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A fashion plate is an illustration (a plate) demonstrating the highlights of fashionable styles of clothing. Fashion plates are not depictions of specific people, but are instead generalized portraits, meant only to dictate the style of clothes that a tailor, dressmaker, or store could make or sell, or to show how different materials could be made up into clothes.
Used figuratively, as is most often the case, the term is a reference to a person whose dress conforms to the latest fashions.
This method of disseminating fashionable styles was popular during the 19th and early 20th centuries, but fashion plates can trace their origins to the 16th century, even if ithe history may not be continuous.Portraits, especially royal portraits, served as the base for the future of fashion plates, as they offered a visual cue as to the popular styles, fabrics and embellishments of the time. Dolls were also popular prior to fashion plates, as Marie Antoinette's dressmaker was known to tour the continent every year with berlines containing dolls outfitted with the latest fashionable styles. Fashion plates, as they were known during the height of their popularity, were first circulated at the end of the 18th century in England, rather than in France, as would be expected. "The Lady's Magazine", one of the first distributors of fashion plates in magazines, began publishing in 1770, spreading the trend across Europe. In France, "La Galerie des Modes" was a pioneer in fashion plate publication, and magazines were distributed irregularly during 1778 and 1787. As technology improved, speed of communication and transportation increased, thus allowing consumers access to foreign fashions, accessories and hairstyles. The introduction of an educated middle class also allowed for a more fashion-conscious population that became devoted to fashion plate publications. However, the increasing popularity of photography spelled out the end for fashion plates, as photos offered a realistic portrayal of fashionable styles.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Tomy revived the concept as a toy marketed simply as Fashion Plates.
Not to be confused with fashion plates, costume plates depict garments "after the event", that is, after the epoch of the fashionable style. "Le Monument de Costume" of Freudenberg and Moreau le Jeune, published in Paris between 1775 and 1783, consisted of costume plates.
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