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K. Briana Oliver

MA work

Selling Sex in the Burlington Arcade: Fashioning Sexuality Between 1860–1900

The importance of the history of prostitution within our understanding of the metropolitan landscape in late-nineteenth century London has long been a controversial topic, hampered in part by broad generalizations and lack of microgeographical studies. The aim of this dissertation is to geographically localize prostitution history within the Burlington Arcade and deconstruct its historiographical reputation. This dissertation will explore the experience of solicitation within a commercial space and the means by which prostitution was signified. The objective of this research is threefold: 1) it will dismantle mythistories surrounding the Burlington Arcade by contending that the space was used for solicitation by prostitutes rather than the physical act of sex, 2) it will differentiate the ‘respectable’ woman and examines the complex visual literacy of respectability on a street level, 3) define the class and type of prostitute in the Burlington Arcade and complicate the narrative by introducing homosexual histories at the end of the nineteenth century. Through electoral records, diaries, early sociological studies, and litigation, this dissertation will situate itself within a broader debate of design history utilizing interdisciplinary theoretical framework derived from architectural histories, fashion histories, commerce and shopping histories, and material culture. Ultimately this dissertation illustrates late Victorian paradoxical ideologies as epitomized within the Burlington Arcade. Being a space of innate contradiction, the arcade shows itself to be both simultaneously representing a private and public space, past and present, street (prostitute) and luxury (‘respectable’ shopper).


  • MA Degree


    School of Humanities


    MA History of Design, 2016

  • Degrees

  • BA Art History, Northern Arizona University, USA
  • Experience

  • Volunteer placement, Hampshire Cultural Trust, Winchester, 2016; Volunteer, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2015–2016; Editor-in-chief, Unmaking Things, Online, 2015–2016; Archives internship, Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff Arizona, 2012–2013; Gallery assistant, Beasley Art Gallery, Flagstaff Arizona, 2012–2013
  • Conferences

  • ‘The Revival of the Louis Heel and the Survival of Bespoke Shoe Making Techniques,’ International Conference of Dress Historians, October 31, 2015