Victorian Fashions: A Pictorial Archive

Thursday’s Book Review:
Victorian Fashions: A Pictorial Archive
by Carol Belanger Grafton


Book Cover

Book Cover ~ Dover Publications, © 1999


4 stars = Satisfactory

This is a book filled with scanned images from antique fashion magazines, periodicals, and catalogs. Sources include Harper’s Bazar, La Mode Illustrée, Peterson’s Magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book, Salon de la Mode, Dames et das Demoiselles, L’Art et la Mode, Der Bazar, Harper’s Weekly, Frank Leslie’s Ladies’ Magazine, and The Standard Designer.

I love this book (and its companion, a pictorial archive of shoes, hats, and fashion accessories) because it presents an accurate glimpse into the fashions of the past. The images are clear and well-preserved and cover a time period from 1855 to 1903.


Evening Gown

Natural Form Evening Gown ~ Dover Publications, © 1999


There is no text, just images galore. Depictions include corsets, lace collars and cuffs, bodices and skirts, day dresses and evening gowns, shoes and hats, purses, parasols, jackets, cloaks, and shawls.

Best of all, the copyright reads that the images are available for your use, whether private or commercial, so long as you use no more than ten images per publication or project! I’ve seen a few of the graphics within used as logos for Victorian-themed businesses or websites, such as the Truly Victorian pattern company.


1850s Dress

Early Victorian Day Dress ~ Dover Publications, © 1999


The book skims over some years of the Victorian period and gives others an unfair advantage. For example it provides one page or less to each year from 1855 to 1882. 1883 to 1889 are given two or three pages each, while the years from 1890 to 1895 have five or six pages apiece, and 1896 alone is given eight pages! Since my bias is toward the 1870s, I found this unfair.

Beyond that, I disliked that there is no text of any kind. No descriptions of the garments shown, just a montage of images. The images are presented in chronological order, according to the brief note at the beginning, but beyond that, all you’re given is a year or range of years that covers everything on the page. That’s a disappointment coming from Dover Publications, which has such a sterling reputation.


Corset Cover

Victorian Corset Cover ~ Dover Publications, © 1999


This is a gold mine of images that illustrate fashion during the second half of the 19th century. Despite the absence of descriptive text, the fashions shown are lovely and this book is definitely one for any historical costumer’s bookshelf.

I give it four out of five stars for the unfortunate lack of descriptions, and for the unfair distribution of fashions from different years.

Buy Now: Victorian Fashions: A Pictorial Archive

(Yesterday’s Thimble is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Basically, this means if you click a link to an item that Amazon sells, and then buy it, I earn a small fee that helps support this website.)


Have you read this book? Did you find the lack of text bothersome or were you able to figure out what each item was without an accompanying description?

About Lisha Vidler

I am a sewing instructor living near Memphis, Tennessee.
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