Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Inception of Ladies' Magazines in the Late 18th and 19th Centuries

They beckon us to enter their world; these wistful ladies dressed in pastel colored flowing dresses and ribbons, poised over cups of tea or perusing sheet music.    Hand colored fashion plates were a popular vehicle for addressing the latest fashions of the day throughout the 19th Century.    

Just what is a fashion plate?  

They were an integral part of “Ladies Magazines" popular in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries.
"The fashion plate therefore provided a series of stylized ideal dresses, often of much elegance in them selves, which will always prove an attractive reflection of what the women of the time felt to be the height of fashion." (1)     

In 1778, two print sellers in Paris, France by the names of Jacques Esnauts and Michel Rapilly, conceived the idea of issuing colored plates of the prevailing fashion of the day.(2)   These plates were issued under the title of  La Gallerie des Modes.   The plates appeared in the magazines at irregular intervals in all about twenty four plates in all. (3)     The La Gallerie des Modes broke fresh ground in presenting topics of the day that would appeal to both men and women.(4)    However, the La Gallerie des Modes ceased publication in 1787 and it wasn't until 7 years later in 1794, that The Gallery of Fashion  appeared,  intending to be a "Repository of English National Dress of Ladies".(5)    This was quickly followed in succession by a wide variety of "fashionable magazines" for both women and men alike to keep those who wished to keep up with society and the world in general "in the know".     Thus was born what became known as the "Fashion Magazine" -  from the 18th Century on up through today's 21st Century Vogue Magazine.

(1)  Holland, Vyvyan,  Hand Coloured Fashion Plates 1770 to 1899,  London, B. T. Batsford, Ltd., 1955;  pp. 33-48
(2)  Ibid., pp. 33-34
(3)  Ibid., pp. 38-39
(4)  Ibid., p. 40
(5)  Ibid., p. 41-48


Fashion Plates actually began in the 17th Century, but didn't really catch on until the beginning of the 19th Century with the onset of London's  Ladies Magazine and Museum of Belles Lettres  (1770 - 1811);   The Lady's Monthly Museum  (1798-1829); and Paris' La Belle Assemblee (1806-1868) for example.   Hand colored plates were at best, crude in the beginning and not as ornate as those printed in the middle of the 19th Century.   In Britain, The Ladies Cabinet and The Ladies Gazette of Fashion were the first to import French fashion plates.   Paris being Paris, and always being the capitol of Fashion, French plates were much desired.   Plates were actually just that; copper or metal plates engraved with the design.  These were bought (and sometimes stolen!) from French publishers and the text would then be erased and engraved with new text to facilitate the British magazines.  The Ladies Magazine was the very first to import these plates, abandoning the idea of producing their own.  At first, not all were colored.  Some were hand colored and some were not, with publishers either issuing out the plates as paid piece work to be done by women, men and children at home and returned to the publisher for minimal pay.  Other publishers had "assembly line" type production rooms where rows of men, women and children sat at long tables, each with a pot of a certain color.  One lady may be handed a plate to which she would add all the blue color; it was then passed to the next person who would paint all the green color;  it would then be passed to the next person who would add all of the yellow paint, etc.  Working as a "colorist" was popular work for ladies. 

Different plates began, over the decades to have a "life" of their own; i.e. Le Follet, a popular French plate (beautifully rendered) was extremely popular in the 1840s British Ladies Magazine as well as the American publication of Graham's Magazine, America's first fashion magazine, which was modeled on the elegant La Belle Assemblee.   Le Follet Courrier des Salons, made its appearance in 1829 and specialized in scenes of ladies at the opera and soirees.  Le Follet was one of the longest lived fashion magazines and was still around in 1899.  In the 1840s and 1850s, all the best fashion plate artists worked for Le Follet and looking at a Le Follet plate, one can see why. (1)   La Mode Illustree, another sophisticated magazine from France, noted for it's lovely, ornate plates, was one of the first magazines to make a regular feature of women's undergarments.   These were NEVER shown on a person or figure; but were discretely folded to show details of the lace and embroidery.  La Mode was published every Sunday with a circulation of about 20,000 copies.     In 1852, The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine appeared on the scene and was published at first with no colored fashion plates.  However, by 1860, Editor Samuel Beeton began to import French fashion plates from Le Moniteur de la Mode.   This was quickly followed by The Queen in 1861 which was once the oldest fashion magazine in the world, as it was still in publication in 1955.  It started as a weekly publication but the format was more of a newspaper.  It was the last British fashion magazine to retain the hand colored plate.   The Queen was also owned by Beeton but he sold it in 1862 to William Cox.    The popular American Godeys Ladies Book first appeared in July of 1830 and ran through 1898.  It utilized mostly original plates, but at first used the standard French Plates, bastardized by renaming the plates as "Godey's Americanized  Fashion Plates".  Godey's rival, Peterson's Magazine, formally Frank Leslie's Gazette of Fashion, incorporated plates from the French magazines, Le Petit Courrier and La Mode Illustree; blatently retaining the French fashion plate names.

Following is a Pertinent List of 19th Century French, British and American Fashion Magazines.  No attempt is made to list ALL magazines. 


Almanach des Modes   1814-1822
L'Echo des Modes  1820
Le Petit Modiste Francais  1822
Petit Courrier de Dames, ou Nouveau Journal des Modes   1822-1865
Le Follet, Courrier des Salons, Journal des Modes  1829-1892
La Mode, Revue des Modes  1829-1854
La Vogue  1829 - Present
Le Journal des Jeunes Personnes  1832-1863
Le Beau Monde  1833-1872
Le Journal des Demoiselles  1833 
La Musee des Familles  1833-1891
La Revue des Modes de Paris   1833-1834
Le Bon Ton - Journal des Modes  1834-1874
Le Miroir des Dames  1835-1843
La Belle Assemblee  1806
Le Petit Messenger des Modes  1843
Le Moniteur de la Mode  1843
Les Modes Parisiennes  1843-1875
Le Magasin des Demoiselles  1844-1893
Le Journal des Demoiselles  1845-1851
Le Mode Illustree  1860 - 1900


Lady's Magazine Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex   1770-1837
Fashions of London and Paris  1798-1806
Lady's Monthly Museum   1798-1832
Le Beau  Monde  1806-1810
La Belle Assembee or Bell's Court and Fashionable Magazine   1806-1868
Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufacture, Fashion and Politics  1809-1828
The World of Fashion   1824-1891
The Ladies' Pockest Magazine  1824-1840
The Ladies' Companion at Home and Abroad  1850-1870
The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine  1852-1877
The Ladies' Treasury  1858-1895
The Queen  1861
The Ladies' Cabinet   1832-1870
The Ladies' Gazette of Fashion  1842-1894
Le Petit Messenger des Modes  1843
Le Moniteur de la Mode  1843


Godey's Lady's Book   1830-1898
Ladies Companion   1840-1841
Lady's Monthly Museum   1798-1832
The Monitor of Fashion  1853-1854
Frank Leslie's Ladies' Gazette of Fashion   1854-1871
Graham's Magazine   1841
Peterson's Magazine  1848
Arthur's Home Magazine  1852

There were fewer US Fashion Magazines than those from the European sector.   Most early American periodicals utilized European plates which had been "Americanized", such as early Godey's Ladies Book; and most particularly Godey's rival, Peterson's Magazine, who almost throughout it's entire run, utilized plates from "La Modes Parisiennes".