Fashion plates are frequently used as primary source material for the study of historical fashions.
We are NOT talking about the type of plate used to serve food. However, fashion can be printed on those types of plates as well.
A fashion plate is an illustration (a plate) demonstrating the highlights of fashionable styles of clothing. Traditionally they are rendered through etching, line engraving, or lithograph and then colored by hand.
Fashion plates do not usually depict specific people. Instead they take the form of generalized portraits, which simply dictate the style of clothes that a tailor, dressmaker, or store could make or sell, or demonstrate how different materials could be made up into clothes. The majority can be found in ladies' fashion magazines which began to appear during the last decades of the eighteenth century. Used figuratively, as is often the case, the term refers to a person whose dress conforms to the latest fashions.
Fashion plates help us better understand the history of fashion.
Prior to the French Revolution, fashion plates were few and far between. This method of disseminating fashionable styles was mostly popular during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Their origins, however, date back to the 16th century, even if the history may not be continuous.
By the 1830s, U.S. magazines began to include their own fashion plates, although these were often derived from imported French originals. The most popular magazines of the antebellum period, including Godey's Lady's Book and its competitors, particularly Graham's Magazine and Peterson's Magazine, boasted about the quality of their fashion plates.
The increasing popularity of photography in the early 20th century spelled the end for fashion plates, as photos offered a realistic portrayal of fashionable styles.
You may also have interest in learning about the history of the fashion industry.
You may also have interest in reading about fashion illustrations from our fashion illustration summary.
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