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Fashion, The High Life, and "The Duties of Married Females": 19th Century Fashion-Plate Magazines


Gallery of Fashion (1799)The Art & Architecture Collection has a large collection of women’s (and some men’s) 19th century fashion-plate periodicals. While French fashion dominated the 19th century this post features a selection of magazines from England, America and Sweden. French periodicals in the collection will be featured in a separate post. Many non-French publications sometimes featured bound-in French plates and full dress patterns on tissue from French pattern publishers. Because of rapid advances in printing technology, periodical publishing, along with book publishing, took off in the 19th century from a few dozen magazines in the early 1800s to a few thousand by the turn of the 20th century. The following magazines are a small sampling of what the Art & Architecture Collection has to offer from its large and diverse collection of original 19th century periodicals in both plate-only bound collections and full text/plate versions. They present not only a fascinating view of the development of fashion but of illustration as well.

 morning dress (1795) mourning dress 1797Two of the earliest 19th century English fashion plate periodicals in the collection are a turn of the century publication called Gallery of Fashion (1794-1803. London: N. Heideloff) and a publication that followed a few years later called Records of Fashion and Court Elegance (1807-1809. London: Published under the direction of Mrs. Fiske by J. Shaw, Printers). Subscribers to the first volume of the Gallery of Fashion included Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal, their Royal Highnesses Princesses Augusta and Elizabeth, and the Duchess of York. Included on the list of foreign subscribers was "Her Majesty the Empress of Germany." High quality hand colored engravings of morning and mourning dress, riding dress, afternoon dress, and court dress each with text were featured in each issue.

Records of Fashion (1808)Rural DressEvening Dress

The Art & Architecture Collection’s bound collection of issues of Records of Fashion is one of only three copies listed in WorldCat in the United States and the only copy listed in New York City. It features lovely hand colored engravings of young women wearing the latest fashions with extensive descriptive text accompanying each plate. The illustrations are simple but charming and more stylized than in some of the periodicals that came later. These are sketches of women with personality that made eye contact and engaged the viewer – which many fashion illustrations of the 19th century did not.  The publication also offered some songs and poetry, music and theater news, and the “Journal of Polite Intelligence”, “Courtly Events”, and “Private Assemblages” (in other words: gossip columns). The “Private Assemblages” column reported on “a grand assembly of the Marchioness of Stafford” held in dangerously inclement weather noting that “the noble Lady…did not forget the exposed domestics and they were regaled with not less than eight hogsheads of porter.” [A wine hogshead contains approximately 79 US gallons]. Records of Fashion is from an era when most women’s dresses were long, loose, high-waisted garments inspired by Greek classicism often described as “Regency” or “Empire.” They appear to be reasonably comfortable garments requiring only soft stays if anything. The garments did not impede a woman’s movement or compromise her health like those that would come to dominate fashion during the 1830s with corsets and crinolines, and later with bustles and straight silhouettes that encumbered movement. (As early as 1827 corsets were described as “slow and fashionable poison”).

 Walking Dress (1818)La Belle Assemblée or Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine addressed particularly to Ladies. (1806-1847. London). It is difficult to discuss La Belle Assemblée and the World of Fashion without mentioning the role of Mrs. Mary Ann Bell. Although she is generally acknowledged to be the wife of John Bell, the publisher who at times owned both magazines, she is not mentioned in his biography in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Whatever the relationship, up to 1821 while Bell owned the magazine, Mrs. Bell was not only its fashion editor but the owner of a Bloomsbury shop called “Magazin de Modes” that supplied the fashions, fabric, and accessories presented in La Belle Assemblée. The magazine was sold in 1821 but Mrs. Bell resurfaced about three years later as the fashion editor of The World of Fashion and Continental Feuilletons (1824-1851), which at that time was also owned and published by John Bell. At this point her shop had moved to St. James and still offered the French fashions that were featured in The World of Fashion and Continental Feuilletons. While it is unfortunate that these publications were also used as vehicles to promote a dress shop, they are no less an important record of the fashions of the era. After Mrs. Bell’s departure from La Belle Assemblée, the magazine devoted more coverage to the wardrobes of various members of the aristocracy as well as current Paris fashion with no recorded commercial tie-in.

The World of Fashion and Continental Feuilletons (1838)

Ladies Monthly Magazine (1850s)Ladies Monthly Magazine (1867)The World of Fashion and Continental Feuilletons (London: Mr. Bell) was a monthly magazine that was published from 1824-1851. It was principally a fashion magazine with an abundance of hand-colored steel engravings of ladies’ fashions though it also featured articles on literature, music, fine arts and “gossip and the gaieties of High Life”.  In 1852 it merged with The Ladies’ Monthly Magazine and from 1852-1879 it was known as Ladies’ Monthly Magazine, the World of Fashion, Journal of Fashion, Literature, Music, the Opera, and the Theatres.  This configuration was heavily illustrated with elaborate high quality colored plates in rich, jewel-like colors with multiple figures wearing the latest fashion. It also occasionally featured full-size dress patterns. As in The World of Fashion, this publication offered fine arts, opera, and theater reviews, serialized romantic fiction (i.e. “The Master of Hearts”, “The Emperor and the Dancing Master”), and a regular column on the doings of the aristocracy and the Royal Family. “The Court and High Life” and “History of the Peerage” (profiling a different peer each month!) were regular features. Both incarnations of the publications are known for the quality of their plates which set a high standard in fashion periodicals of the time.

 Hair yellow hat Promenade

Le Vicomte D’ArlincourtThe Ladies Pocket Magazine. Jan. 1824-1840 monthly (London: J. Robins & Co.). Obviously a smaller format compared to other ladies magazines, the early issues featured engravings of prominent men of the day facing the title page not unlike pinups. Volume one had an engraving of Lord Byron; another issue had Le Vicomte D’Arlincourt, and another Sir Walter Scott. Besides fashions of the day and gossip, there was an assortment of fiction, poetry and articles such as “Paoli, the Corsican Patriot”, “The Science of Gloveology” and “The Duties of Married Females” which offered this advice:  “The greatest felicity we can desire in this life is contentment. If we aim at anything higher we shall be greatly disappointed. A wife must endeavor to attain this essential virtue.” The fashion plates are hand colored and sometimes busy pieces with multiple dresses, hairstyles and hats on the same plate. At other times a full plate was devoted to hats or hairstyles with elaborate, often bizarre, ornamentation. The literary content of this magazine has been described as better than its fashion content by some though that was not my experience.

Gentleman’s Magazine of FashionsGentleman’s Magazine of Fashions (1828)Gentleman’s Magazine of Fashions

There were also publications devoted to men’s dress. Gentlemen’s general interest magazines had been around since 1731 when The Gentleman’s Magazine was first published in London. However it was during the 19th century that men’s magazines with fashion plates were introduced.

Gentleman’s Magazine of Fashions, Fancy Costumes, and the Regimentals of the Army, Splendidly Embellished 1828-1894. (London: Mr. Bell) This gentlemen’s magazine was also the product of Mr. Bell and listed the same address across from St. James Palace as the World of Fashion. The title page informs the reader that “The Fashions are by English, German, and French tailors of the first eminence”.  There were also articles on theater and actors, poetry, gentlemen’s fashion observations, deportment, uniforms, and sport.  “As a passport to good society, dress is equally necessary with address.” Other advice for a gentleman included “…his tailor is quite as necessary an ally as even his schoolmaster.” “Pupil of Fashion stand up!”  Indeed. It featured not only designs for all sorts of day and night wear (including fancy-dress costumes) but designs for “Regimentals” – uniforms for Army officers. Also covered were “Sports and Sportsmen” a regular column which noted that “Those Sports – which whilst they contribute to the health, activity, good humor and manliness of Englishmen…are…ardently followed by gentlemen.”

Also of interest:  The Gentleman’s Pocket Magazine and Album of literature and fine arts. (1827-1832. London)

Godey's Lady's BookGodey's (1850)Across the pond there were a number of important women’s fashion plate magazines as well. The most successful and probably best remembered today, was Godey’s Lady’s Book published in Philadelphia from 1830-1898 by Louis A. Godey (there is no record of a wife owning a dress shop). Besides fashion it published a significant number of important American writers such as Nathanial Hawthorne and Edgar Allen Poe and also many women such as Harriet Beecher Stowe. Its fashion pages usually included a pattern each month along with sheet music, short stories, history, poetry, recipes and remedies.  It is more text focused than many fashion magazines of the time. There are a number of online resources available for this publication which are accessible through its NYPL Catalog entries.

Monitor of Fashion (1854)The Monitor of Fashion (1853-1854) was the New York based version of Moniteur de la Mode, an important French fashion periodical. It was published by Genio C. Scott at 130 Broadway and featured “Numerous Engravings in the First Style of the Art”. An annual subscription cost three dollars. The Monitor of Fashiontext was in English though the plates were created in Paris as were the full size dress patterns on tissue that were bound into each issue. Gossip from Paris (“Lent has been very dull this year…”) appeared along with the fashion reporting, as did a regular column called “Gems of Thought” which offered items like “Graves are the footprints of the angel of eternal life” to ponder. Perhaps it sounds better in French.

Other American fashion plate periodicals include:

Mme Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions

Mme Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions. (1860-1863. New York). This publication was the creation of milliner, abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Ellen Louise Demorest and her husband William Jennings Demorest, a well-to-do merchant. They ran a successful business in New York City publishing patterns and used the Mirror of Fashions as a catalog of their patterns for women and children. The black and white magazine also featured songs and music, poetry, short stories, non-fiction, and advertising for everything from French corsets and hoop skirts to pianos, organs and clothes wringers.

Mme DemorestMme DemorestMme Demorest

Also worth a look: Ladies Literary Magazine or Weekly Repository. Philadelphia: HC Lewis 1817-1818. Available online and in the Art & Architecture Collection.

Magasin for KonstAlthough for most people Sweden isn’t the first place that comes Magasin for Konstto mind when thinking of 19th century fashion publications, the Art & Architecture Collection’s copies of the Swedish Magasin för Konst, Nyheter och Moder [Magazine for Art, News and Fashion]. (Monthly 1823-1844. Stockholm: Tryckt hos Carl Deleen) are an illuminating experience. The 21volumes in the Art & Architecture Collection are one of only five complete sets in the United States and the only complete set in New York. The Magasin is considered a Swedish cultural icon and an important forerunner to later periodicals. It is probably most analogous to the English publication The Repository as regards the calibre Magasin for Konstof writing and art, and the diversity of subject matter. It featured not only high quality hand-colored fashion plates but designs for playing cards (usually bawdy), rebuses, politically focused satirical pieces, music and lyrics, short stories, humor pieces, travel and history pieces (which often focused on graves), music and theater reviews, cultural items, biographies, Paris fashion news, embroidery patterns - some with hand colored swatches, and furniture and décor all accompanied by hand-colored plates, black and white engravings, and aquatints, often presented as fold out illustrations. The art work is of uniformly high quality. An interesting feature of the fashion illustrations is that they regularlyMagasin for Konst featured men and women together at a time when most magazines featured men and women separately.  Magasin for Konst

[Thank you Kathie Coblentz for all of your help with translations!]

Those are just a few of the many fashion-plate periodicals from the 19th century available in the Art and Architecture Reading Room of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. There are also plate-only volumes available in addition Magasin for Konstto the bound copies of complete issues. For any questions or queries please email us at Many of these periodicals are available in digital format online. Please refer to the NYPL Catalog entries for links to web sites such as the Hathi Trust and others.


Adburgham, A. (1972) Women in print: writing women and women's magazines from the Restoration to the accession of Victoria. London: Allen and Unwin, 1972.  JFE 03-354

Adburgham, A. (1983). Silver fork society: Fashionable life and literature from 1814 to 1840. London: Constable.  JFD 84-1442

Chondra, J.,ed. (2008). The Greenwood encyclopedia of clothing through world history. (Volume 3: 1801 to the present). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. *R-ART GT507 .G74 2008

History of publishing”. (2014) Encyclopaedia Britannica online.


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working class women fashion

I wonder about clothes used by women who didn´t belong to high society. Did they have their own fashion or just imitated the ladies? Is there any book about what these women used to dress?

Working women's Victorian dress

Hi - that is a very valid question. So many people who are interested in 19th century fashion assume that everyone dressed like the fashion plates, or that every woman was a great seamstress. Not true. Middle and working class clothing is not usually available for us to study because it was worn out or cut apart and recycled during its lifetime. Another common misconception: the sewing machine immediately revolutionized mid-19th century women's clothing. Yes: they came on the market for home use in the late 1850s. But until after the Civil War (when manufacturing was directed toward the war effort, not the fashion industry) they were not in wide use for a couple of reasons. First, women's bodices required sewing lots and lots of curved seams, which took inventors a while to perfect. The straight seams on men's clothing were much more easily done by machine. However, there are many documented instances of the military rejecting contracted machine-made uniforms because the seams simply came apart on the first wearing. Machines or no machines, rich women never sewed their own clothes. Period. They just didn't. That was what dressmakers were for. They might sew for their children, or for their servants or for charity. But not for themselves. Second, until Butterick perfected full sized patterns after the war, the process of enlarging the tiny, vague shapes that passed for patterns in magazines - and then fitting them - was very complicated. Luckily, sewing was the only real employment open to women until the very end of the century. So there were really dressmakers or seamstresses available on all economic levels except for the very poor. Who, as is usually the case, got by with what they could. Racks of women's ready-to-wear clothing in standardized sizes were NOT the norm until after WWI when styles finally became simple enough to mass produce them. Yes: high-class city shops did begin advertising "made up pieces" as early as the Civil War. But they weren't ready to wear. They were more like . . . half made: with seam allowances left open so they could be fitted quickly when purchased. In cities, there was a thriving market for used clothing. But no respectable women wanted to be accused of dressing "out of her class" OR of wearing identifiable used dresses. So the used dresses of the very elite were usually made over, re-styled, dyed, simplified - whatever, to suit their new owners. Nothing would mark a woman as "loose" or "low" faster than parading around town in clothing she obviously couldn't afford - or in broad daylight in cast-off evening finery. But it obviously happened. Another historical inaccuracy: the fashion magazines - as they are today - were aimed at YOUNG rich women. Dresses and gowns in bright, vibrant colors were only worn by single women. And primarily at night. Once a woman married or entered her late-20s - early 30s, she might still wear rich fabrics with ornate decoration: but they were in sedate, neutral tones with high necks and long sleeves. Of course, there is an ironic side to this story. The richer you were, the more bad taste you could get away with. If a 50 year old uber-wealthy woman wanted to wear roses in her hair and a white ballgown cut to her cleavage, chances are few would call her on it. At least to her face. Very poor women were invisible anyway. It was middle-class women who were scrutinized most closely for dress and demeanor. And if they had any aspirations of becoming upper class, they policed themselves very carefully. Just to give you an idea of how class affected wardrobe, a period magazine writing about traveling observed that a "fortunate" woman would pack 60 gowns, while her middle-class sister would have to "make do" with six. Obviously this was not a concern to poor women who had only one dress and who didn't travel anyway.

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