Welcome to our column, "Hey, Quick Question," where we investigate seemingly random happenings in the fashion and beauty industries. Enjoy!
At some point during my Monday afternoon Instagram crawl, I saw something so jarring that each time I tried to move past it, I had to scroll back up to take another look. It was this post by Reformation, the preferred sustainable brand of cool-girls everywhere:
At first, I was just like, "That's a cute dress!" And then, I read the caption: "Victorian things hath arriveth." [Literal brake screeching noise in head.]
I'm sorry, what?
By my fifth study, I knew I needed to go to Reformation's website to learn more. And there, on the homepage, was promoted that very same copy — "Victorian things hath arriveth" — over dresses that looked even less Victorian than the first.
I majored in history in college, focusing on medieval and early modern Europe, and spent an entire summer abroad in Cambridge studying Victorian England. (We talked about how Dracula was a long allegory for sexual panic and we went to a sewage museum, it was a whole thing.) So I feel comfortable — even qualified enough — to tell Reformation that absolutely nothing in the image above is related to Victorian fashion.
It has been nearly 24 hours, and I still have so many questions.
First of all, what, exactly, is it about these sundresses that says, "Oh, yea, this is Victorian"? I could get into a whole thing about what Victorian dressing, inspired by Queen Victoria, said about women and their place in the world, but I'll skip that one and just say that all these models would have been arrested if they'd gone out in public wearing this stuff. Where are the corsets? Where are the sleeves? Where are the defined waists and giant hoops skirts? Why can I see ankle?! Reformation might be working off of the ruffles of the dress, but those single, sad neckline details are straining under the weight of carrying "Victorian" on their backs. (Someone on Twitter pointed out that at least some of these garments are much more Georgian, and I'm inclined to agree.)
And now, for the tagline itself: "Victorian things hath arriveth." That kind of language, based in Old English, had already been falling out of favor at the start of the Victorian era but had not disappeared — so, okay, I'll give Reformation that one. But as Robert Selth pointed out on Twitter, it translates literally to, "Victorian things has arrives." Make it make sense!
On Instagram, Reformation name-checks Charles Dickens in the caption of the offending image. He's probably the most famous writer of the Victorian Era (and indeed, I read Hard Times as part of my curriculum during my study abroad; I do not remember anything about the book except for the fact that my classmates and I loved to say, "Hard times!" at each other in a high-minded English accent) so more points awarded to Reformation there. However, when you go to the retailer's homepage, it reads: "Portrait of a Lady" — now, that could be a reference to the 1881 novel The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James; if it's a nod to the 2019 film "Portrait of a Lady on Fire," though, I'm deducting points, because that movie takes place in late 18th century France.
Final question: What happened to plus size? This is not remotely related to the matter at hand but the brand promised they were going to offer it in 2018 and I continue to be very bummed out that none of these new dresses come above a 12. There are three things on their site in plus size and they seem to all be "permanent collection." Kind of bogus, guys!
Anyway, back to my initial question: What, exactly, does Reformation think "Victorian" means? If they put together a pastel-hued printed collection, will they call it rococo? If they throw a ruff on a collar, is it Elizabethan? Words have to mean something! Perhaps, as writer Vincent Bevins joked, Reformation believes "Victorian" refers to our current Queen Victoria, Victoria Beckham:
They are cute dresses, though. And shout out to Reformation for giving me an excuse to be a History Nerd.