Consumptive Chic: A History of Beauty, Fashion, and Disease

Bloomsbury Academic. 2017. 208p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781350009370. pap. $31.95;ebk. ISBN 9781350009400. DEC ARTS
Historian Day (Furman State Univ., SC) examines how late 18th- and early 19th-century England's cultural ideas of beauty and fashion were reflected in the disease of consumption, or tuberculosis. Idealized and feminized in the discourse of the period, consumption was linked with a creative and sensitive intellect among the middle and upper classes. The symptoms, especially in women—white translucent pallor, a red flush on the cheeks, extreme slenderness, white teeth, large pupils—were held up as models of aesthetic beauty. In neoclassical dress, thin fabrics and styles that exposed women's limbs, backs, and décolletages to England's damp climate were thought to cause consumption. Later, in the 1830s–40s, tight corsets created the desired slender torso reflected in the physique of the consumptive, while at the same time, by putting pressure on the lungs, contributed to the disease.
VERDICT Drawing on medical treatises, beauty manuals, fashion periodicals, and other literature of the period, this thoroughly researched and erudite work will satisfy those interested in social and cultural history.

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