Are you a slave to fashion?



In historical fiction, a writer must research clothing. But what if there aren’t any photos of your novel’s time period? Or what if all the photos are black and white? You can study portraits, of course, or descriptions of clothing by historians. But one type of resource I found helpful was the fashion plate.

Popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, the fashion plate was a lithographed or steel-engraved print illustrating fashionable styles and published alone and in periodicals. And, much like photo spreads in today’s fashion magazines, they depicted styles that were to be the new trend in clothing.

It’s easy, however, to become confused in your research. For example, in the article, “Antique Costume & Fashion Plates: Early Costume Plates History, Part 1 – 1494 to Early 1800s,” Pauline Weston Thomas of explains,

1868 Peterson's Magazine

1868 Peterson's Magazine

“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.” So it pays to be careful in your research.

The time period of my novel is the 1890s and there are plenty of black and white photographs available, but I enjoy studying fashion plates. I wonder whether women in the past would peruse magazines as I do today and think, “I wouldn’t be caught dead in that.”

“Fashion plate” has also come to mean a person who wears the latest fashion, yet I don’t hear the term used much anymore. If you’re interested in taking a look at fashion plates, which are considered works of art in themselves, there are a number of good websites devoted to historical clothing. One of the more extensive is the one I quoted from above:

1868 Peterson's Magazine

1868 Peterson's Magazine


7 Responses to Are you a slave to fashion?

  1. Meg says:

    Good point about the difference between fashion and costume plates!

  2. Tricia says:

    Yeah, I didn’t know there was a difference until I read that website. There are so many ways to get tripped up doing historical research!

  3. Kate says:

    Ooo, perfect. ^_^ I’ve been looking up all these things lately for past lives. In fact, the 1890s have been a big focus of mine, as is 1775…which is a little harder to find. Europe, not the US. I shall check this link out post-haste. ^_^

  4. Tricia says:

    Kate, I think you’ll easily find styles from 1775 on fashion-era, and earlier time periods as well. Happy researching! 😀

  5. Thanks for the good post. I have spent hours sometimes trying to track down what someone would have worn. Especially for one story set in France in 1870, I’ve never been sure of how a young boy (12 years old) would have dressed. (Unfortunately, the Impressionist painters preferred painting women and little girls and men with top hats.) But this is a good site, and I’ve book marked it for the future.

  6. Tricia says:

    Elizabeth, I’ve seen a few depictions of boys’ clothing on the site. Hope it’s helpful.

  7. Thanks! I’ll check it out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: