It’s well documented that time is a flat circle. Between the current Y2K and ’90s fashion resurgence, the return of the mullet and Lancôme bringing back the mf’ing Juicy Tubes, the late 20th century is alive and well. While cyclical era-nostalgia is a natural part of the ebb and flow of trends and tastes, coronavirus isolation has really pushed the agenda of an even bigger throwback. That is, the Victorian era.
Hear me out: all noteworthy isolation and quarantine activities have exactly one thing in common. They are either directly inspired by or are an ersatz attempt to get back to the glory days of Miss Alexandrina Victoria. The effect of a mass ongoing trauma like the coronavirus pandemic really fires up the primordial part of our collective consciousness, it seems. Humanity has dealt with plagues and disease for as long as we’ve existed in societies. That instinctual flinch of fear and anxiety about the coronavirus is one we’ve felt before, and when it hits we wanna go back. Like, quite far back apparently.
People find comfort in tradition and nostalgia. It’s why we’re rewatching The West Wing while ignoring the mounting pile of new Netflix releases. It’s why socially distanced Zoom dance parties can be an effort more tiring than they’re worth, but scrolling through a bunch of rave TikToks fills me with temporary floods of serotonin.
Under the current isolated world order, Victorian-era hobbies blend seamlessly with all the preachy Instagram posts telling us to slow down, turn inward and cultivate the peaceful garden within ourselves. Of course, some of the following isolation trends we’ve noted are endemic to societies beyond 19th century England. Wildly eurocentric to posit that only British people were regrowing spring onions.
But in the interests of presenting a taxonomy and examining this trend, here are all the ways isolation is just a subtle attempt to get back to the Victorian era.
Victorian-era inspired house dresses
One of the trends we’re most pleased with the return of is the Victorian era inspired house dress. As much as we adore our leggings and matching tie-dye sweats, they don’t quite have the poetry of a house dress. There’s nothing like a house dress to you feel like a wistful lover, gazing poetically out the window before dramatically drawing the curtains to a close. “Another day without my love, I hope he writes me soon.”–you, probably, in your house dress.
We’ve spotted this one in both sleep dress or pyjama format, as well as designer iterations like Sandy Liang’s version. Whether you just wanna give your legs a billowing amount of breathing room or enjoy something you can wear from bread making at dawn to reading by candlelight at night, the house dress is here for you.
Cottagecore is a bit of an umbrella term here, but we’re gonna go ahead and include a preference for the twee and idyllic country life as part of the Victorian resurgence. Cottagecore “revolves around the romanticised idea of cottage life in the countryside or the woods and encompasses things like baking, gardening, reading, farm animals, and picnics,” one 18-year-old told Dazed.
Unlike goblincore, which is timeless, there’s a distinct time peg for Cottagecore. Captions on Instagram posts of picnics, fields of wildflowers and aforementioned dresses are often written in period drama style language or historic prose. Add to this the reticent attitude to modern technology and gently European aesthetic and you’ve got the perfect Victorian aesthetic for the modern social distancing teen.
Social isolation is just shitty convalescence
Even the act of isolation itself has elements of the Victorian era about it. Back in the days before ~always on~ style working and 24-hour urban living, getting sick was something you actually had the time to do. Instead of dumping a bunch of antibiotics down the hatch, people who were able to would retire for a period of convalescence. Essentially, you rested until you got better.
People believed that getting out of the city and settling in for an extended period of doing nothing but recuperating was ideal for recovering from a multitude of illnesses. Specialised convalescent homes were established throughout Victorian English, usually in the country–all the better to get that fresh, clean air.
Being horny for walks
Never in my LIFE have I seen so many extremely enthusiastic dog walkers. Walking, in general, has seen a huge uptick in popularity, since the closure of exercise facilities.
You know what they did not have in the Victorian era? Kettlebells, HIIT workouts and dedicated yoga studios. What they did have was an allotted time outside to take a lovely turn around the garden. Presumably sandwiched in between wafting around the house in your nightgown and your hours of reading in the drawing-room.
Get that (sourdough) bread
By now, you or someone you know has attempted a sourdough loaf of bread. Homebaking absolutely wiped supermarket flour stocks for a good couple of weeks and it reeks of Victorian styles make-believe. Back in the day, the average English family of six people got through about 55 pounds of bread a week, the equivalent of 31 white supermarket loaves. While that makes sense for the amount of labour rural Victorian era workers were doing, we’d imagine most pandemic bakers are more in it for the old-timey joy rather than the surplus of easy calories.
Is there something in the psychological satisfaction of making your own bread that comforts more than say, making a crispy, green salad? I’m convinced it’s the double whammy. The addictive rush of gluten hitting your bloodstream and the self-delusion of thinking that if I can turn flour and water into bread, then I’ll be fine in the impending social collapse. Anyway, current bread-making obsession? Very 19th century.
Raise your hand if you’ve tried to regrow spring onions. Or, even more ambitiously, entire veggie gardens from your scraps. Maybe you’ve just seen that one Masterclass YouTube pre-roll add a million times where Charming Man Ron Finley turns an old dresser drawer into a little herb garden? All of this green thumbing? It’s Victorian as shit.
The virtues of the home garden and front yard veggie patches were espoused far back as 1869. Charles Barnard’s book My Handkerchief Garden was an ode to growing your own food specifically for urban homeowners. While none of us are homeowners, Barnard would surely be proud of all the seedlings and supermarket basil being transplanted into planter boxes right now.
Embroidery, needlepoint and sewing
Handwork is soothing, this is a fact. Above, we can see it’s soothing effect being demonstrated perfectly by one Haim sister in her Victorian-era inspired housedress.
Needlepoint, embroidery, crochet and all manner of textile-based crafts were both a hobby and necessity during the 19th century. One wasn’t just simply jumping onto ASOS when a shirt sprung a tear: you grabbed a needle and got mending. But one might have been making some excellent meme embroidery.
Nothing says romance like forced chastity, am I right? Under the strict social distancing laws and lockdown that we’ve been under for the past couple of months, even dating has gone Victorian.
With all the bad news we’re staring down every day, it’s kind of comforting to see that people are still interested in making connections and dating during isolation. You know, when it’s not accompanied by pleas for you to break social distancing and come over for a hookup.
Some would even argue that text is perhaps the purest mode of communication between people. All you have is your words, there’s no physical possessiveness over a warm body in your vicinity. If the epistolary romance isn’t quite doing it for you, it’s less Victorian but you can always go Normal People yearning styles through a webcam.
Absolutely fucked ideas about medicine
Not everything that’s come back has been super crash hot. The Victorian era was also a time of some pretty ill-advised medical efforts. Think along the lines of purposely letting people lose blood (bloodletting) or drilling holes into the skull to ‘relieve pressure’ or treat seizures (trepanning).
We’re glad that bloodletting and trepanning have stayed firmly in the past, but the U.S. president’s suggestion of injecting/drinking bleach sadly reveals his Victorian-era style medical approach. Hoe, don’t do it.