions of the culture that created them and also as tools in the negotiation of new realities. The boudoir cap was worn by women in the boudoir, a lady's private space within the home, to which only intimates were admitted. The actual boudoir was a luxury enjoyed by only a minority of Dunedin women, but boudoir caps were worn by many women, so that through the boudoir cap the concept of the boudoir was available to all as symbolic consumption. Originating in the tradition of covering the hair, the caps were strongly associated with the conventions of modesty and control of sexuality. The boudoir cap was instrumental in the construction of the feminine ideal, and reflects changes in this ideal over time. This paper studies the material culture of the boudoir caps in the Otago Museum collection.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: July 1, 2006

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  • Textile brings together research in textile studies in an innovative and distinctive academic forum for all those who share a multifaceted view of textiles within an expanded field. Peer-reviewed and in full-color throughout, it represents a dynamic and wide-ranging set of critical practices. It provides a platform for points of departure between art and craft; gender and identity; cloth, body and architecture; labor and technology; techno-design and practice— all situated within the broader contexts of material and visual culture.
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