Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Book Review – Victorian Costume for Ladies 1860-1900 by Linda Setnik

One of the enjoyments of reading historical novels is losing oneself in the details of the setting.  The more detailed the description, the more a reader feels a part of the book.  It's easy to be whisked away to 19th century America, imagining flounced dresses, ruffled parasols and impossibly tight corsets.

It is important, therefore, for the writer to weave these details into their writing.  In order to do that, they spend hours researching every aspect of the time, from social mores to fashion.  When they find a resource, they grab onto it, using the information in their work.

One of these valuable resources is Victorian Costume for Ladies 1860-1900 (VCL).  This revised and expanded 2nd edition is full of details any Victorian enthusiast would benefit from.  This book isn't the usual fashion resource.  Rather than using drawings of petite models with perfect features, VCL uses real photographs of real women.  The ladies in these photos could very well be your great-grandmother or great-great aunt.  They are women like you and me, of all ages and from all walks of life. 

The author analyzes the styles through the years by studying these photographs.  Even something as subtle as the pose or the furniture can give insight into habits and mores of the day. 

VCL isn't just about the fashion, either.  The book explores the health issues associated with the restrictive corsets, and the poisonous chemicals used in cosmetics of the day to keep skin looking white and flawless.   

It is a fascinating look at the extraordinary detail of the times.  How did they produce these complicated dresses?  How did they keep them clean and make them last as long as possible?  Undergarments were an important part of this process.  VCL includes a chapter on the role chemises, petticoats and dress shields played in prolonging the life of the dress.  It is a wonder any women survived hot summers dressed with layers and layers of constrictive clothing. 

Victorian Costume for Ladies is a must for any library for writers of this era.  Lose yourself in the detail, so your readers can lose themselves in your book.

 By Michelle Prima


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