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Antique Fashion & Costume Plates
Part 5 - Godey's Fashion Plates
Fashion History

By Pauline Weston Thomas for


Antique Fashion & Costume Plates

Mid C19th -  Godey's, Peterson's & Graham's Fashion in Magazines

The English Approach to Fashion Plates

London publishers often copied engraved plates and much was lost in the copying. Although the two most important English magazines of the mid C19th were the Ladies Cabinet and The Ladies' Gazette of Fashions, these English plates are poorly drawn and tinted.  Fashion plates from these 2 latter publications are not thought to add to a collection.

The English magazine the Lady's Magazine, knew when it could not match the artistry and simply began importing fashion plates from Le Follet. Much the same happened in America.  Later by the 1850s engraved French plates were actually imported to America for Godey's magazine having previously been published in Paris up to eleven months earlier. 

C19th American Fashion Magazines

Although as many as 500 periodicals were published in the United States in the early 1800s the few that spring to mind that addressed women and fashion were the outstanding Godey's Lady's Book and Graham's Magazine.  By 1842, Graham’s claimed a circulation of 40,000.  Godey's was directed solely at women although men of course read it, whereas Graham's was directed at gentlemen too.  Another later magazine was Peterson’s which was initially liked for the fashion plates and early editions had little in the way of depth of articles.

Godey's, Peterson's and Graham's, satisfied a desire for those who were socially mobile to become aware of refined taste in manners, art and literary elements without too much effort.  It pandered to the insecurities of an emerging class coming together from many nations and merging as one in a new American society.  It gave tolerable boundary guidelines with hazy reference to acceptable and unacceptable behaviours.  Such magazines offer us an insight about the daily minutiae of acceptable and unacceptable activities among the emerging middle classes of America.

Panoramic Fashion Plate - Peterson's 1873

Panoramic Fashion Plate - Peterson's 1873

Graham's American Monthly Magazine of Literature, Art and Fashion included fashion, but was directed at both men and women.  It contained articles and set pieces by well known writers such as Edgar Allan Poe.

Godey's Lady's Book was one of the most influential C19th monthly magazines and it became an arbiter of taste manners and etiquette for the epoch.  For 30 years Godey’s Lady’s Book was thought an institution and a leading authority on fashion.  Yet after the Civil War more fashionable women preferred the periodicals Graham’s and Peterson’s

Peterson's Ladies' Magazine began in 1842.  By the 1860s, Peterson's Ladies' Magazine had 150,000 subscribers.  Godey's had been sold as a subscription gift that men would buy for wives and sisters and so too was the later Petersons.  Peterson's cultivated the idea of middle class domesticity with articles and by focusing on fiction written mainly by women.


Godey's Ladies' Handbook (American)

The most famous of mid C19th American magazines of this time frame, included Godey's Ladies' Handbook published from July 1830 without break until 1898.  We know it today mostly as Godey's Lady's Book, but it had a variety of captions including:-

  • Godey's Unrivalled Coloured Fashions,

  • Latest Fashions for Godey's Lady's Book

  • Godey's Coloured Fashions

  • Godey's Ladies Handbook 

Fashion Plate - Godey's 1874

Typical fashion plate from Godey 1874.

Godey's Lady's Book was published in Philadelphia in the C19th by Mr. Louis A. Godey.  Publishing history was made when he employed widow Mrs. Sarah Hale to edit the magazine.  Mrs. Sarah Hale continued to do this until 1877. A forthright opinionated, strong, campaigning woman she believed women could achieve any goals she wanted. This was reflected in her editorial style and the inclusion in Godey's Lady's Book with comparatively superwoman style articles with a C19th slant.  Against her judgement it included fashion. 

There were fashion plates, fashion articles, stories, poems, how to make various crochet, tatting, lace making, knitting, embroidery and other craft articles, recipes and house keeping hints and tips.  If you needed to make a pair of dainty slippers, Godey's was the magazine to find such advice!

At the time of the Civil War etiquette advice was very welcome, especially on births marriages and deaths.  But apart from that, Godey's paid little or no attention to matters of politics and carried on as before.  Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorn and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow all wrote articles that were published in Godeys.

The fashions were extravagant and generally intended literally for those who were leisurely ladies.  This was not a magazine for pioneering women on distant farms and lucky to have one new calico dress a year, but for ladies who aspired to wearing Paris fashions.  With any luck the latter may well have already seen all the major cities of Europe and were therefore well able to identify with the opulence of full skirted trailing gowns. New money meant new gowns!

The Civil War interrupted distribution of the magazine and there is a famous line in 'Gone With The Wind' when Scarlett O' Hara despairs for lack of a copy of the latest Godey magazine.  The Civil War disrupted distribution of all mail and letters including printed matter.  So copies were loaned and passed on to friends and family, which makes them often scarce or in poorer condition than some other magazines of the era.

As so often happened in English and other European publications, many early Godey plates were crude copies from French magazines.  Even so the colouring was done by hand, but the quality of the earlier engravings were poorer.

Later by the 1850s engraved French plates were actually imported to America for Godey's magazine. The original engraved plates would have been previously published in Paris up to eleven months earlier.  By 1861 Godey's had 150,000 regular readers and some 150 women hand colour tinted the plates with watercolours. There was no consistency with the colouring of plates and it seems a colourist would use an alternative paint colour when the first colour ran out.  For this reason Godey's pull out prints have the same engraving, but can have different coloured gowns as many different painters were employed to colour them and many used full artistic licence to get their quota completed.

You can collect original Godey prints on eBay, but do be aware that many prints are reproductions.  You can also buy many versions of reproductions of the Godey fashion plates in Dover book format usually for under $20 a book of prints as shown below. 

Anyone who collect Godey's originals and would like to see some on the site please let me know at the email below.


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This Fashion Plates Page Added 8 Oct 2005

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Some images in this section are courtesy of eBay seller Cabrio4

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