There is a difference between a fashion plate and a costume plate. Costume plates show costume as it was worn in the past, especially everyday past fashions.
Fashion plates promote and publicize possible future fashions. Costume plates are about the fashions of the past and fashion plates are about fashion ideas now or the near future. Costume plates almost always include national, theatrical, court and royal dress.
Masks and disguises were used
for masquerades, carnivals and fancy dress parties especially in times
of less liberal attitudes enabling people to let their hair down.
Plates often featured dress for these occasions. So some pictorial examples
are misleading. At the bottom of the
page here is a misleading
costume plate against a fashion plate. One is a true fashion of
the day and the other a costume selection of dress from a previous era
or a depiction of European regional dress.
Fashion plates really reached
their peak in the 19th century when they were hand coloured engravings.
Early costume plates are often black and white engravings and were
almost always of men not women.
Albrecht Dürer made the first costume plates in 1494 when he
made a record of clothing styles typical of national and regional dress
of Nuremburg and Vienna These were the first costume engravings of dress
already worn in the past.
Later in 1640,
Wenceslas Hollar a very talented
when working in England, produced 26 costume plates
showing day dress of the typical English middle classes. He went
on to make some 2740 plates on various subjects including European
costume and accessories.
Of the generations of the
famous C17th Bonnart family of engravers, Nicolas Bonnart
(the elder) is famed for male and female costume plates and the family
still produced plates into the 1730s. Between 1775 and 1783 some
36 costume history prints we now know under the short title of LeMonument du Costume were made. They were not fashion
plates, but are the best known plates of the era and have been reprinted
many times. They also showed new elements of detail that led to
the fashion plate of the C19th.
356 other very pretty mostly hand coloured fashion plates were also
produced by competitors such as Cabinet des Modes that ran from
1785 to 1789.
In 1778 Jacques Esnauts and
Michel Rapilly of Paris joined forces and began to issue their La
Gallerie des Modes publication of coloured fashion plates. Between
1778 and 1787 they in total, issued some 342 figure plates and some
72 hat plates, all published at spasmodic intervals. This work
is exceptionally scarce in original form even among museum collections,
with the main (incomplete) copy of the collection held at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.
Fortunately for we costume lovers
325 of the figure fashion plates were reproduced by Émile Lévy in Paris
between 1911 and 1914 and they were also hand coloured. Even
the Lévy reproduction issue became valuable.
There is a copy of the Lévy
reproduction Gallerie des Modes in the Victoria and Albert,
The next lot of famous
costume plates were after 1794 by Nicolaus Wilhelm von Heideloff. Heideloff
was a painter of miniatures, he found himself out of work after the
French Revolution. He next sought work in London where he initially found
employment at R. Ackermann the publisher of fine prints and book seller.
Next he left to work alone and soon issued his own Gallery of Fashion,
promising that it would contain accurate copies of styles worn by ladies
of rank and fashion.
Heideloff issued this monthly
Gallery of Fashion and each issue contained 2 lovingly hand coloured aquatints
finished with gold, silver or other metallic paints. Heideloff
issued in total 217 Georgian fashion plates between 1794 and 1803 showing
362 different figures. They are great examples of the Directoire
era. The figures are shown in many activities
almost always out of doors and accessories always complete the picture.
There is wonderful set of Heideloff's Gallery of Fashion held at the
Victoria and Albert Museum and the image below is from a Heideloff
fashion plate from 1796.
Costume plates may be commissioned to show for example all the kings and
queens of a nation over the years or regional dress of a country.
In particular, costume plates often show occupational everyday dress as
has been typically worn.
Some plates such as these below may even give a version that would be
seen as an idea for fancy dress costume. This plate below from 1839 does
just this as it captures 'elements' of dress from a previous era and as
such can be totally misleading.
I include these 2 references
to an early C19th costume book Le Bon Genre and The World of
Fashion magazine on this early page as it
has neat examples explaining differences in
costume and fashion
plates and satirical takes on fashion.
Le Bon Genre
- Satirical Review
Le Bon Genre was a costume
book first published in 1817. It's worth recalling that there had
been hostilities between France and England for years. Despite the
Battle of Waterloo and the resolving of ongoing indifferences the
Parisian French took every opportunity to ridicule English fashions even
after the cessation of war. This plate below is an example of a
caricature piece of an old outmoded 'English' hag choosing headwear that would obviously do
nothing to enhance her whatever her final choice.
Another important book of
costume published at much the same time between 1814 and 1822 was Horace
Vernet's Almanach des Modes. This latter book also showed oddities
of fashion a year after their adoption. It is famous for the inclusion
of plates on both Merveilleuses and Incroyables which ridiculed the
extravagant fashions of youth.
The World of Fashion
began in 1824 and was very much an important London
Regency publication with fashion plates showing up to six figures. Later
World of Fashion plates are often inferior copies of work by Héloïse
Leloir (one the 3 Colin sisters), but more of The World of Fashion
plates are in existence in UK than those from rarer magazines. The
best plates were from the early days and done by the engraver W. Alais.
One interesting point about World of Fashion plates is that they often
contained up to six figures (most others had a maximum of two figures).
Pages were often split to show the headwear or hair style or upper
detail of a bodice. These images below are quite
delightful and not as crudely coloured as some I have seen.
One is a true fashion of the day and the other a costume
selection of dress from a previous era or a depiction of European
regional dress. The far left dress reminds me of the type of
regional Spanish dress one sees on holiday in places like Mallorca or
the Canary Islands.
The World of Fashion 1839
Both these early Victorian images are from a
copy of 'The World of Fashion' issued in March 1839. However the plate left of 4 women gives an
artist's version of earlier
costume, whereas the plate right is a true
fashion plate and depicts suggested fashion styles for women
to follow for 1839.
These thumbnails give good enlargements.
These images are courtesy of UK EBay antiquarian print and
engraving seller known as
You can buy attractive fashion plates from
with confidence. Her fairly priced fashion plates are frequently
accompanied by descriptive text.
It is worth mentioning that portraits have also been used to record costume. Of course
portraits of well dressed women compared to toiling women of the past,
were probably of ladies, wearing fashionable contemporary dress of the
day, probably their best dress. But it's also true to note that
artists would also deliberately dress their sitters in gowns of another
era or in fantasy gowns or have them wear a gown half open with the
sitter showing vast amounts of shoulder, totally unlike the true manner
of wearing an item and all in the name of artistic excellence.
Read more about Ackermann's Repository of Arts and La Belle Assemblée on the next
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