When I started this collection, I was inspired by the darker aspect of the Victorian Era. When it comes to costuming, it is very easy to see the beautiful parts of history, especially when your research focuses more on fashion plates and patterns, which it normally does when researching a dress. While I love seeing the lovely parts of history, I am more fascinated by the darker parts than anything else. As you have seen before (especially in my Frankenstein dress), I have a dark side that I love to mix in to my costuming. I have made quite a few costumes that were purely historical and as pretty as I could make it, but I have decided that I should make them more in my style, rather than just historically accurate.
I love the taking historical silhouettes and ideas and making them a little different, and a little bit darker. I had mentioned in a previous post about some of the things that inspired this collection. I made four dresses, each one representing another dark side of the late 1800s. This first one that I made, which I called Through the Looking Glass, was inspired by the drug issues that were so prevalent in this era. Opium was a huge problem in the late 1800s, with Opium Dens available all around, especially in large cities like New York and London. In the US, it was the Civil War that started many addictions. Most also didn't realize how addicting the drug was, so doctors prescribed it for many nervous conditions as well as for pain. Those who didn't have money for a doctor were able to buy it from a pharmacist to solve any medical problems. Opium wasn't the only highly addictive drug wandering the streets- such as laudanum and cocaine. Arsenic and other dangerous (and poisonous) ingredients were readily available.
To make things a little worse, doctors did not know how to treat addiction at the time. Hospitals would sometimes get them addicted to a different drug in an attempt to wean them off of opium, or whatever other drug was the issue, and the patient would end up with a few addictions instead of just the one. This may be a familiar concept if you have watched The Knick. The Knick is a show set in the 1890s following surgeons in a New York hospital. It is based on a true story, and the main doctor (John W. Thackeray) is based off of one of Americas Founding Fathers of surgery and medicine. Thackeray is based on William Halstead. Halstead had a rather unfortunate life, but did incredible things for modern surgery!
In a time when surgery had a mortality rate of close to 50%, Halstead brought in sterile gloves, developed radical mastectomy, carried out the first ever successful hernia and aneurysm repairs, as well as the first emergency blood transfusion, and brought in washing hands before operations. Halstead was originally addicted to cocaine, and ended up being checked into a hospital to get his addiction under control. They introduced him to morphine, and he lived the rest of his life addicted to both. His wife, a nurse, was also addicted to morphine.
Morphine and other opiates were incredibly easy to get your hands on- morphine and cocaine injection kits (with newly invented syringes) were available in the Sears catalog. Herione was known as a remedy for morphine addiction, and one philanthropic society mailed heroin to a group of morphine addicts. Cocaine eventually was replaced by methamphetamine and amphetamine, which was used for asthma. Many countries used amphetamine during World War Two to keep pilots and soldiers awake.
Through the early 1800s, most of the opium coming to Britain was from Turkey. It was known to be stronger, and its popularity only dropped in the 1870s and 1880s for Persian import. The opium was known as a cure all, and used as such by doctors and anyone needing pain relief, etc. It was also used to quiet fussing babies, mixed with water and treacle. It occasionally resulted in deaths, and often in illnesses. Raw opium could be bought as pills or sticks, and it was used normally for women more often than men. Medications containing opium were called 'women's friends' since it was taken for 'female troubles' (menstruation and childbirth), and 'female maladies' (hysteria, depression, fainting fits, and mood swings).
Cocaine was discovered in 1860 from coca leaves, but it wasn't available for commercial use until the 1880s. However, in 1863 a chemist named Angelo Mariani came up with a tonic that used coca leaves. It was advertised to solve everything, and could be taken like a daily vitamin. The tonic was praised by Queen Victoria and Rudyard Kipling, as well as others. In two glasses it is believed to have contained 50 milligrams of pure cocaine.
The drug problem in this era affected every part of society. It wasn't actually realized to be a problem until 1920, when the Dangerous Drug Act came to be in Britain.
Ripper Street has been a show that I have been inspired by for this collection, and The Knick has been another inspiration. If you would like to read more about how modern medicine was started in this era, Lindsey Fitzharris has a fascinating new book out called The Butchering Art, based on the surgeon Joseph Lister's life and success in modernizing surgery. If you would like to see the images that have inspired the collection, I have a pinterest board here (all of the images are dresses. I have very dark and gruesome information that I have found through research, but I promise there are no bad images, just pretty things!). I will recommend other books, movies, and TV shows that I have gotten information from for each of the dresses. For the Jewel dress I will talk about prostitution, especially in Britain, through the late 1800s, and for the other two gowns I will talk about circuses and sideshows, and death practices in the 1800s. Most of my information focuses on London, since that is what I am most interested in, but it also moves around to New York, Toronto, and other large cities with dark underbellies.
I chose the name for this dress (Through the Looking Glass) based off of the author, Lewis Carroll. Although there is much debate, Alice in Wonderland is well known as being a drug-induced dream, so I thought that would be a perfect name for the first Dark History.