A book I’m really fond of right now is Fashioning the Bourgeoisie:A History of Clothing in the Nineteenth Century by Philippe Perrot, translated by Richard Bienvenu.
When department stores like Le Bon Marché first opened their doors in mid-nineteenth-century Paris, shoppers were offered more than racks of ready-made frock coats and crinolines. They were given the chance to acquire a lifestyle as well–that of the bourgeoisie. Wearing proper clothing encouraged proper behavior, went the prevailing belief.
As opposed to many fashion history books, this one offers not just timelines on when skirts became wider, but tries to explain the meaning of it, the meaning of fashion both in the nineteenth century as well as in contemporary society, and researches issues such as the lack of colour in mens suits since the 1790s. It’s quite academic, (actually, I found it in the university library) and it’s great to see a more serious, scientific approach to Victorian fashion history.
The book contains a lot of interesting images and fun anecdotes, which I will post about soon. Did you know for example that buying secondhand clothes was already in use in the eighteenth century? And buying something, wearing it to a party, and returning it to the warehouse the next morning was a known occurence in the nineteenth century, as well as people who stole things compulsively, and men who visited warehouses in order to sniff women’s clothes and steal their handkerchiefs?