Fashion Plates & Fashion History

When we originally wrote this several years ago, we were more focused on the fashion plate as an accurate means of documenting how garments looked during the late 19th Century. However, as time went on, our opinion has shifted somewhat to the idea that fashions plates depicted what was possible and as such, served as inspiration more than anything else. This idea is further reinforced by the fact that most of the 19th Century fashion press got its start as a means of promoting the sales of printed paper patterns. For example, The Delineator was owned by Butterick, one of the leading pattern manufacturers and another major publication, Demorest’s Family Magazine for all intents and purposes is glorified pattern catalog. But what is more striking is that the fashion plates of the period go a long ways towards documenting evolutionary changes in fashion silhouettes which is extremely useful. Combined with original photographic images and extant examples, we can get a very good picture of how garments appeared and as such, fashion plates are just one more valuable tool but not the only tool.


Fashion plates are often criticized as fashion history documentation because their representations of period fashions that bear no relation to what those particular period fashions ACTUALLY looked like. At best, they’re fantastical distortions of reality, representing an ideal that could never be attained (of course, the same argument can be made about today’s fashions as depicted in the fashion press).

Cover Petersons 1887

However, nothing could be further from the truth. The reality was that fashion plates, both colored and black and white, played a practical role in the transmission of fashion information during the 19th and early 20th Centuries; fashion photography would not come into its own until the 1910s. While  the study of fashion plates as an art form in itself has become popular today, this was not what they were intended to be. Rather, it was a blueprint for individuals to be able to replicate a given design.

Cover Godeys 1885 Cover Harpers Bazar 1885

However, at the same time, fashion plates did present ideal views of their subject garments with their unnatural poses and the models were perfect physical representations. But never the less, fashion plates were first and foremost meant to be a practical means of transmitting fashion information. Ultimately, the fashion plate was a practical tool and used as such.

Cover Delineator 1890

More specifically, the fashion plate was deliberately constructed to impart information to the viewer and specifically to enable the viewer to be able to make a garment based on the plate- in short, “how to do it” blueprints and as such they were often used as supplements to accompanying sewing patterns and were typically printed in magazines. Magazines such as The Delineator, Godey’s Lady’s Book, Harper’s Bazar, and Peterson’s Magazine were only a few of the many magazines that were available to the home sewer and professional dressmaker.

Petersons June 1870

Fashion Plate from Peterson’s Magazine, June 1872.

Above is a fairly typical fashion plate- it looks like a simple illustration of a group of dresses. Well, yes and no- the poses are somewhat stilted with the emphasis on showing as much of the dress as possible. Notice how the decorative treatments are given the best angle possible and especially on the train. This was deliberately done in order for the viewer to see the entire design in order to replicate it.

But it was not only fashion plates. Patterns and more detailed information were also supplied:

evening polonaiseL

Evening Polonaise Pattern from Peterson’s Magazine, May 1872.

Petersons Nov 1880

Fashion plates simply illustrated what was possible and were meant as a source of inspiration, not necessary something to be followed line-for-line. But more importantly, fashion plates showed the progression of styles through the late 19th Century and just by glancing at them, one can readily see differences and especially in the silhouette as it evolved from the 1870s through the  1890s. Here are some some examples from the 1870s and 1880s:

Godey's Lady's Book, November 1872

Godey’s Lady’s Book, November 1872

Englishwomens Domestic Magazine June 1876

The Englishwomen’s Domestic Magazine, June 1876

Plate 2

The Englishwomen’s Domestic Magazine, July 1877

Le Mode Illustree 1878

La Mode Illustree, 1878

Fashion Plate, 1881 from the Revue de La Mode.

Revue de La Mode, 1881.

Revue de Mode1

Revue de La Mode, 1885

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C. 1886

Petersons April 1889

Peterson’s Magazine, April 1889

As we move into the 1890s, still more shifts in the what was considered to be the ideal silhouette can be seen:

1892

Journal Des Demoiselles, January 1892

Journal Des Demoiselles, August 1893

Journal Des Demoiselles, August 1894

Delineator 1898 Dec

The Delineator, December 1898

Delineator 1898 Dec_2

The Delineator, December 1898

What is interesting about this progression of plates is that by the 1890s, it’s all about the front of the dress. While there are frontal views in earlier plates and rear views in later plates, it is still obvious that the emphasis had shifted which is consistent with the movement away from the bustle. The 1880s provide some interesting ground in that the views seem to almost split 50-50, at least based on a very unscientific examination of fashion plates from various sources, both online and in books.

The above is only a small sample of the fashion illustration that was characteristic of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries but it does show that even then, the dissemination of fashion information was being done on a large-scale industrial basis, pushed along by technical advances in the printing trades. Moreover, with the rise of mass-circulation fashion magazines such as Godey’s, Petersons, and Harper’s Bazar, fashion’s reach extended to almost the entire world and most notably in America. The “pretty” and “fantastical” fashion plate served a very specific and practical role that today is easily overlooked. In the end, fashion plates were an art form in terms of their ability to impart information rather than existing as representations of fashion.



Paul Poiret And Fashion Trends: 1907-1908

By 1907, a seismic shift was happening in the fashion world that saw a repudiation of the tightly controlled architectural styles defined by tight corseting to styles that were seemingly unstructured and free-flowing (although undergarments still played a key role, albeit more subdued) a more freer. One manifestation of this new fashion trend was a return to the Directoire and Neo-Classical styles of the early 1800s, styles that were incorporated by Paul Poiret in his couture collections such as with his iconic “Josephine” evening dress that he created in 1907:

Poiret, Evening Dress (aka “Josephine Dress”), c. 1907; Musee de les Arts Décoratifs (UF 70-38-10)

This dress was constructed from an ivory silk satin and cut in an empress silhouette, a silhouette characterized by a fitted bodice with a high waist that ended just below the bust line combined with a loosely fitted skirt that flowed over the body. The dress is trimmed with a fitted black net shawl, trimmed in gold braid along the edges and hem. Finally, on the bodice front is a large silk fabric rose that draws the eye. Here’s another view:

Here’s a comparison between the dress and concept illustration that was published in 1908:

And here’s a close-up of the dress front. Note the black net covering:

This dress definitely looks back to an earlier time and it could be argued that the style completely repudiates the tightly structured styles that had dominated fashion for over half a century. To draw a further parallel, the Directoire and Neo-Classical fashions of the late 18th Century and early 19th Century was also a repudiation of the earlier tightly structured styles that were characteristic of most of the 18th Century up until the 1790s. Just for comparison, here’s just two examples from the early 1800s that are very similar to Poiret’s design:

Merry-Joseph Blondel, Felicite-Louise-Julie-Constance de_Durfort, 1808

And here’s the concept illustration that appeared in Les Robes de Paul Poiret which was a design album illustrated by Paul Iribe that served to promote his fashion concepts1Les Robes de Paul Poiret was a limited edition book- only some 250 copies were printed and almost impossible to find on the used book market. But you can download an electronic version for free from https://archive.org/details/lesrobesdepaulpo00irib[/mfn]:

Poiret’s Josephine dress is a perfect illustration of the basic fashion cycle of action and reaction and it pointed the way forward for fashion into the 20th Century.



Off To No. 11…

We’re taking a short turn-around trip to No. 11- putting up curtains and getting some good pictures are the goal. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 situation forces us to maintain social distancing for now but not to worry, we’ll be back! 🙂



Wedding Dresses of the 1890s

For wedding dresses, the late 19th Century was a time of change in terms of what was considered proper for a wedding. In the 1870s, weddings tended to be small affairs held at home with little or none of the trappings that we today associate with weddings. But at the same time, marriages among the wealthy elite began to grow into large scale affairs that were meant to be more of a public spectacle/social “happening” than an intimate affair centering around getting married.

John Henry Frederick Bacon, The Wedding Morning, 1892

Also, with the rise of the mass market consumer culture, companies offered a wide variety of wedding goods to include wedding rings, wedding dresses, specific wedding gifts, et al. In order to stimulate demand, efforts were made to generate business by creating traditions and then marketing them, spurred along by the increasingly elaborate weddings staged by the wealthy. In many cases, marketing centered on the idea that an elaborate wedding was essential towards maintaining social status. Of course, this was the ideal and not always followed; it was not until the 1920s and 1930s that the bridal industry truly began to take shape and develop into what we know today.

Charles Dana Gibson, The Night Before Her Wedding


The 1890s saw a continuation of wedding dress trends that developed during the 1870s and 1880s. Wedding dresses still came in both colors and white but the trend towards the white wedding was we understand it today continued, spurred along by the development of a mass consumer economy.

Wedding Party, c. early 1890s

Below is an interesting example of a non-white wedding dress in a gray-green. This dress was made by a Mary Molloy, a local dress maker in Saint Paul, Minnesota for Martha L. Berry (nee English) for her wedding day on July 6, 1891:

Wedding Dress, 1891; Minnesota Historical Society (9444.10.A,B)

Wedding Dress, 1891; Minnesota Historical Society (9444.10.A,B)

Side Profile

The above wedding dress is fairly restrained and it’s obvious that it was meant for use long beyond the wedding date. The construction appears to be mostly likely silk with silver beading; the lapels are wide so as to permit an elaborate silver beading pattern. Also, there is further beading along the bottom of the bodice. Finally, one can see a small, vestigial bustle.

Turning towards more specific wedding dresses, here is an example from 1892 that was made by the Fox Dressmaking Company of New York (a concern that was actually run by four sisters, catering to an exclusive clientele):

1983.115.1ab_F

Wedding Dress, Fox Dressmaking Company, 1892; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1983.115.1ab_F)

Side View

Rear View & Train

Close-Up Of Bodice

Close-Up Of Left Upper Sleeve

Close-Up Of Trim Design

Close-Up Of Neckline

Close-Up Of Fashion Fabric; If one looks very closely they can see that the stripes are straight and that embroidery has been added to create a swirling effect.

Maker’s Label

The base fashion fabric for this dress consists alternating stripes of silk satin and faille in an ivory/gold. The difference in the weaves of the satin and faille makes for a difference in lusters and this in turn gives the dress an interesting visual effect: while the satin gives a right, lustrous appearance, the faille provides a duller luster, each one complementing the other. Considering that most weddings during this time were held in the morning (and especially society weddings), a dress completely made of satin would probably been too bright thus the faille tones it down a bit. Of course, this is just conjecture on our part. 🙂

In contrast to the sleeves and skirt, and train, the bodice is covered in lace and pearls combined with silk ribbon ruching along the neckline and ribbon trim along the hem of the bodice. The pearls and lace definitely take center focus, drawing the eye of the viewer. Combined with the fashion fabric, this dress reads opulent and it’s certainly the rival of Worth and Doucet.

Wedding dresses could also be restrained such as this one made in 1896 by the House of Worth:

Wedding Dress, Worth, French, 1896; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.41.14.1)

Wedding Dress, Worth, French, 1896; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.41.14.1)

Close-up of the bodice.

Close-up of the upper left sleeve and shoulder.

Close-up of the lower sleeve.

Here we see the height of wedding fashion for 1896 with the characteristic leg of mutton sleeves. The dress is constructed from an ivory silk brocade with a minimum of lace at the cuffs and pearl trim on the neckline. The look is relatively restrained with clean lines. The dress gets its impact from the symmetrical floral leaf pattern running down the front of the dress and skirt, a look facilitated by the one-piece princess line design. The sleeve design is reminiscent of late Medieval styles.

The above has only been a small sampling of what is out there but we think that it provides some interesting wedding ideas. At the same time, it also demonstrates that wedding traditions are never set in stone, as much as the marketers would like us to believe, but rather they are constantly evolving.



Wedding Dresses of the 1880s

We now continue our journey through the world of wedding dresses with a look at the 1880s. By the 1880s, we can see the white wedding dress tend beginning to gain momentum as the epitome of fashion. Style-wise, wedding dresses in the 1880s followed the overall basic style of the 1880s characterized by the sharply-defined “shelf” bustle. To start, we just can’t seem to get away from the late 1870s/early 1880s…

Revue De La Mode, 1880

Now, we must admit that the dress that the bride’s companion is wearing steals the show with the elaborate embroidered design on the bodice but we digress… 🙂 Both dresses reflect the slender, upright silhouette characteristic of the Natural Form or Mid-Bustle Era.

Moving on into the 1880s, we see the bustle once again develop. Below is a fashion plate from the November 1883 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

Peterson's Magazine, November 1883

Peterson’s Magazine, November 1883

The above wedding dress (second from the left) is described in Peterson’s as follows:

The wedding dress of white satin and white brocade; the underskirt is of white satin and has a full quilted trimming of the same around the bottom; the front is of brocaded satin and velvet; the train is long, slightly looped at the back under the panniers, and plain. The Princess corsage and panniers are of the satin, the later trimmed with lace and garlands of orange-blossoms, and looped with broad white satin ribbon. The plastron on the front of the orange is of white crepe-lisse edged with lace; orange-blossoms at the throat and on the head; long tulle veil (Peterson’s Magazine, November 1883, p. 440).

Orange blossoms were a common floral element for weddings, popularized by Queen Victoria when she married Prince Albert. In terms of style, the wedding dress draws from the prevailing styles of the early 1880s, in this case a day dress with bodice designed to give the effect of a jacket being worn over shirt or waistcoat.

Here are some more interesting fashion notes in regard to wedding dress styles of the early 1880s from page 2 of the November 11, 1883 edition of Truth, published in New York City:

truth-newspaper-1111-1883-fashion-notes

From the above article, it’s evident that there were a wide variety of choices for the bride in choosing wedding dresses with white satin, white brocade, and white velvet taking the lead. Lace shawls were often worn and there are the ubiquitous orange blossoms.

Florence Folger 1887

Florence Folger on her wedding day, December 14, 1887; Nantucket Historical Society ( P8740); Florence Folger married William A. Webster at Springfield, Massachusetts.

And at the same time, other colors were used for wedding dresses…

minneapolis-wedding

Wedding portrait, c. late 1880s – early 1890s.

This portrait was taken in Minneapolis sometime either in the late 1880s or early 1890s. The only thing that could be construed as being white is the bride’s long veil. Interestingly enough, the bridesmaid’s dress appears to be more properly “wedding” with the lighter color. But, nevertheless this is a good example of the common day dress being pressed into service.

Wedding dresses could also be recycled…

Emma-Johnson-dress

Wedding Dress, 1888; Missouri History Museum (1969-044-0000-(a-b)); Dress worn by Emma Johnson on her wedding day, October 17, 1888.

1969-044-0000-detail

The above wedding dress belonged to Emma Forbes (nee Johnson) who was married to Alexander Elias Forbes on October 17, 1888 in Des Moines, Iowa. As a side note, Emma Johnson lived from August 8, 1853 and died on December 2, 1905 at the age of 52. She was buried in St. Louis, Missouri and her grave can be found HERE.

Turning to the dress itself, the base fabric is an olive green satin trimmed with a brown/bronze colored silk running down the front of the bodice to create the effect of a robe. Running parallel on each side are strips of a patterned brocade that is also present on the sleeve cuffs. The most interesting thing is that dress was a re-worked dress from the 1850s that had been worn by Emma’s mother on her wedding day 38 years before on the same date. It’s a too bad that there are no better photographs available from the Missouri History Museum. Overall, it’s an amazing effort and definitely the 19th Century version of carrying on a family tradition.

Moving towards the later 1880s, we see the continuation of earlier styles. Here is an interesting example that was worn by Anna L. Stoner (nee McAfee) at her wedding on June 27, 1888:

Wedding Dress, 1888; Ohio State University, The Historic Fabrics and Textiles Collection (HCT.1999.19.1a-d)

Side Profile

Close-Up of painted flower panel.

This dress is constructed from an off-white novelty (a novelty weave is defined as any weave which varies or combines the basic weaves, plain, satin and twill). Running down the sides are silk satin panels with painted flowers. Below is a picture of Anna long with a wedding invitation:

7d2f9d2ec3db152a90b5324196d6b3d4 (1) Invitation

It’s amazing what one turns up when simply looking for dress examples… 🙂 Overall, this dress is interesting both for the use of wool woven in a novelty weave and painted flowers on silk satin panels. This would suggest that this was an economical version of the idealized wedding dress; usually some form of silk was the fabric of choice for the entire dress and the flowers would have either been embroidered as part of the fabric or attached as separate fabric flowers.

The above has been just a brief survey of wedding dresses during the 1880s and as was the case in the 1870s, wedding dresses might have taken many forms but the silhouette essentially followed the main style of the decade.  We hope you have enjoyed this brief overview and stay tuned was we go into the 1890s.