Wednesday, January 18, 2012

From the Stacks: A Fashion Flip-Book

In the 19th century, women's popular literature was full of advice about fashion and beauty. Numerous books and magazines offered hints on clothing styles, cosmetics, hygiene, and other aspects of women's appearance.

Female Beauty, as Preserved and Improved by Regimen, Cleanliness and Dress, by Mrs. A. Walker (London, 1837), is a noteworthy example of this type of book. Particularly striking are the unusual hand-colored double illustrations, which have a cut-out in the top plate so the same figure can be shown with two different costumes. These illustrations provide helpful before-and-after views of various fashions, so the reader can see the effect of different styles and colors on a woman's appearance.

"Simplicity and Ornament Compared.""The more beautiful a woman is, the less need has she of ornament, and the more her dress should be simple though elegant. ... Vanity is ever the companion of bad taste." - p. 391.
Mrs. A. Walker is listed as the author of Female Beauty, although some scholars have speculated that the book was actually written by her husband, Alexander Walker, who also wrote Beauty: Illustrated Chiefly by an Analysis and Classification of Beauty in Woman (1836).

Female Beauty warns women against the dangers of "cosmetic impositions," which may be made from harmful ingredients such as lead or vinegar that will penetrate the skin and cause permanent damage. Instead, the author argues that simple changes in clothing style and color can greatly improve appearance without harming one's health. The book also offers advice on nutrition, sleep, exercise, bathing, and other aspects of life that can contribute to a woman's beauty.

"Management of Red Complexion." "If red predominates in the complexion, then red around the face removes it by contrast, and causes the yellow and blue to predominate." - p. 292.
Other women's fashion books like this can be found in the Clements Library holdings by searching the Mirlyn library catalog for subjects such as "Clothing and dress," "Beauty, Personal," and "Women--Health and hygiene."

Further Reading:
Robyn Cooper, "Victorian Discourses on Women and Beauty: The Alexander Walker Texts." Gender & History vol. 5, no. 1 (Spring 1993): pp. 34-55.

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