Wednesday 20 June 2018

Book Review: A Victorian Lady's Guide to Fashion and Beauty by Mimi Matthews

Title: A Victorian Lady's Guide to Fashion and Beauty
Author: Mimi Matthews
Pen and Sword

Publication Date: 31 July 2018
eBook - PDF
ARC via NetGalley


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.

A Victorian Lady's Guide to Fashion and Beauty was 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.


  1. That sounds fascinating. And timely - I was watching some lovely vids on YouTube yesterday showing a costumier getting dressed, decade by decade, in Victorian clothing. I'm toying with the idea of doing something regency one day, so I'll have to look out for something similar for that period.

    1. I'd love to see a Regency story from you! Yes, finding detailed books on Victorian dress seems relatively easy, but such works as you move backward in time from there are a little rarer. I see a few, but it's hard to tell if they will be any good or not just from the cover and blurb.