The Dress Diary of Mrs Anne Sykes

The Dress Diary of Mrs Anne Sykes

Secrets from a Victorian Woman’s Wardrobe


Brought to you by Penguin.

The hidden fabric of a Victorian woman's life - from family and friends to industry and Empire - told through her unique textile scrapbook.

In 1838, a young woman was given a diary on her wedding day. Collecting snippets of fabric from a range of garments she carefully annotated each one, creating a unique record of her life and times. Her name was Mrs Anne Sykes.

Nearly two hundred years later, the diary fell into the hands of Kate Strasdin, a fashion historian and museum curator. Strasdin spent the next six years unravelling the secrets contained within the album's pages.

Piece by piece, she charts Anne's journey from the mills of Lancashire to the port of Singapore before tracing her return to England in later years. Fragments of cloth become windows into Victorian life: pirates in Borneo, the complicated etiquette of mourning, poisonous dyes, the British Empire in full swing, rioting over working conditions and the terrible human cost of Britain's cotton industry.

This is life writing that celebrates ordinary people: the hidden figures, the participants in everyday life. Through the evidence of waistcoats, ball gowns and mourning outfits, Strasdin lays bare the whole of human experience in the most intimate of mediums: the clothes we choose to wear.

'An extraordinarily rich record of middle-class Victorian life.. [a] fascinating book' Guardian

'Irresistable' The Times

'The story of a singular woman... Kate Strasdin's forensic detective work has finally let Mrs Sykes - and her book - speak again' JUDITH FLANDERS

©2023 Kate Strasdin (P)2023 Penguin Audio


  • Strasdin's painstaking detective work has uncovered many of the fascinating insights behind the fabric swatches contained in this unusual collection
    Sunday Times

About the author

Kate Strasdin

Kate Strasdin is a dress historian who has been fascinated by old clothes since she was a child. She is a lecturer in Cultural Studies at Falmouth University and is a freelance consultant for dress and textile exhibitions. She has appeared on The Great British Sewing Bee as an expert.

In 2016 she was given an anonymous album full of annotated dress swatches that had been kept in a trunk for over fifty years, its original keeper unknown. She spent the next six years unlocking its secrets.

She lives in Devon with her husband and two children.
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