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The ultimate Victorian fashion reality check!
on June 23, 2009
Imagine trying to research late 20th century fashion with nothing but Vogue magazine as a reference. Naturally you would assume that everyone had a BMI of 14%, bizarre hair was the rage, visible hard nipples were just part of the fashion, and we were all running around in the snow like suicidal mantis bugs with lipstick smeared halfway up our cheeks and nothing but the most outre $5000 tank tops money could buy.
This is effectively how we are presented with Victorian fashion. Illustrated high style fashion magazines like La Mode Illustree have become our "references" while relatively rarely do we see realistic depictions of the actual fashions of the time, and so illustrated example models of idealized bodies wearing idealized fashions become the assumed norm.
This book is about the best remedy for that short of a trip in a time machine. 235 photographs spanning the period from the introduction of the photograph in 1839 to the years leading up to WWI with heavy annotation present a fairly realistic overall picture of what a fashionable person of each age would be swishing about town in. The main focus is England though there are a few references to other countries (primarily France), and while there are references to the clothing of people of lesser means, this is primarily an investigation of those who had enough money to actually keep up with the fashions of the time.
Don't let the page count fool you, what this book lacks in size it makes up for in information density. Descriptions of fashions from both modern points of view and period text references are cross referenced with the included photographs and give a pretty complete picture of each trend and clothing item described. There is a fair amount of men's fashion described as well, which is pretty darn rare in Victorian references. My only issue with this book is the relative difficulty of following the photographic references as they are grouped together in four large clumps distributed throughout the book. The photographs are numbered sequentially but the photographic sections do not have page numbers, so finding the photographs referred to in a single sentence can take you flipping through half of the book. Given that there are in text references every 50 words or so this gets old extremely quickly, but even so it was worth the effort.
I expect this to become a go-to reference for Victorian clothing and it is highly recommended as such for those with more then a passing interest in Victorian and Edwardian fashion, though I will likely add some tabs to the photograph sections to make it easier to find the referenced images and I suggest doing the same.