18th and 19th Century Fashion Magazines
As an author working on stories set during the French Revolution and the Victorian period, I needed visual references in order to understand the 18th and 19th century fashion and properly depict the clothing of my characters. This is how I ended up researching the fashion magazines of those times, which can serve as a great inspiration source.
These are only a few selections. The real number of fashion magazines, especially in the second half of the 19th century, was way bigger. I should also mention that this blog post will focus only on French and British magazines, since my stories are set in Paris and London.
The first magazine to be recognized as fashion magazine in the world was Cabinet des Modes ou les Modes Nouvelles, published in Paris between 1785 and 1789, and edited by Jean Antoine Brun. It was issued once in fifteen days, had eight pages, and included information about the fashion etiquette, along with colored illustrations of clothes, accessories, house furnishings, and advertising for various tailors and dressmakers.
Like all the early fashion magazines, Cabinet des Modes was subscription based. It soon became a huge success, with over 800 subscribers in its first year. The main reason was its affordable price, which made it a favorite of the middle-class women as well. In 1789, its publication ceased, and it reappeared in 1790 under the name of Journal de la Mode et du Goût, until 1793. Some issues from 1785 and 1786 are available for browsing on the Gallica website.
Le Journal des Dames et des Modes was published in Paris between 1797 and 1839. It replaced the Journal de la Mode et du Goût, being the second oldest fashion magazine in France. More plates are available on Rijks Museum’s website.
In England, one of the earliest – and most famous – magazines for women was La Belle Assemblée, founded by John Bell and published between 1806 and 1837. It included a fashion section and targeted women from the high society, aiming at presenting the latest trends in fashion.
More fashion plates from the magazine are available for browsing on the National Portrait Gallery’s website.
While, during the early 19th century, fashion magazines were not exactly the most widespread item, what really changed this state of things was the affordability of the sewing machines starting with the mid-19th century – which also brought a new trend: advertising for sewing machine brands.
Women started making their own clothes at home, and the direct result was a huge increase of the number and diversity of fashion magazines. The covers and the illustrations started to be more elaborate, colorful and diverse, also covering men’s and children’s fashion. Many of these magazines also had foreign editions, due to their popularity.
Let’s see some examples in chronological order.
Le Follet – published in Paris between 1829 and 1892.
Journal des Demoiselles – published in Paris between 1833 and 1922. In 1865 it already had four editions.
The Ladies’ Gazette of Fashion – published between 1842 and 1894 in London.
The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine was the first English magazine to make dress patterns available to a middle-class mass audience. Published in London between 1852 and 1879 by Samuel Beeton and his wife Isabella – famous for her household management books – the magazine proved a huge success because of the price and the content offered – not only fashion plates, but also household management tips and advice. Later, the magazine shifted towards a wealthier target audience, which had as direct result a price increase. Nevertheless, The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine remains the first English cheap fashion paper for a wider readership.
La Mode Illustrée – published in Paris between 1860 and 1937. It was the first French weekly fashion magazine, and the French equivalent of The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, as it targeted mainly young women of the middle-class. It was so successful that it had many subscribers not only in France, but in England and the United States as well.
The Young Ladies’ Journal – published in London between 1864 and 1920. Its audience consisted of young middle-class women and was focused on fashion.
La Saison, Journal Illustré des Dames – published in Paris between 1867 and 1902.
Weldon’s Ladies’ Journal – founded by the British chemist and journalist Walter Weldon and published between 1875 and 1954. It was famous especially for its dress patterns.
The 18th and 19th century fashion magazines didn’t focus on women exclusively. They contained colored plates focused on men’s fashion as well.