Book Reviews

A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty by Mimi Matthews #Review @MimiMatthewsEsq @penswordbooks

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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.

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.

The second part deals with fashion etiquette (what to where, and when). Fashionable ladies wore a morning/at home dress, walking dress, afternoon/visiting dress, dinner dress, and (presumably only for special occasions) an evening dress or ball gown. That’s a minimum of four dresses worn per day! It wears me out just thinking about it. The rest of this section is sorted in sub-sections for riding habits, holiday fashions, and sportswear, as well as proper clothing for marriage, maternity, and mourning.

The final portion of the book, part three, is devoted to beauty. Victorian hair care, hairstyles and hairdressing, skin care, and cosmetics. The hairstyles of the period were every bit as elaborate as the clothing, requiring a skillful set of hands and eventually false hair to result in a trendy ‘do.  Common ingredients used for skin care included arsenic, mercury, and lime. (Yikes! I think I’ll stick with Noxema.)

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!

I received an advance reading copy of this book courtesy of Pen & Sword History via Netgalley.

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Author: Mimi Matthews
Title: A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty
Genre: Women’s History, Fashion History
Publication Date: July 2, 2018 by Pen & Sword History
Rating: 4 stars

About the Book

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.

About the Author

MIMI MATTHEWS (A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty, The Lost Letter) writes both historical non-fiction and traditional historical romances set in Victorian England. Her articles on nineteenth century history 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. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes an Andalusian dressage horse, two Shelties, and two Siamese cats.

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