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Spreading Fashion

Costume books first appeared during the sixteenth century, and were widely circulated and collected. This well-known example contains 67 plates, engraved by Jean Jacques Boissard (1528-1602). Each plate shows figures from various levels of society, and re

Habitvs variarum orbis gentium ©

While there were certainly distinctive features associated with the different regions across Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there was also much commonality. One of the most important ways of spreading ideas about clothing throughout Europe was the printed image, which provided a relatively cheap and transportable way of spreading styles and designs across countries and regions.

Pattern books provided the source material for embroiderers, silk-weavers and lace-makers. Over 150 separate titles were published between 1523 and 1700 and designs were often copied between titles and across different countries. Some were printed onto squared paper and so could be resized as necessary.

Costume books first appeared during the second half of the sixteenth century and included woodcuts or etchings representing forms of national dress from a variety of countries and social classes.

The Bohemian printmaker Wenceslaus Hollar moved to England in 1637 and evidently took particular pleasure in depicting clothing and accessories. His etchings of women in clothing from different countries continued to circulate national styles of dress in the mid-seventeenth century. Examples can be seen nearby.

The natural successors to Hollar’s prints were fashion plates, the first of which were produced in France from the 1660s and which were colloquially known as ‘Les Modes’. Titles often describe the occasion for which the outfit was considered appropriate and sometimes samples of fabric were attached to the figure. Fashion plates could be taken to a tailor who would then reproduce the style.