DRESSING THE BODY POLITIC
Ye lords of the creation.
Hide your diminish 'd heads,
Since woman holds the sovereign sway
Our sex no tyrant dreads:
Be on your best behaviour,
Cast all your airs away,
And wear with grace the chains we weave,
For woman ruies the day.
—Street ballad on Queen Victoria's accession
What should Queen Victoria wear? Given fashion's role in exposing what an 1846 magazine article called a woman's "leading qualities," the queen's choice of the right clothes entailed fundamental not frivolous matters: "With "women's" habitual delicacy of mind, and reserve of manner, dress becomes a sort of symbolical language—a kind of personal glossary—a species of body phrenology, the study of which it would be madness to neglect. Will Honeycomb says that he can tell the humour a woman is in by the colour of her hood. We go farther, and maintain that, to a proficient in the science, every woman walks about with a placard on which her leading qualities are advertised."1 For early Victorian England noticeable attention to fashion branded a person as a member of the useless aristocracy or as a social climber. Edward Bulwer-Lytton pointed out in 1833: "The middle classes interest themselves in grave matters: the aggregate of their sentiments is called opinion. The great interest themselves in frivolities, and the aggregate of their sentiments is termed fashion."2 C. Willet Cunnington, a late-nineteenth-century fashion historian, believed people disparaged fashion because of fear: "fear of society, fear of oneself, fear of the power of clothing; fear is the reason fashion is so often dismissed as flippant and