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Evolution of Fashion Magazines

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Present Glossy Fashion mags

Women's Fashion Magazines of today incorporate articles on recipe, seasonal home decoration, star gossip and the fashion trends. Every other page is dedicated to fashion brands & accessory advertising. Often referred to as "glossy magazines" they are aimed at their ideal customer, the lady hereslf, in these days of "off-the-rack", factory produced fashion. The 1770s British, French and American periodicals catered to women with titles like,“Ladies Magazine, or Entertaining companion...”, laden with articles on homemaking, decorating, art, literature and tips for self-improvement. Bespoke Fashion was not as accessible to the general public. Taylor's and seamstresses offered their services to their discerning wealthy clientele. The majority, working-class, were talented in "DIY", handed down from parent to child, then child after child.  It was not until the late 1700s magazines began including garment illustration, often referred to as "fashion plates" of up-to-date fashions in response to a demand from the growing ranks of the merchant middle-class.

18th Century: Focus on Intellect more than Visual

In 1770 the British publication “The Lady’s Magazine, or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Appropriated Solely for their Amusement”, published black & white engraved fashion plates (left: first published in 1770). "La Belle Assemblée"  is now best known for its fashion plates of Regency era styles, but until the 1820s it also published original poetry and fiction, non-fiction articles on politics and science, book and theatre reviews, and serialized novels.  Indeed Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, was a notable contributor to a Regency Periodical "La Belle Assemblee". Readers were also  encouraged to contribute.

Fashion Illustration...in Colour

In 1778 French print dealers Jaques Esnauts and Michael Rapilly created prototype hand coloured etching/engravings of current fashion for “La Galerie des Modes" Th extravagant point of difference was popular but costly. In 1859 Philadelphia's Godey's Magazine & Lady Book best known for a hand tinted plate per issue recording women's dress progress. Publisher Louis Godey "boasted that in 1859, it cost $105,200 to produce the Lady's Book, with the coloring of the fashion-plates costing $8,000." Now that was an investment in his product!

Soon there were over 100 European Fashion Periodicals  for the discerning fashionista to chose from. This was in response to the growing middle class demogrphic, often becoming wealthier than the noble classes. These Ladies periodical were seeking points of difference. Early fashion illustrations were sources of the latest trends for dressmakers and tailors who custom crafted wardrobes for individual customers. The illustrations helped accelerate the trend to change styles seasonally. 

Fashion Insitu

As they gained in popularity fashion illustrations evolved from simple representations of women in-stylish attire to elaborate group scenes with backdrops of luxurious interiors and fanciful landscapes. The scenes often referenced the leisure pursuits of the wealthy, such as reading, promenading in public parks and socializing at balls,the highlight of a Regency (Jane Austen) social calendar.

Although fashion represented the “ideal”, they still offer a window into the clothing, furnishings and social milieu of their period. (Right: demonstrates the French male greeting of the era) The illustrations are a valuable resource for historians, costumiers, artists and fashion designer. For this reason antique fashion illustrations have become popular collectibles and interior decor.

Fashion Plate Illustration

Enter the Victorian Age & Whalebone Corsets

The French Empire fashion adopted in the British Regency Period 1800-1820, where corsets were not required, must have been a great relief. The Victorian Era put an end to that level of comfort.

In the 1980s the “push-up bra” was all the rage.  In a "Back to the Future" moment, Medical folk were warning, among other things, the danger the required constriction to enhance the bust line may hinder healthful deep breaths. In the late 19th century age of the department stores, the Glove/Hat stool was designed for the average height for a lady of 4.5-5 foot to rest, not sit on, while sampling the items on offer as they wore full to so whalebone corsets and prone to faint for that exact reason. These ladies were not inherently weak, just hindered by a lack of oxygenated blood supply to their brain!

"Votes for Women" was not a Vote for being Unfeminine!

The irony is that career women would venture into the gallery and yearn for the days of lace, ribbons and corsetry often displayed in the Gallery Fashion Folio. It was judged an enhancement of perceived femininity. The visual is one thing but the side effects are a whole other discussion that the suffragettes wrestled with over 100 years ago: They indeed hankered for the right to vote, but not to dress like men. Wearing beautiful clothes did not retard that wish. Indeed the suffragette flag was purple, green and white, and so Women's Right protesters wore their colours with pride as beautiful jewellery of amethyst, emerald and pearls. It was given as gifts from loving fathers, brothers, husbands who respected their wish to vote. 


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