A Brief History of the Fashion Magazine Part 3

In the 16th and 17th Centuries, the most popular printed materials were newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsides. Unfortunately, in the early 18th Century, the English government realised that an awful lot of political propaganda was spread through these cheap, easily made publications, and so decided to stick a tax on them. In order to cover everything, the tax was on “single and half sheet publications.” Publishers responded to this tax by printing lengthier material less frequently, and so the magazine was born in England.

16th Century Broadside

However, other magazines had begun to appear in the late 17th century, in Germany, France, and the Netherlands. It was easier for publishers to have a regular schedule, but it would be difficult to say that the magazines they produced were particularly easy reading: they tended to be intellectual and fairly heavy going, until the publication of the Mercure Galant in 1672, combining news, pleasurable reading, and images.

The rise of female literacy rates meant a new market for publishers, too, and the Lady’s Mercury appeared in 1693, intended specifically for women: the Athenian Mercury ran an advice column that was so popular with women, a separate magazine was briefly created. It was not truly a magazine as we would recognise it today, however, being printed on two sides of a single sheet of paper. The Review, the Tatler, and the Spectator all emerged in the early 18th Century, and likewise grew offshoots aimed specifically at a female audience.

The first Fashion Magazine after the Mercure Galant, however, did not appear until 1770. The Lady’s Magazine (an offshoot of the Gentleman’s Magazine (1731-1907)) lasted until 1847, and contained detailed illustrations of clothes alongside fiction, biographies, music, medicine, and news. Middle and upper class women found it of equal appeal: the court dresses shown helped those of higher rank keep up with the fashions, while the middle ranks could attempt to emulate it on a smaller scale.

The main difference between magazines aimed at women and men in this period was the manner in which politics was treated. While men were being prepared to take military roles in upcoming wars with neighbouring countries, women were reassured that all was safe, and there was nothing to fear, so that no upset was caused in the domestic sphere.

Cabinet des Modes, 1785

While the Lady’s Magazine was varied in its material, and contained relatively few fashion plates, other magazines, such as The Gallery of Fashion (1794-1803), Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Français (1778-1787), and the Magasin des Modes Nouvelles Françaises et Anglaises (1786-1789) consisted almost entirely of fashion plates. These were (unfortunately) more expensive to produce, hence their short lifetimes, but the fashion magazine as we know it today was born!

These magazines gave very detailed descriptions, elaborating on colours, materials, styles, and how such items might be procured. Adverts for various manufactures were included, too.

Such plates could be hand tinted before distribution, coloured by hand once bought, or, more unusually, turned into “dressed prints” with colour being added through the use of fabric and glue.

While these magazines were ostensibly aimed at women (though that is not to say that they didn’t also include male fashion plates too!), they also contained a voyeuristic element for men, from the high fashion of the 1780s involving women’s breasts showing over their necklines, to the form revealing fashions of the 1790s and 1800s.

The effect of these fashion magazines was a homogenisation of European fashion. Marie Antoinette’s constant spending and ever changing styles led to them being printed every 10 days to keep up with her, and while some small regional variation remained, fashion at the end of the 18th Century was very similar all across Europe, with the same silhouettes, styles, trims, and headwear rendering it virtually impossible to tell where someone was from by their clothes. When countries were at war, efforts were made to avoid imitating the styles of the country you were fighting against, but that tended towards small details.

One notable feature of dress that remained radically different depending on location was court dress. Strict rules were in place, dictating what could be worn in front of a country’s monarch, from silhouette to train length, and such things as sleeve length and headwear varied depending on occasion and time of day. As can be seen above, the English retained the paniers of the mid 18th Century, raising them with the waistline, while the French adopted the new fashion of slim skirts.

Such magazines continue to this day in much the same manner as the first 1770 Lady’s Magazine, containing everything from fashion and news to fiction, biographies, and recipies.

For more on fashion magazines, and the history thereof, see (in no particular order:

Vogue

John L. Nevison’s “Early History of the Fashion Plate

British Library’s Article on Fashion Magazines

Articles in the Lady’s Magazine

Fashion Plates in the National Portrait Gallery

Julia Jones’s “The Fleeting Art: Fashion and Culture in Eighteenth Century France”

Matthaeus Schwarz’s Fashion Book

The Gentleman’s Magazine

The Lady’s Magazine

A Brief History of the Fashion Magazine Part 2

Louis XIV as a Young Man, Jean Nocret, 1655, Museo del Prado

The French Crown was, unfortunately for its finances, unable to tax the nobility, thanks to the law rendering them exempt. Louis XIV (or rather, his finance minister Colbert) found a clever way around this, however. By investing Crown money into the manufacture of luxury goods: silk weaving, glass blowing, and lace making, for instance, and then encouraging the nobles to spend vast quantities of money on these luxuries, it was possible to enrich the country and the state.

Fashion is to France what the gold mines of Peru are to Spain.

Jean-Baptiste Colbert
Jean-Baptiste Colbert by Philippe de Champaigne, 1655

This encouragement of consumerism met with the rise of the early newspaper, and in 1672 the combination resulted in the publication of the Mercure Galant. Published by Jean Donneau de Visé, it reported on who was wearing what when, and where different items could be bought or made.

Mercure Galant Frontispiece

The new female couturiers (who gained guild status in 1675), were able to respond to demand far quicker than the male tailors, and were helped enormously by the publication of this magazine. Between them, trends could be set far more quickly, and the concept of fashion “seasons” emerged. It should perhaps be mentioned that female couturiers initially gained their business from the import, appropriation, and imitation of several forms of eastern dress (including the Japanese Kimono and the Indian Jama), but I’ll deal with that in more detail in a separate post.

Habit d’Hiver, Mercure Galant 1678

The Mercure Galant, while effective in its spreading of French fashions and the concept of the seasons, was the only one of its kind for nearly a century after its first publication. It did, however, cement France as a centre of fashion in Europe, something that Colbert had always been working towards.

Habit d’Este, Mercure Galant, April 1676

A Brief History of the Fashion Magazine Part 1

In the 16th Century, communication was relatively slow and fashions changed equally slowly. They tended toward very specific regional styles: you can see in the above map that the countries around Germany favour lots of pleats, while the Dutch and Flemish have large, dark hoods, and the English women have fitted gowns that are open down the front. Headwear in particular is different all across the map.

Upper class fashion aimed to imitate the monarch, and monarchs were often the ones who imported new fashions through their marriages, or increased the extremes of fashions through their wealth. Part of the reason for such distinct styles was the fact that the printing press had only relatively recently been invented. Through the 16th Century, a few books appeared detailing patterns for tailors, but these retained the regional styles, and were very much aimed at tailors – not the general public.

Embroidery books did exist from the 1520s onwards, with different patterns for different styles of embroidery and (later) lace. These could be used by ladies undertaking domestic sewing for pleasure as well as professional embroiderers. The fact that the patterns within these books were much plagiarised led to some commonality in the embroidery and laces across Europe, but not clothing as a whole. At this point there was no concept of a fashion magazine.

Books with clothing illustrated in them certainly existed, but they served more as a way of showing differences in regional dress. Lucas van de Heere’s book is an example of this. The one major exception to books illustrating the differences between regional dress is the book of Matthaeus Schwarz of Augsburg, which detailed each and every set of clothes he ever bought (now published as the First Book of Fashion).

While Schwarz’s book was certainly accurate, since its whole purpose was to detail his clothes as he bought them across 40 years, books of costume showing the clothes of different countries relied on letters and accounts of travellers. Such descriptions of clothes were often lacking, and so the books tended to be somewhat less accurate. Compare the painting of an English woman from 1567 with the woodcut of an English lady! The foreign interpretation is radically different to the reality.

The silhouette is relatively accurate, but there have certainly been some creative liberties taken. The headdress is not something I’ve seen anywhere in mid 16th century fashion, and the hoops of the farthingale showing would only be accurate for late 15th century Spain. The partlet and small neck ruff seem reasonably, but the neckline of the gown is bizarre. The wrist ruffs with the cuffs seem an odd combination, and the muff hanging from her girdle is ridiculously small. The slashing on her bodice seems very large, but not impossible: I have seen similar slashing on slightly later bodices. All in all, it’s an image that seems to have been created by someone who didn’t know what they were looking at or (more likely) didn’t have anything to look at!

One notable exception to the lack of fashion magazines was in Italy. Printed images were produced showing hairstyles, and while the intention was to show the hair styles of different places, women would use them as inspiration for dressing their own hair. This is something we know thanks to a few lines in a play by Ben Johnson:

Philautia:…What, have you changed your head-tire?

Phantaste: Yes, faith, the other was near the common, it had no extraordinary grace; besides, I had worn it almost a day, in good troth.

Philautia: I’ll be swon, this is most excellent for the device, and rare; ’tis after the Italian print we looked on t’other night.

Ben Jonson’s Cynthia’s Revels, first acted in 1600. Philautia addresses her friend Phantaste (Act 2, scene 1)

Part 2: Louis XIV’s Bright Idea