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Aliza Spicehandler

MA work

The Politics of Presentation: Female Agency and Cosmetic Usage in Victorian England

The history of cosmetics is an often overlooked and under-utilised part of history. It frequently gets melded into fashion and dress history, and only within the past few decades have books been published that are solely based on the history of cosmetics. This dissertation examined the several ways women had agency in their use of cosmetics in London in the nineteenth-century: through the sourcing and making of women's own cosmetics, the selling of cosmetics in a commercial setting, and the consumption of cosmetics. The first chapter contextualised cosmetic usage in the early-nineteenth-century and looked at the materials middle-class women would have relied on to make their own cosmetics. The second chapter closely examined one woman’s journey in making and selling her cosmetics to other women. It addressed her vilification by her contemporaries and shed new light on her story. The third chapter assessed the agency that women had through their cosmetic consumption in the last few decades of the century through an investigation of advertisements and depictions of women using cosmetics in art and literature. 

The dissertation asserted that by understanding the different relationships Victorian women had with cosmetics, we can glean a better understanding of the degree of control those women had over their own self-fashioning and self-presentation at a time when women's agency was severely restricted. It demonstrated that cosmetics were a realm in which women were able to thrive, carving out their own locus of power within the societal constraints imposed on them by men. 

Info

  • MA Degree

    School

    School of Arts & Humanities

    Programme

    MA History of Design, 2018

  • Lizzie has a background in early childhood and special needs education. Additionally, she was trained in women's fashion design at Central Saint Martins. Prior to coming to the V&A/Royal College of Art History of Design MA programme, she worked as a research and archival assistant at the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

    Her research interests centre on women's history, identity formation, dress history and fashion design. Her MA dissertation was titled The Politics of Presentation: Female Agency and Cosmetic Usage in Victorian England. The dissertation examined the several ways women had agency in their use of cosmetics in London in the nineteenth-century: through the sourcing and making of women's own cosmetics, the selling of cosmetics in a commercial setting, and the consumption of cosmetics. Through a design historical approach, she was able to use intersectional research methodologies to ask how women were designing their self-image and negotiating their different relationships with cosmetics.

  • Degrees

  • BA, Hampshire College, 2015; BA(Hons) Fashion Design, Central Saint Martins, 2013–2014
  • Experience

  • Researcher (internship), Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2018; Internship, South East Asia Department, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2017-2018; Researcher (internship), Design History Society, London, 2017; Researcher (internship), Royal Albert Hall Display, V&A, London, 2017; Co-organiser, Early Modern Material Culture Seminar Series, Institute of Historical Research, London, 2016-2017; Research and Archival Assistant, American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, OH, 2015-2017
  • Exhibitions

  • 'Safety Grand Challenge: Safe Ship Boarding & Thames Safest River 2030', Lloyds Register Foundation, London, 2017; 'Artefacts in (and out) of Context', Hockney Gallery, Royal College of Art, London, 2017; 'The Warrior Woman', Hampshire College Art Gallery, Hampshire College, Amherst, MA, 2015
  • Awards

  • Harris Veit Artist Grant, 2015
  • Conferences

  • 'An Abridged History of Cosmetics', L'Oreal Future Eyes Project, Information Experience Design & History of Design Collaboration, Royal College of Art, 2018
  • Publications

  • 'Buoyster', Safety Grand Challenge: Safe Ship Boarding & Thames Safest River 2030, Royal College of Art Publication, pp. 54-55.; 'Women's Hair in Traditional Jewish Law', Hair: A History of Design Publication, result of collaboration with Alix Bizet, Artist in Residence at the Design Museum, London, 2016-2017