My fellow old souls can attest to the pure joy of finding new ways to step back in time and discover the enchantments of another era. I, myself, find this to be especially true for the Victorian period! And that is exactly how I felt when I came upon Victorian Darlings on Instagram. This beautiful and fascinating collection of antique photographs and Victorian fashions is thoughtfully curated by the lovely Samantha Asam, an M.A. student at NYU Steinhardt Costume Studies and a self-proclaimed "admirer of history, fashion, literature, and all things peculiar". Exploring Samantha's Instagram feeds brings you on a journey to a distant time and place filled with her research and inspirations in Victorian architecture, fashion, history, and curiosities.
Samantha is a true kindred spirit, and I am so pleased to introduce you to her and to share her story!
Victorian Darlings boasts an impressive mix of Victorian-era photos and ephemera, along with the story behind each piece. What prompted you to curate these treasures and share them on Instagram?
Why thank you! It’s truly a delight to continue to share images and additional material from the Victorian and Edwardian eras with others who are as passionate about the past as I am.
One of the defining factors that initially led me to create the account back in 2016 was in coming across a plethora of photographs on Pinterest and in various archives and museum collections online. I eventually sought to establish a platform that would allow me to not only disseminate these materials but also create an online community of individuals who share an admiration for this area of history.
I think the nineteenth century, in particular, is suffused with stereotypes and it is interesting to expand on certain misconceptions through the medium of photography: a novel innovation of the time that continued to evolve into the twentieth century.
What first drew you to the Victorian period?
I believe that one of my first experiences related to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a child was through the American Girl historical collection of dolls, as I had a particular affinity to the character that shared my name. I devoured Samantha’s short stories and just adored everything about her world. Other early recollections associated with the period include seeing a live adaptation of Charles Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol" as a child, as well as being utterly besotted with various period films, including the 1992 version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s "The Secret Garden".
I am very grateful to have grown up on Long Island, with New York City less than an hour away by train. It’s an area full of rich history, with an abundance of museums and historic landmarks. As I have grown older, I have become even more appreciative of these resources, many of which encompass the Victorian era. They serve as enduring foundations for inspiration.
What do you enjoy most about the era?
Oh my! There are so many different elements to consider, but I especially appreciate how much there is to learn about the epoch. I am incessantly enlightened and inspired by the bountiful amount of information that the period holds.
For my academic research, I oftentimes spend hours just paging through periodicals and newspapers on online archives, and you can find the most remarkable things! Features such as advertisements, fashion plates, and answers to correspondents can provide you with a wonderful insight into how life was like in the nineteenth century.
Who are some of your favorite figures from Victorian history?
I am especially fascinated by the journalist Nellie Bly, born Elizabeth Jane Cochran, and have decided to base my graduate thesis on the significance of the Ulster coat that she wore on her 72-day journey around the world in 1889. Other favorite figures include the Brontë sisters, William Morris, Beatrix Potter, and James Tissot.
You often don such beautiful Victorian-style outfits on your Instagram page @samanthaasam. Where do you find your clothing? Are they antique, antique-inspired, a bit of both?
Definitely a bit of both! I am rather tentative about wearing true antique pieces from the period, given their age, condition, and historical provenance. Instead, I aim to find vintage clothes that emanated from the Victorian Revival trend of the late twentieth century from brands such as Laura Ashley and Jessica McClintock / Gunne Sax.
I try not to shop at contemporary retailers, especially fast fashion brands, and instead regularly frequent vintage clothing shops that are either online or close to where I live. My go-to online sites are Etsy and eBay, but I recently discovered threadUP, which I also highly recommend. It may be difficult to rummage through these sites for exactly what it is you are looking for, but the search can ultimately be very rewarding!
Can you tell us about your M.A. studies at NYU Steinhardt Costume Studies?
I’d love to. The M.A. Costume Studies program at NYU follows a two-year curriculum and is dedicated to understanding the history of dress and textiles in a broad aesthetic and cultural context. In the courses that are offered, you are encouraged to create new scholarship in the field by unearthing different opportunities for research through your class assignments. Founded on a theoretical approach, the degree also involves closely examining garments and textiles, which is done through the program’s extensive study collection, as well as on class visits to various museums, galleries, and archives.
Completing the curriculum also involves a student-run exhibition, which I have been busy working on over this past semester. Centered on the adaptation of the tuxedo into womenswear, our exhibition entitled "The Tuxedo Redefined: Formality, Fluidity, and Femininity" will be on view at 80WSE Gallery from January 11th to February 5th, 2020.
What are your dreams for what you might do next after completing your studies?
I would be thoroughly content to embark on any type of career that allows me to regularly work with objects from the past. Aspirational career goals for me include working at a museum or archive, or as an auction house specialist.
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How lovely to get to know Samantha better! Her style is so inspirational.