Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1946/8445
This essay argues that leading modernist Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) broke new grounds in regards to the application of clothing in fiction. As well as being external indicators of a particular set of values or social status, clothing also exposed her characters’ inner realities, evoking various experiences and sensations. The essay demonstrates how, from her childhood onwards, Woolf was fascinated by clothes and fashion, leading to a profound influence on her life and work, as can be discerned throughout her works,though in the novels Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando: A Biography (1928) and short stories ‘Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street’ (1923) and ‘The New Dress’ (1927) in particular. In Woolf’s fiction of the early twenties, the motif of clothing primarily constituted a marker for personal identity and class affiliation. By means of her term ‘frock consciousness,’ she explored her own feelings of inferiority and shame associated with being inappropriately dressed in public, the conflict of dichotomies such as mind and body, consumption and creation, femininity and masculinity. Mrs Dalloway
criticized and exposed the social system as an impassable barrier hopelessly dividing people. In To the Lighthouse, Woolf explored abstract ways of applying clothing in fiction, using haunting symbols such as empty gloves, unfinished stockings, lost
heirlooms and fading shawls, representing absence, grief and death, paying tribute to her late mother, eloquently fictionalizing memories related to and conjured by such objects.
In Orlando: A Biography, Woolf turned clothing into elaborate and sophisticated metaphors of sex and gender and their assigned roles in twentieth-century society,moreover boldly criticizing the pomposity and vanity of the educated professions, still
exclusive to men.