Fashion Plates




Fashion Plates


Fashion Plates

Fashion plates originated in the French court of Louis XIV during the last quarter of the seventeenth century. Hand-colored engraved prints, accompanied by brief descriptions, illustrated the latest styles worn by aristocratic men and women. Available through print sellers in Paris, fashion plates promoted French taste to an international clientele. Fashion plates grew into one of the most important resources for fashion news by the late eighteenth century.

Two Parisian print sellers, Jacques Esnauts and Michel Rapilly, expanded circulation of fashion plates in 1778. Their plates appeared in the publication La Galerie des Modes, along with portraits of French court members and detailed images of fashionable costumes. La Galerie des Modes ceased publication in 1787 just two years before the French Revolution. In 1794, Nicolaus Wilhelm von Heidelhoff, a Paris-trained engraver, began production of his Gallery of Fashion in London; it lasted until 1802. His exquisite hand-colored plates were often embellished with metallic paint. By the early nineteenth century, numerous French, English, and German periodicals also included fashion plates.

In America, women eagerly sought information on the latest Paris fashions from monthly publications such as Godey’s Lady’s Book and La Belle Assemblée. From the inception of Louis B. Godey’s magazine in Philadelphia in 1830, until the late 1860s, Godey’s Lady’s Book was considered an institution and a leading authority on fashion. Initially focused on sentimental short stories, it occasionally added reproductions of French and English fashion plates.

Sarah Josepha Hale, a widow with five children, was hired as editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1837. A devoted feminist and activist, Mrs. Hale’s many accomplishments included helping to found Vassar, one of the oldest women’s colleges in the United States, and urging the government to proclaim Thanksgiving a national holiday. Her influence on Godey’s Lady’s Book was seen almost immediately as she strove to shape it into a work that included literature, music, and fashion. Each month’s issue included a fashion plate with two or more figures dressed in the latest styles with a description of colors and fabrics. Mrs. Hale hired local artists to redraw fashion from European publications, simplifying them to fit American cultural ideals. Godey’s published house plans as well as recipes and designs for handiwork.

Interest in Godey’s Lady’s Book began to wane after the Civil War when industrialization brought an increase in urbanization and disposable income. Fashionable women began to seek more sophisticated looks presented in other periodicals such as Graham’s and Peterson’s. In 1877 Godey sold his publication, and despite new owners and a relocation to New York, the magazine ceased publication in 1898. Women’s magazines such as Harper’s Bazar (founded in 1867) and Vogue (founded in 1892) superseded the older publications, and they grew into influential sources of fashion news over the course of the twentieth century.

Today, fashion plates serve as valuable primary sources for the study of historic fashion. Once overlooked by art and design historians, steel-engraved and lithographed prints have come to be viewed as a form of decorative art on their own.

The Historic Textile and Costume Collection houses many individual fashion plates and illustrations ranging from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. The Collection also has bound volumes of nineteenth-century women’s magazines including Godey’s Lady’s Book, Peterson’s, Graham’s, Lady’s Friend, and Lady’s Cabinet.


Joann T. Steere, MS '11
Linda M. Welters, PhD

Collection Items

Fashion Plate, June 1799
The American and French Revolutions remain emblems of the political and social upheavals taking place during the 1700s. By the century's end, fashions had changed dramatically. This metamorphosis is found most readily in the clothing of the wealthy.…

Fashion Plate, June 1799
Full Dress for June 1799This fashion plate for the June 1799 issue of The Lady’s Monthly Museum is labeled “full dress”. It shows two dresses in the Neoclassical style. The 1790s was a transitional period for fashion. The chemise a la reine, first…

Fashion Plate, July 1799
Fashionable Undress for July 1799This fashion plate is a single page that once belonged to a bound volume of materials. Originally printed in The Lady’s Monthly Museum, a periodical published in London, England from 1798 to1832, this image “showed…

Fashion Plate, October 1799
Morning Dress for October 1799Mary C. Whitlock, former department chair and founder of URI’s Historic Textile and Costume Collection, found many loose fashion plates in antique shops around Massachusetts and donated them to URI’s collection. These…

Fashion Plate, December 1799
Morning Dress for December 1799This fashion plate, dated December 1799, shows morning dress. The figures wear floor-length gowns with short puffy sleeves. The woman on the right wears long blue gloves that match the bow on her headdress and the…

Fashion Plate, December 1799
Afternoon Dress for December 1799The American and French Revolutions remain emblems of the political and social upheavals taking place during the 1700s. By the century's end, fashions had changed dramatically. This metamorphosis is found most readily…

Fashion Plate, September 1800
Morning Dress for September 1800This fashion plate illustrates morning dress for September 1800. Both figures wear white muslin gowns that are slightly longer in the back. White was a popular color in the early 1800s. The figure on the right wears an…

Fashion Plate, August 1801
Evening Dresses for August, 1801Fashion plates were targeted to the elite until rotary printing made them widely available beginning in the 1820s. The artists usually crafted their drawings with a dressmaker, then the fashion plates would be engraved…

Fashion Plate, Morning Dress for 1802
The beginning of the nineteenth century featured a radical turn in fashion with the introduction of neoclassical styles. Simplified white chemises with empire waistlines dominated the streets of London, where this fashion plate was printed. Marie…

Fashion Plate, Evening Dresses, 1803
This fashion plate from The Lady’s Museum illustrates two evening dresses for February 1803. While the two ensembles are different, both begin with a short sleeved white dress with an empire waist. The figure on the lefts wears a Regency open robe in…
View all 60 items

Social Bookmarking