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Fashion from the sixteenth to nineteenth century

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Fashion
Wordcount: 2233 words Published: 27th Feb 2017

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Fashion, which was a norm only used to describe upper class people between 13th Century and 16th Century, was dominated by court and aristocracy. At the beginning of 17th Century, which is also known as the end of European Renaissance, clothing represented the social standing of the wearer. The dressing code could be used to distinguish classes. It is believed that during the Renaissance, fashion was experiencing a lot of transformation in terms of colour, clothes and accessories (Jones 2000). Some people argued that Renaissance is the turning point of fashion since it reflected changes in self-esteem, erotic appeal or social advancement (Rublack 2011). In the meantime, lower class started to acquire status by adopting the clothing styles of the upper class, fashion became widely interested. Therefore, it is important to understand the fashion development since 17th Century. This paper first discusses the fashion plate, which is considered to be the first fashion magazine and early form of fashion. Secondly, it discusses the development of printing technology and its effects on fashion dissemination. Then it illustrates modern fashion disseminations including Internet, television and other social media and their influences.

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Fashion plate is defined as illustrations of clothing fashion or style, originated as early as 16th Century (Nevinson 1967). The original fashion plate was in a form of either drawing or engraving of clothes, accessories and shoes on metal plates (Holland 1955). Initially, it was used in portraiture of nobility and aristocracy (Nevinson 1967). Loyal families drew portraits and clothes on the fashion plates and sent them away to other loyal families as display of marriageable members (Nevinson 1967). With the development of fashion plate and fashion, at the beginning of 17th Century, fashion plate becomes the most effective way to promote fashion workshops in Europe (Steele 2005). People distributed fashion plate to convey fashionable information around Europe. Shop owners sent fashion plates by messengers to potential clients while friends and relatives sent each other fashion plate for comparisons and communications. Fashion plate is also regarded as the earliest form of fashion magazine since the popularity of fashion plates led some publishers to use fashion plates as their publications materials to demonstrate trends and clothes instead of using plain text (Holland, 1955).

However, fashion plate did not occur at a systematic level until 18th Century when weekly publications such as the Lady’s Magazine, La Belle Assemblee, and Les Modes Parisiennes became widespread and publications became massive. At the beginning, fashion plates only depicted fashion information and predicted fashion to those who could afford. With the development of economy and technology, fashion plates soon became popular even within lower class people. Although fashion plates were pricy, people showed strong interest in them. It was the mainstream medium of fashion dissemination until the early 20th Century when printing became dominant. Fashion plate remained on fashion stage for another significant period of time until late 20th Century when other social media such as television and Internet became popular. Today it is regarded as fine art collection and most of them have the value of research study.

Another development of fashion dissemination is the invention of printing. Fashion information was delivered by printed paper ever since the invention of printing press. However, formal publication started only in 17th Century when the French publication Mercure de France was published. Mercure de France was a significant development since it was considered the first gazette and literary magazine (DeJean 2005). It played an important role in the dissemination of fashion news, fashion stories, and reviews of the latest fashion. But due to relatively slow improvement in fashion itself, weekly publication seems to be too fast and unnecessary. Fashion plates, which could be preserved over a significant time and transported multiple times, were easier to accepted by the social perception (Nevinson 1967).

The real improvement in print production started in the nineteenth century when steam power press became available. The magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book quickly became a large circulation in the country (Nevinson 1967). Massive fashion production by printing press flourished the second time after the transition to rolled paper, which significantly improve the paper feeding speed and printing speed. The invention of lithography, which is regarded as another important improvement, enabled artists and designers to print their drawings and illustration any smooth surface. Since lithograph can print on all surfaces, fashion plates started to die off from the market simply because it was too pricy for most of the people. For textile and clothing fashion, under the impulse of evolution in printing technology, the printing became an industrial process which significantly decreased the price of textile and clothes. In contemporary fashion, variety of prints could be identified. It became the trademark of a diversity of designers such as handbags and clothes. The printing technology started with simple printing press, has experience uncountable developments, today, it is still the mainstream platform of fashion dissemination.

But the biggest step forward happened when half tone printing technology was invented. The invention of half tone printing allowed people printed photographs together with text without affecting their quality. This new technology gave birth of the modern fashion magazine. In the 1820s, the first photography was developed (Hirsch 2000). Fashion photography appeared first time in a French magazine. In 1909, Vogue magazine was took over by Condé Nast, which contributed significantly to the era of fashion photography (Angeletti 2012). In 1911, photographer Edward Steichen promote fashion as fine art by the collection of photography (Niven 1997). Paris was the centre of the fashion photography at that time. Fashion photograph has generated some of the most influential materials. Although fashion was developing slowly during World War I and World War II, there continuous to be growing numbers of women increased in fashion information. Magazines and newspapers, which contained a lot of photographs, began to cater to the lower classes in cheaper, specialise and accessible manners. By the 1960s, fashion magazines became more specialised while photography became the ideal medium for recording and disseminating the fashion information.

Changes in the fashion dissemination in the 20th century were facilitated by new methods and approaches, mainly because of the evolution in technologies. More people were seeking more convenient ways to follow the trend. These new mediums such as Internet and TV created new access to fashion information and changed the ways people create fashions.

Film, as another mainstream presentation of fashion, became popular during the Great Depression (Barthes 2010). However, due to the limitation of technology, film did not improve a lot until late 20th Century. The fashion elements in film include clothes, make-ups, accessories, bags, and even cars. While films are representing themes in virtual world, most of the elements can be used to predict fashions once a particular film becomes popular (McNeil 2009). In the late 20th century movie stars began to establish their role as the fashion elite by stapling fashion design labels in their daily life. For instance, Audrey Hepburn fashion icons include fitted pants, oversized sunglasses and little black dress affected women wear still today. Another example is the car collections in James Bond’s movie series had lead car collection fashion over decades. Victoria Beckham, who had transformed herself from singer to fashion designer and businesswoman, is leading the women fashion in different fields.

Another important fashion dissemination tool, television, began to compete with film as a medium of fashion from the mid-20th Century (McNeil 2009). The advent of the video clips had introduced another approach for fashion. Since film is much longer than video clip or music video clip, it is hard for people to find a particular piece of information throughout the whole film, and it is obviously impossible to repeat the film over and over again, TV has its own advantages than film. Commercials and advertisement can be broadcasted on TV repeatedly with a reasonable cost.

With the invention of cable and digital networks, today traditional media have been assigned with different meanings. The improvement of Internet provided increasing amounts of information to people. Internet TV could reach all levels of society and more fashion information than conventional way. A variety of formats including news, magazines and other forms of fashion dissemination are transforming into digital way. The social networking has enabled a faster fashion diffuseness. Celebrities, fashion designers and other fashion related parties started using social media as their primary dissemination tool. With the impacts of new technology, fashion is experiencing faster evolution than ever.

In conclusion, the development of fashion between 17th Century and 19th Century was slow due to the limitation of technology. Fashion plate was the mainstream dissemination tool from 17th to 19th century. With the industry revolution, fashion dissemination had extended magazines and newspaper. The development of technology had empowered fashion dissemination a cheaper and convenient approach. However, it was until the invention of film and photography could fashion become widely spread. Throughout the 20th century, the social media’s role in the fashion dissemination process has become more and more important. The concept and understanding of fashion became integrated with digital technology.


Angeletti, N. O. A. W. A. 2012, In Vogue : the illustrated history of the world’s most famous fashion magazine, Rizzoli : Distributed in the U.S. trade by Random House, New York.

Barthes, R. 2010, The fashion system, Vintage Classic, London.

DeJean, J. E. 2005, The essence of style : how the French invented high fashion, fine food, chic cafés, style, sophistication, and glamour, Free Press, New York.

Hirsch, R. 2000, Seizing the light : a history of photography, McGraw-Hill, Boston.

Holland, V. B. 1955, Hand coloured fashion plates, 1770 to 1899, Batsford, London.

Jones, A. R. S. P. 2000, Renaissance clothing and the materials of memory, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge [England]; New York.

McNeil, P. K. V. C. C. 2009, Fashion in fiction : text and clothing in literature, film, and television, Berg, Oxford, UK; New York.

Nevinson, J. L. 1967, Origin and early history of the fashion plate, Smithsonian Press, Washington, D.C.

Niven, P. 1997, Steichen : a biography, Clarkson Potter, New York.

Rublack, U. 2011, “Renaissance fashion: The birth of power dressing”, History Today, vol. 61, no.1.

Steele, V. 2005, Encyclopedia of clothing and fashion, Charles Scribner’s Sons, Farmington Hills, MI.


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