What I’m Wearing: Rachel Vorona Cote Writes About Victorian Style, but Her Personal Dress Is Low Maintenance

She wrote her new book about painful beauty—while wearing leggings.

Rachel Vorona Cote, author of Too Much: How Victorian Constraints Still Bind Women Today. Photo by Sylvie Rosokoff.

Are Spanx the new corsets?

It’s a question writer Rachel Vorona Cote considered while researching her recently released book, Too Much: How Victorian Constraints Still Bind Women Today. Interweaving cultural criticism with personal narrative, the book highlights the legacy of Victorian codes of conduct on women today. On Friday, the former Jezebel writer is discussing Too Much at Politics and Prose at Union Market. 

“Women were expected to grind their bodies,” Cote says, “to treat them like something between clay that can just be molded according to the expectations and predilections of a staunchly patriarchal society [and] machines that had to be calibrated a certain way.” 

The author and Takoma Park resident in a statement tee. Photo by Sylvie Rosokoff.

Which brings us back to the Spanx dilemma.

Despite her views on rejecting patriarchal, idealistic silhouettes (think hourglass figures, S-curves, and tapered waistlines), Cote still finds herself reaching for those darned spandex underwear on occasion.

“I know that I do it because of certain expectations and ideals that I’ve absorbed,” she says. “And, you know, we’re still sort of trying to chisel away at ourselves in order to fit a template of femininity. It’s far less rigid than it was in the 19th century. But it exists.”

For Cote, it’s the act of choosing what she wears that rebels against Victorian constraints. 

The author reads her new book in the Victorian-esque boots she feels most powerful in.

Most days, she leans towards a monochromatic look, finding comfort in the low-maintenance chic of an all-black outfit. She pairs an effortless obsidian tunic with sleek leggings and the assortment of rings and necklaces her mother passed on to her after her mother died. 

Cote uses clothes in her work to offer insight into a character’s class or emotional state. So don’t mistake her black monochrome for anything short of an expression of power.

“It’s bold and neutral, and yet it also feels sort of like a cocoon,” she says.

The DC writer in her powerful “cocoon.” Photo by Paul Cote.

Despite the cool modernity of monochrome, the item of clothing she feels most powerful in draws upon 19th-century aesthetics: a pair of chunky-heeled boots. They’re sturdy, lace-up, sexy, and even a little witchy.

“Actually, they’re rather Victorian,” she says. “I wear those whenever I need to channel confidence.”

What I’m Wearing is a column exploring how powerful Washingtonians make sartorial decisions. Have ideas for who we should talk to? Tag a picture of your favorite outfit on Instagram with #WhatImWearingDC, or email us. You might be featured next! Read past entries.

Emma Francois is an editorial fellow at Washingtonian covering everything from food to fashion. She graduated from Georgetown University and has previously worked for USA Today, the Georgetown Voice, and the Chautauquan Daily.