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

Social History Women of History Victorian Era

By Mimi Matthews
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 168
ISBN: 9781526705044
Published: 31st August 2018

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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

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

Mimi Matthews researches and writes on all aspects of nineteenth century history. Her articles have been published on various academic and history sites, including the Victorian Web and the Journal of Victorian Culture, and are also syndicated weekly at Bust Magazine, New York. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney with both a Juris Doctor and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. She resides in California with her family – which includes an Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats.

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