Kaleidoscope of Fashion

French fashion in 1920 from La mode féminine

Spring is here, which means sun and warm weather! Perhaps the only drawback to the season is that shedding winter layers means actually having to plan outfits. If you’re searching for inspiration for your spring wardrobe, look no further! We’ve gone through our collection of beautiful fashion prints which will give you that vintage and unique look you’ve always dreamed of. Fashion Plates are illustrations depicting fashionable styles of clothing, and were popular from in the 19th and early 20th centuries, before the more realistic photography fazed them out.

We pulled out a few books containing attractive historical and regional fashion plates, both hand-drawn and printed, for your viewing pleasure.


French fashion in 1784

One of the most exquisite depictions of historical fashions can be found in La mode féminine. This book from the 1920s contains 240 hand-drawn plates illustrating women’s fashion in France every year from 1490 to 1920. “Like a kaleidoscope, the eternal spin of fashion. What imagination and exquisite discoveries to embellish the woman!” (comme un kaléidoscope, l’éternel tournoiement de la mode. Que d’imagination déployée, que de trouvailles exquises pour embellir la femme!).

French fashion in 1560

French fashion in 1810

French fashion in 1490


French fashion in 1904


Another delightful example of fashion plates is Les costumes du pays de France. This book, also from the 1920s, consists of painted plates depicting women’s fashion in France. These colorful drawings focus on traditional clothing based on region.

Traditional Languedoc fashion
Traditional Aunis fashion

Traditional Normandie fashion

Traditional Poitou fashion

Traditional Provence fashion


A beautiful yet mysterious collection of fashion plates is the [Illustrated book of Italian costumes].It’s a small book, only 8 x 11.5 in., and is made of one long accordion-style folded page with hand-drawn illustrations of fashions according to identifiers such as nationality and position (for example, donna di Albano= ‘Albanian woman,’ and pescatore= ‘fisherman’). The fact that the title is bracketed means that it was created by the cataloguer rather than found on the book itself. In fact, other than the captions beneath the drawings, there is no text in or on the little book at all!

From the “Illustrated book of Italian costumes”


Portraying local historical fashion, Old New England fashions of the 1800′s re-prints drawings of apparel for ladies in 19th century New England. It exhibits and describes articles of clothing as well as ensembles for various seasons and occasions, such as late winter and promenades.

Furs in 19th century New England

Spring fashion in 19th century New England

November fashion in 19th century New England

Promenade fashion in 19th century New England

Late winter fashion in 19th century New England


In Four hundred years of children’s costume from the great masters, Macquoid reproduces plates from great paintings that depict children’s clothing from the past 400 years. Before fashion plates themselves became popular, portraiture and paintings such as these were key demonstrators of prevailing fashions of the times. Realistic reproductions of people in ordinary clothes were rare until the 19th century, and paintings often depict the best clothes of the upper classes. In earlier periods, children were often treated as mini-adults, and dressed in smaller versions of the same clothes an adult of their class would wear.

Late 18th century children’s fashion
Mid 15th century children’s fashion

Early 17th century children's fashion

Check out our online catalog, or make an appointment to see these and other books! For more interesting fashion, be sure to check out the World of Wearable Art exhibition at the PEM in the Special Exhibitions Galleries through June 11, 2017.

Mid 17th century princess fashion



Dyer, Roz. Old New England fashions of the 1800′s : drawn from actual articles of costumes with appropriate commentary for all seasons and occasions. Topsfield, MA : Americana Archives Pub.

[Illustrated book of Italian costumes].  S.l. : s.n., 19–?].

Keim, Aline. Les costumes du pays de France. Paris : Éditions Nilsson, [1929].

La mode féminine de 1490 à 1920. [Paris? : Nilsson?, 1926?].

Macquoid, Percy. Four hundred years of children’s costume from the great masters, 1400-1800. Boston : Hale, Cushman & Flint, [192-].

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