The Mirror of the Graces is a fashion manual. It offers advice on how a woman should dress to suit her age, complexion and figure. It also contains chapters on dance, deportment and other accomplishments prized in a 19th-century woman. In the Preface, the book’s ‘editor’ says that its author is a woman who has ‘past [sic] several years in an intimate acquaintance with the manners and fashions, not only of the highest rank in this country, but also of most of the foreign courts’.
The author regards a woman’s appearance as a reflection of her character. By dressing well and being graceful and accomplished, a woman will attract the love and admiration of a ‘well-judging man’, who sees in her outward appearance the sign of her honourable character (p. 13). She therefore believes it both virtuous and essential, rather than superficial, for a woman to take fashion seriously. The author also suggests three principles a woman should follow in order to preserve her ‘Beauty, Health and Loveliness’ (title page): temperance (moderation in eating and drinking), exercise in the open air, and cleanliness (pp. 38-39).