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Victorian Costume for Ladies, 1860-1900: With Price Guide

por Linda Setnik

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This lavishly illustrated book provides irrefutable documentation of ladies' fashions worn in Victorian America from 1860 to 1900. Extensively researched using nineteenth-century fashion, beauty, etiquette, household, and medical literature, the book explores the fluctuations in clothing styles including undergarments, casual wear, sports clothes, common dress, evening attire, hairstyles, and jewelry, while tracing the fascinating impact fashion had on the mental, physical, and social lives of our Victorian ancestors. Chapters on personal hygiene, cosmetics, clothing manufacture, laundry, and the dating of vintage photographs are included, along with updated prices. The period photographs and detailed analysis provide a unique picture of the lives of Victorian women through their styles of dress. This comprehensive and easy-to-read book is an invaluable resource to historians, theatrical costumers, genealogists, museum curators, and historical fashion and photography enthusiasts.… (mais)
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I don’t remember why I acquired this book – it isn’t the kind of thing that usually interests me - but it turned up next in the “to be read” stack (well, one of the stacks). It turned out the be intriguing. I expect how to tell a crenelated overskirt from a tablier might be useful for understanding Victorian novels, but the prime thing was the sociological content. Author Linda Setnik is interested in helping identify dates for old photographs from women’s costume, and also in providing price guidelines in case you have great*2 grandmother’s trousseau in the attic. But just the photographs themselves pose interesting questions.

For one thing, virtually nobody is smiling. These are mostly studio photographs; at the beginning of the time period studied (1860-1900) getting photographed was serious business; I can see perhaps why you didn’t smile. But by the turn of the century film speed had increased and lens focal ratios had decreased to the point that “snapshots” were possible – but still no smiles. At what point in history did it become customary to say “cheese” and smile for the camera? I don’t know.

Another item is the customary pose of couples. In almost all cases the wife stands, the husband is in a chair – with the wife’s hand on his shoulder. The technical appendix explains this somewhat; again, at the earlier dates exposure times were quite long – 15 to 30 seconds. Thus there were iron stands that clamped the subjects in position from behind. For a seated male subject, the stand was concealed behind the chair; for a standing female her floor length skirt hid it – hence the inverse of what Victorian chivalry should have dictated. However, this choice of poses seems to have remained popular long after increasing photographic efficiency should have eliminated it; perhaps it had just become traditional? I don’t know.

A final question is why women put up with such breathtakingly – literally – uncomfortable clothes for so long. Corsets – sometimes down below the hips, if that season’s fashion dictated. Hoops. Bustles, sometimes so extended it must have been impossible for the wearer to sit. Skirts with trains that dragged in the dirt, requiring daily cleaning (there were dresses with concealed tapes, fastened to the hem at the bottom and ending in discrete pull rings at the top, so a lady venturing into a muddy street could lift her skirt a little to avoid the worst of it – but she had to first check to make sure there weren’t any cads lounging about hoping for a glimpse of stocking). To be fair, these are all formal portraits, so everybody wore their best – and my most formal clothes aren’t all that comfortable either. Modern romance novels set in this period often have the heroines rebelling against their clothes, with the approval of their gentlemen, but there’s little suggestion anybody did so at the time. It suggests that there are probably customs we think are perfectly normal that will future generations will ridicule. I don’t know.

As mentioned, surprisingly interesting. Obviously lots of photographs; perhaps a few line drawings illustrating features that are hard to make out in the pictures would have been useful. In the price list, the author notes that costumes from the 1860s are the most valuable – not because they are the oldest, but because the are popular with American Civil War re-enactors. ( )
2 vote setnahkt | Mar 12, 2019 |
Useful book of American Victorian fashions. Good photos and details.
  p.d.r.lindsay | Aug 29, 2014 |
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This lavishly illustrated book provides irrefutable documentation of ladies' fashions worn in Victorian America from 1860 to 1900. Extensively researched using nineteenth-century fashion, beauty, etiquette, household, and medical literature, the book explores the fluctuations in clothing styles including undergarments, casual wear, sports clothes, common dress, evening attire, hairstyles, and jewelry, while tracing the fascinating impact fashion had on the mental, physical, and social lives of our Victorian ancestors. Chapters on personal hygiene, cosmetics, clothing manufacture, laundry, and the dating of vintage photographs are included, along with updated prices. The period photographs and detailed analysis provide a unique picture of the lives of Victorian women through their styles of dress. This comprehensive and easy-to-read book is an invaluable resource to historians, theatrical costumers, genealogists, museum curators, and historical fashion and photography enthusiasts.

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