‘The Spoils of Virtue’: Mantua-makers, Milliners and their Shops

  • Jennie Batchelor


The moral, sexual and social debates provoked by the ‘Story’ of Pamela’s dress were not confined to writing on servants. In many ways, mantua-makers and milliners constituted much more alarming figures than servants, though all three groups of labouring women were commonly attributed with similar characteristics — pride, social ambition and a lack of moral refinement — by writers and artists. As active agents in the burgeoning consumer economy, rather than its mere beneficiaries, women who worked in the dressmaking trades became vehicles through which critics could debate the changes in social and cultural production wrought by the commercialisation of fashion.1 Fashioning much more than cloth and trimmings, these women controversially reformulated notions of gender itself. By the end of the eighteenth century, as Clare Haru Crowston has demonstrated, women in the clothing trades had helped to redefine the sexual division of labour and had effectively consolidated the supposedly innate connection between femininity and fashion.2 Their progress did not go uncontested, however. Many critics vociferously opposed the rise of mantua-makers on the grounds that they had unfairly encroached upon the trade of tailors, who had traditionally made both female and male costume.3


Female Labour Market Feminist Writer Female Consumer Music Concert Literary Labour 
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Copyright information

© Jennie Batchelor 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennie Batchelor
    • 1
  1. 1.School of EnglishUniversity of KentUK

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