Dr.Kate Strasdin: Materiality and Fashion History

By Sarah Morgan

In this week's work,CS Ambassador Sarah Morgan and Dr.Kate Strasdin discuss her work on hidden women,materiality and fashion history.

It is rarely that COVID-19 has been cited as a positive. However, in the midst of lockdowns and closures, there has been in increase in information gathering using online sources. In the case of Dr. Kate Strasdin, a current senior lecturer at Falmouth University, the mass increase in digitization of genealogies, museum collections, and documents has been a wellspring for her newest subject of research.

Dr. Strasdin teaches undergraduate Fashion Design, Fashion Photography, Fashion Marketing, and Performance Sportswear Design and acts as a dissertation supervisor. She is currently working on ‘the book that COVID wrote’. Dr. Strasdin is an example of the new merging of material studies and technology, using what is available to overcome the limitations of time and place. One thing became apparent through discussion with Dr. Kate Strasdin was that the materiality of design defines the historical impact and information gathered.

Fashion embracing history has been a ‘sea change in perceptions’, according to Dr. Strasdin. Costume history has begun to be included in general historical studies, bringing a more well-rounded approach to historical periods, emphasising individuals as well styles. Dr. Strasdin’s work examines historical theory, especially in relation to ‘hidden women’. She studied early female mountaineers of the 19th century, and her PhD in 2013, titled Inside the Royal Wardrobe: A Dress History of Queen Alexandra, reviewed the clothing and the impact of Queen Alexandra’s wardrobe on the view of the monarchy in British society. Dr. Strasdin's emphasis is on formerly unexplored aspects of Queen Alexandra through her material possessions.

According to Dr. Strasdin, history is central to modern design. How an item was made and the character the period reveal the wearer and society at the time the garment was made. Those qualities and materials of historical fashion helps students to understand how they can expand upon and recall those features and messages in their own work. Details such as color, function, and wear-and-tear all impart information to the researcher, which can assist with the development of new styles and understanding. Queen Alexandra’s use of chokers covered a scar, information that can influence a designers while imparting an understanding of character for a costume historian.


Dr. Strasdin’s new study is a swatch and memories book from a Victorian lady named Ann Sykes. The book came into Dr. Stradin’s collection by a matter of happenstance, being handed off between individuals until it was given to Dr. Strasdin. Each page records the individual personality and taste of the writer, the previously unrecognized Mrs. Sykes, and her friends. As Dr. Strasdin defines it, macro and microhistory are combined into one object, helping to outline and define often underrepresented women who would have been defined by their husbands. Mrs. Sykes was the daughter of a mill owner in Lancashire. She married a textile merchant and lived in Singapore for a time. As a woman steeped in the textile trade of Victorian England, Mrs. Sykes was uniquely placed to reflect upon and share the costume of the period.


From one detail of a wedding came a marriage certificate, then a genealogy, and a series of investigations that uncovered a story of individuals through objects. Scraps of fabric and written details in a marbled accounts book reveal a woman and her circle of friends and acquaintances. It is a snapshot of a period and a place through the eyes of an individual, despite being in third person, and their collected scraps. However, without the legwork of research and the availability of sources, there would be no book.


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