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Evening Gowns

Just as modern women read Vogue or Mode or other magazines to keep abreast of current fashion trends, women of the 18th and 19th centuries relied on fashion plates. Since all clothing was made by hand, whether by a high-priced modiste or by one’s mother, fashion plates were an important resource to ensure that one’s wardrobe remained up-to-date and fashionable. The first significant efforts to record contemporary costume appeared in the 17th century. These were issued more for education and amusement than as an attempt to set or predict fashion trends. Most of these early costume plates were of male costume. It was not until the last quarter of the 18th century that fashion plates began to be issued, designed to guide ladies in their choice of dress. They became extremely popular during the English Regency, coincident with the publication of several magazines devoted to feminine interests. The magazines were issued in paper-bound covers, and each month’s issue generally included one or two fashion plates, along with other prints. Subscribers could return their monthly copies to the publisher for leather-bound volumes, usually in 6-month sets, or they could have them bound privately. Sometimes women would cut out the fashion plates and keep them in a scrapbook. The number of Regency-period fashion plates still available indicates that they were not thrown away, but important enough to be kept in one form or another. The prints were hand-colored, usually by teams of young girls and women, with the best artists used for

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