Victorian Fashion is a slim volume that provides exactly what is described in its title. Jayne Shrimpton gives an overview of British dress between Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne in 1837 and the closing of her reign in 1901. Given that I don’t enjoy earlier 19th century costume, no matter how much more comfortable it looks, the Victorian era is my sartorial splendor sweet spot. As we all know, the Edwardians had the best hair and hats, but my beloved decades for western women’s clothing are the 1870s and 1880s, i.e. the bustle era. Before I even learned my meager bit about the evolution of women’s dress, my wedding gown unconsciously referenced my favourite style.
Shrimpton’s work is divided into chapters based on gender, age, and specific topics such as mourning, weddings, and sports. Not surprisingly, the focus is of necessity largest on women’s wear. Conveniently, this is where my interest lies. For illustration purposes, she draws on fashion plates, advertisements, cartoons, and period photography. Victorian Fashion is not, however, a picture book, and there are plenty of those available elsewhere that I delight in poring over while sighing. As she moves through the six decades, Shrimpton succinctly describes the basic elements that comprise each metamorphosis, specifically volume, colour, materials, and the lines of garments.
Learning about costume history not only feeds my love of period clothing, but also helps refine my “all kissing books, all the time” insights when I imagine what is worn by the characters. For self-preservation purposes, I try not to think about what anyone’s coiffure or facial hair looks like because it is consistently very unappealing. Shrimpton teaches very useful non-follicle-related information for me, wherein “useful” means I no longer have a little knowledge that is a dangerous thing and will be less captious when reading. Now I have some knowledge and plan to absorb more by rereading Victorian Fashion. I would recommend Shrimpton’s quick and straightforward overview to other interested fashion amateurs like myself.
Such is my grumpiness about fashion in kissing books, I avoid the 18th century settings because I loathe the men’s clothing. If you are interested in historically accurate 19th century costume detail in romance, I suggest Loretta Chase’s Dressmaker series. Silk is for Seduction includes a scene in which the heroine advises the hero not to bother removing her layers as it is too complicated and the classic Dukes Prefer Blondes takes great delight in describing the stylish heroine’s somewhat ridiculous ensembles.