Instead of collecting vintage or antique fashion clothes, many people
choose to collect fashion related paper ephemera. This can include
such diverse items as costume plates, fashion plates, ladies magazines,
paper dressmaking patterns, paper fashion dolls, fashion drawings, fashion
related antiquarian books and costume or
fashion related photographs. Some of these
items can be antique, vintage or reproduction items related to the era,
but all capturing aspects of fashion through illustrations made long
I collect fashion plates of both authentic and reproduction types.
Just below is an example of
a quality hand coloured 1831 fashion plate
engraving I own and taken from the magazine La Belle Assemblée.
This print was purchased from the
eBay seller Cabrio4 who specialises in
Romantic engravings. You can read
more about the history of La Belle Assemblée and other fashion
periodicals with fashion plates in my new section coming
This hand coloured engraving (click) is from a William IVth
fashion periodical called La Belle Assemblée. It came complete
with the text, a fashion description of fabrics and styles
of the greatest detail for May 1831. Descriptive text is so often missing
so this was a joy to read.
24cm by 15cm, La Belle Assemblée is often much smaller than people
expect when they first buy original prints. That's
because at about 9" tall it was intended to be held
However the smallness means the engravings have a
delicacy and daintiness, making them even more attractive to
As well as having a professional interest I collect my fashion plates
purely for pleasure, based on criteria many women will understand. It's
a completely non intellectual, non academic approach most of you will recognise.
Firstly I ask myself - 'is it pretty??' Secondly if I buy
it, 'might it be the start of a new room colour scheme? Thirdly
'might it come in useful for my website?' I honestly don't mind if
it's a reproduction as long as I like the print and the quality of the
original work shines through. Some prints on offer are crude and
poorly executed, but as with most collections, with time you become more
Many people do not realise that there is a difference between a
costume plate and a fashion plate. Fashion plates promote and
publicize possible future fashions. Fashion plates are always
intended as an idea of a how a new possible fashion might be worn.
Some of the suggested fashions may never in reality ever be worn.
They are a drawing of a designer's idea and often deliberately
provocative. So fashion plates can and do often show an air of
fantasy. You can read more about fashion plate history in my
special new section soon
where you will see images and read about names of typical fashion
periodicals that carried fashion plates.
Costume plates are different in that they technically show costume as
it was worn in the past especially everyday past fashions as an
historical costume record. Such records of costume almost always
include national or theatrical dress. Costume plates are about the
fashions of the past and fashion plates are about fashion ideas in the here and now or
If you want to collect fashion or costume plates some knowledge of
the names of the original sources is useful and you will soon be able to read more about the first costume plates.
The late James Laver, fashion
historian also noted that fashion plates were already becoming scarcer by the 1940s. Once
moving film and movies arrived Hollywood and other film company costume
departments began to snap up fashion and costume plates to enable them
to reproduce costumes more accurately.
Today, it is still possible to find good fashion plates in antique
shops, but more and more of us are buying our plates from internet shops
such as those found at eBay which is an incredible resource for this
format. It still amazes me how many have survived and the internet
has opened up this easy to collect treasure for enthusiasts. In
the main I feel sales of fashion plates are one of the things eBay does
well with treasures to be found worldwide. It should be
noted that fashion plates are different from trade plates, which were
just advertisements which gave ideas on how to make up the fabric
products sold by a manufacturer.
Prices vary and are dependant on the quality and rare value of the
print. Here above and below I show two examples of fashion plate engravings bought
from eBay in March 2005, through a respected UK seller known as
They cost me £15 for the two. Of course if many others had been
bidding that day, my purchase may have cost me much much more or I may have
abandoned buying the prints altogether. However these were both a very fine
purchase and are in a
timeframe worth collecting. The detail is exquisite. On other
occasions I've paid much less or much more for a print.
One word of warning with bidding for these at eBay - don't get too
carried away until you know what you are bidding on. Fashion plates
can be like buses. You don't see many for a week or two and then just
like buses dozens appear. My advice is that to begin collecting you just
watch eBay sales of these for a few weeks if you are interested in starting a collection.
use your knowledge to gauge the going rate noting the differences between
types of plate and the variety available.
This pursuit can be an interesting and related alternative to collecting
vintage clothing. It may be used as well, to enhance a clothing collection
by helping you become more knowledgeable about style differences in
I will be adding some more of
Cabrio4's plates to the site in due course.
If you want to learn more about fashion and costume plates please visit my
new section on this topic in due course where more historical periodical
naming information can be dealt with more fully.
Fashion-Era.com looks at women's costume and fashion history and analyses the mood of an era. Changes in technology, leisure, work, cultural and moral values. Homelife and politics also
contribute to lifestyle trends, which in turn influence the clothes we wear. These are the changes that make any era of society special in relation to the study of the costume of a period.
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