History of Fashion Plates


The precursors to fashion plates were the German Trachterbuchen which date from the 16th Century. These were primarily illustrated documentation of national costume, peasant and occupational clothing of various countries. An example of this type of resource, Braun and Schneider’s Historic Costume in Pictures (fGT513.H57 1975), is available in the Henry Madden Library and on the Internet .

Another way of disseminating fashion information was the use of fashion dolls commissioned from milliners and dressmakers. These were miniature women and men who were dressed in the latest fashions, including hats, shoes and accessories. Their size made them easy to transport and local dressmakers could use the clothes as patterns to make garments for customers. Not many of these survive, however, because they were given to children to play with as dolls.

The first known fashion plates began circulating at the French court in the 17th century during the reign of Louis XIV to publicize what the nobility were wearing. Some fashion engravings were published such as Antoine Herisett’s Recueil des Differences Modes du Temps (1729) which were eleven plates of both men and women’s clothing. However, nothing occurred at a systematic level until the 18th century when the latest fashions began to find their way into publications. By the end of the 18th century, periodicals focusing on women’s interests were flourishing. Weekly publications such as the Lady’s Magazine, La Belle Assemblee, and Les Modes Parisiennes included two to six hand colored and engraved fashion plates that depicted several figures dressed in the current styles. The fashion plates imparted information about current or forthcoming styles to those who could afford to subscribe to the periodicals. At the beginning, circulation was mainly to the wealthy, but by the mid 1850s fashion magazines could be found in most homes that included a nonworking woman. To give an idea of the cost of a fashion magazine, La Belle Assemblee, published in London, was sold for 15 pence during the early 1800s, which was roughly equivalent to the daily wages for a highly skilled London worker. In addition to individual subscriptions, booksellers and other places of business had multiple subscriptions. Fashion plates remained popular until the 1920s when fashion photography replaced fashion illustration as the standard in magazines.


Back to Exhibit