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A Victorian Lady's Guide to Fashion and Beauty (Paperback)

P&S History > British History > Victorian History P&S History > Clothing & Fashion P&S History > Social History Women of History

By Mimi Matthews
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 168
Illustrations: 60 black and white images
ISBN: 9781526705044
Published: 12th September 2018
Last Released: 12th March 2024




"An elegant resource that I will be reaching for again and again." - Deanna Raybourn, New York Times bestselling author

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What did a Victorian lady wear for a walk in the park? How did she style her hair for an evening at the theatre? And what products might she have used to soothe a sunburn or treat an unsightly blemish? Mimi Matthews answers these questions and more as she takes readers on a decade-by-decade journey through Victorian fashion and beauty history.

Women’s clothing changed dramatically during the course of the Victorian era. Necklines rose, waistlines dropped, and Gothic severity gave way to flounces, frills, and an abundance of trimmings. Sleeves ballooned up and skirts billowed out. The crinoline morphed into the bustle and steam-moulded corsets cinched women’s waists ever tighter.

As fashion was evolving, so too were trends in ladies’ hair care and cosmetics. An era which began by prizing natural, barefaced beauty ended with women purchasing lip and cheek rouge, false hairpieces and pomades, and fashionable perfumes made with expensive spice oils and animal essences.

Using research from nineteenth century beauty books, fashion magazines, and lady’s journals, Mimi Matthews brings the intricacies of a Victorian lady’s toilette into modern day focus. In the process, she gives readers a glimpse of the social issues that influenced women’s clothing and the societal outrage that was an all too frequent response to those bold females who used fashion and beauty as a means of asserting their individuality and independence.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Women's fashions, hairstyles, and cosmetics changed a great deal during the Victorian era (between 1840-1900). If you're interested in learning about the various fashion dos and don'ts of a stylish Victorian lady, this is sure to be a book you'll enjoy.

NetGalley, April Rogers

An elegant resource that I will be reaching for again and again.

Deanna Raybourn, New York Times bestselling author

The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty is packed with useful information and is an absolute must-have resource for anyone writing about upperclass women during the Victorian period.

Read the full review here

The Lazy Historian

If you’re interested in either the Victorian period or historical fashion then you’ll find this a very informative read.

Read the full review here

GoodReads, Kayleigh

Full review here-
A Writer's Blog

A Writer's Blog, July 2019

I’d personally like to thank Mimi for an attentively researched and delightfully intriguing report on the styles, whims and, at times, woes of Victorian-era Fashion. She must have had a lot of fun throughout her own reading of nineteenth century beauty books, fashion magazines and lady’s journals! It’s a real pleasure being able to dip in and out of such a book and my own copy is now flagged with lots of page markers so I can recount astonishing anecdotes to equally astonished friends and family.

Read the full review here

She Noted, Chloe Prince

This is definitely a book I will keep returning to, and referencing from on my historical fashion journey, as although I know a fair amount, I feel like I will never know as much as in this book!

If you are at all interested in victorian fashion, I definitely recommend this book!

Read the full review here

Dainty Beth

I loved reading all about Victorian Fashion, and my favorite part of this book was that it not only explained the fashion, but it explained why and how the fashion came about. And the thoroughness of the information was astounding! From shoes, hats and coats, to makeup and hair care, this book has it all!

GoodReads, Lillian

This is a smashing book, and as the holiday season approaches, this would be a perfect book for travelling. There is a section on seaside fashion and the latest in daring bathing outfits! Easy to dip in and out of and packed with fascinating research, this is an essential for all Victorian women and twenty-first century readers.

Read the full review here

The Kissed Mouth Blog

If you’re involved in the creation of something (films, television, book etc) related to the Victorian era, I really would suggest reading this to help with studying the clothing, hair and makeup of the era to gain more knowledge and to use as a reference for the creation or description of a Victorian lady’s appearance. I personally think that this would be excellent reference material for that sort of thing, but also think it is interesting to read if you’re interested in the Victorian era and/or the development of fashion and beauty.

Read the full review here

Life and Tea Blog

Firstly, this book is beautiful! There’s no way around it, its filled with beautiful images and illustrations and looks (as all Pen and Sword books usually do!) amazing!... I'm recommending this book to anyone interested in fashion or the victorian era!

Read the full review here

Erulastiell, Samantha Cooper

Elegant cover with pastels of cream, pink and shades of sepia. Illustrated with coloured pictures, this incredibly informative book gives a good idea of fashion between 1840 to the end of the century.

It provides information on clothing, varying activities for women of the time including horse riding, formal occasions and even what was worn on holiday. The restrictive and confining designs are a far cry from today’s fashions!

Aside from the fascinating aspects of fabric choice, needlework techniques and research undertaken for the cosmetics available at the time, this book would make a brilliantly helpful research companion for writers and artists focussing on that era.

For the Love of Books

If you want to dive into a new subject, but you’re not sure it’s going to be entirely for you, I’d recommend these types of short & sweet reads!

Read the full review here

Reading with Alison

The book is written so that it is palatable enough for someone new to this period, but also provides details from firsthand sources, like lady’s magazines and other material from the 19th century that provides a depth to the writing. Well researched and worth a read!

Read the full review here

Femme Fashion Forward

As featured on Lil's Vintage World

Lil's Vintage World

Very nicely illustrated throughout, "A Victorian Lady's Guide to Fashion and Beauty" is arguably Mimi Matthew's best historical treatise/history to date and will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to both community and academic library English Victorian History & Culture collections and supplemental studies reading lists.

Read the full review here

Midwest Book Review

There is no doubt that Victorian fashions are among the most elegant and fascinating of all the various periods in British history. Mimi’s book lays bare the secrets of how well-heeled Victorian ladies prepared themselves for social gatherings and engagements. Full of beautiful illustrations and a very readable text. Superb.

Read the full review here

Books Monthly

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is so quaint and sweet, I love it. The illustrations of fashion and culture throughout the years is so neat. I have long held a fascination with Victorian times and everything related to them, so this book was a really fun read for me. It made me super grateful that I am able to slip on a pair of jeans!

NetGalley, reviewed by Lesley Kay

It is extremely difficult to walk the tightrope between a book for the casual reader and a detailed reference for writers, but Mimi Matthews has done it! Illustrated with period fashion plates and broken down into chapters covering decades, specialty clothes, cosmetics, and hairdressing, A VICTORIAN LADY'S GUIDE TO FASHION AND BEAUTY is an elegant resource that I will be reaching for again and again.

Deanna Raybourn, www.deannaraybourn.com

This book provided an interesting account of Victorian fashions over several decades. I enjoyed the illustrations as they gave life to the very detailed descriptions.

NetGalley, reviewed by Jen Lynch

Beautifully illustrated and well researched, Mimi Matthews book, A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty, will tell you everything you wanted to know about fashions of this time period. Sorted by decade, the complete ensemble—dresses, underwear, outerwear, footwear, hats, accessories, and jewelry—is described in minute detail in the first part of the book. I was fascinated with the description of each garment, but I would often stop reading for a moment in order to gaze at the illustrations...

It was a lot of fun reading about the trends of that long ago time. As much as I love the fashions, I have to say I’m glad to be alive now rather than then!

Read the complete review online here.

The Geeky Bibliophile

If you're interested in learning about the various fashion dos and don'ts of a stylish Victorian lady, this is sure to be a book you'll enjoy.

Beautifully illustrated and well researched, Mimi Matthews book, A Victorian Lady's Guide to Fashion and Beauty, will tell you everything you wanted to know about fashions of this time period. Sorted by decade, the complete ensemble—dresses, underwear, outerwear, footwear, hats, accessories, and jewelry—is described in minute detail in the first part of the book. I was fascinated with the description of each garment, but I would often stop reading for a moment in order to gaze at the illustrations.

NetGalley, reviewed by Betty Capshew

Great little book concerning everything to do with lady's fashion during the Victorian era.

NetGalley, reviewed by Annelies Buizert

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is such a great read, brilliantly researched and fabulously engrossing. I love how much detail Ms Matthews has added to each part, her passion for the era is obvious and another thing I love is how she has sprinkled the whole book with passages and extracts from genuine articles and periodicals from the time.

I cannot recommend this enough, for anyone who loves their fashion history and Victorian’s then this is a must read

NetGalley, reviewed by Frankie Reviews

If you’re curious about the subtle fashion changes in PBS Masterpiece’s Victoria or find yourself wondering what a crinoline is, this book is for you. I had a lot of fun with this approachable guide to Victorian beauty, especially the illustrations and historical cartoons. (I only wish there were more of them, and maybe a few diagrams, as my understand of fashion is hopeless.)

NetGalley, reviewed by Linsy Hunsaker

This is a very well-researched book and I can tell that the author really enjoyed the topic and writing it.

NetGalley, reviewed by Andrea Johnson

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

For all those who are interested in the evolution of Victorian women’s fashion and the often secret beauty rituals of the age, I can wholeheartedly recommend this book. Though its tremendous wealth of information might not make for a book to finish in one go, it is however a most valuable reference. Moreover, those rich descriptions of what people wear in nineteenth century romance novels have come alive for me after reading Matthews work, and I can start to appreciate historical period dramas on a whole new level. This book has really enriched my experience of nineteenth century culture.

NetGalley, reviewed by Josephine Lion

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is an incredibly approachable reference book for laypersons and professionals. This will be a bible not only for lay enthusiasts but for professionals like historical recreationists, as well as film and theater costume consultants. Matthews has literally covered everything from accessories, desired silhouettes, hair care, acceptable color combinations and the correct fabrics and prints. She also covers the whole toilette, delving into how articles were purchased or made, the proper mourning attire, hair and beauty regimes, and correct hairstyles.

NetGalley, reviewed by Royalty Book Fan

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I'm not familiar with the fashion terms of the period. I would have enjoyed more illustrations or more detailed descriptions for commonly used words describing parts of the dress or accessories, but I still found the book very interesting and informative.

NetGalley, reviewed by Deborah White

Decades of fashion is explained and supported with plenty of examples, such as the fashion etiquette of the day. I loved reading about the ways women washed and styled their hair in this time period. I will say, you really learn to appreciate the advancements in cosmetics and beauty supplies after finishing this book.

NetGalley, reviewed by Ginger Turner

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Absolutely fascinating!

I recognised Mimi Matthews' name as I recently read and enjoyed one of her books, The Pug Who Bit Napoleon, so I got quite excited to see she had another book out.

A Victorian Lady's Guide to Fashion and Beauty is a thorough study of the world of fashion and beauty in the higher classes of Victorian society. There is so much detail, enriched by wonderful illustrations, that it all comes to life and you can just imagine what it was like. Anyone interested in the time period should pounce on this.

I like how it's organised by decade, it makes things really clear. Not only does Matthews describe the fashion and beauty trends (hairstyles and cosmetics) of the decade, but she also explains the reasons for changes and what was going on in history at the time. Yet she manages to keep the whole thing entertaining and light despite basically bombarding you with interesting information.

The extensive bibliography gives lots of ideas for those who might want to further research the topic - I admit I love going through the bibliography to see what else I could read. In my opinion, a good history book needs a bibliography.

This is definitely a book I will eventually purchase so I can keep a hard copy at home.

NetGalley, reviewed by Camille Brown

Interesting and well written however I would like to have read more about how many women would have actually been able to afford the clothes described.

NetGalley, reviewed by Julianne Freer

A delightful and informative read. Taking fashion and beauty in separate sections, the chapters moved from decade to decade, outlining the major fashions and changes during that period. The illustrations were helpful to demonstrate the different styles. If anything, I might have liked to have seen a few more included. Overall, though, this is a nicely presented, easy to read, quick guide to Victorian women's fashion, which will be of interest to history buffs and of great use to writers of historical fiction.

NetGalley, reviewed by Nicki Markus

This is a complete, fully detailed guide to women's clothing and beauty habits in the Victorian Era. Accompanied by drawings, it is an interesting and informative guide, which is a must-have for everyone interested in that era.

NetGalley, reviewed by Loanna Tatari

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A great introductory book to the world of Victorian primping. Clothing, hairstyles, and accessories are discussed decade by decade, and then by what was appropriate for different occasions. Hair and skin care are looked at, as well as cosmetics. Makes me realiase that while I admire the beautiful clothing, I certainly wouldn't want to live in that era!

NetGalley, reviewed by Rachel Cotney

I like it as an addition to one's reference collection, and I also respect the author's attention to detail.

NetGalley, reviewed by Samantha Bunten

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A very good book, well written and well researched. It's full of interesting facts and clear explanation of how the Victorian fashion worked.

The illustrations are very good. The book is really entertaining.

Highly recommended!

NetGalley, reviewed by Anna Maria Giacomasso

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Informative and enchanting together: the incredible variety of fashions and styles of the (Lunghisssimo!) Victorian period are clearly explained, and the wonderful fashion illustrations enrich an already splendid volume in itself.

NetGalley, reviewed by Sara Piras

The book was a thorough and readable guide to Victorian high fashion.

NetGalley, reviewed by Sue Penny

The topic of interest to me at the outset, I was very satisfied with the information I learned, both on fashion, materials, different stylistic epochs in the nineteenth century and some reasons related to these styles (for example, the role of the Crimean War ). Despite the presence of representative images, I think it would have been interesting to pay more attention to the details (for example, a stylistic of embroidery, leather goods or jewellery). Otherwise, I loved this book!

NetGalley, reviewed by Marie Hamel

About Mimi Matthews

USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats.

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