Read It and Wear

By Erin Feith, Research Assistant
July 18, 2023

“Godey’s Americanized Paris Fashions”, 1851

In the mid-19th Century, couture-inspired trends came “haute” off the presses in the form of fashion periodicals. Read and followed across the country by American women of all backgrounds, ladies’ magazines became the dominant vehicle through which the latest trends were disseminated to the masses.

One of the first leading names was Godey’s Lady’s Book, which offered fiction, poetry, essays, domestic topics, and perhaps most popularly, colored fashion plates. Often drawn directly from French publications, Godey’s fashion plates helped keep the magazine as one of the most widely read publications in the nation, and Godey’s subscriptions rose steadily from 10,000 in 1839 to 150,000 by 1860.

Demorest’s Monthly Magazine, July 1880

Another well-known ladies’ magazine that brought the hottest new designs to American women by 1860 came courtesy of Ellen Curtis Demorest, or “Madame Demorest.” Along with her husband, she published five different periodicals (including Madame Demorest’s Mirror of Fashion), sold sewing machines, and produced over 3 million patterns annually. Perhaps the most popular offering, Madame Demorest’s patterns could also be adapted to any measurements with the help of a drafting system she devised. These only gained further attention because of the individuality they afforded, as patterns for different garment elements could be purchased separately.

Access to trends via ladies’ magazines exploded by the 1890s with the beginning of the Post Office’s Rural Free Delivery System, which made it possible for them to reach more remote areas. This development coupled with the incorporation of fashion illustrations in newspapers, enabled styles to be shared almost anywhere in the United States within a year of its debut in Paris. In this way, even those in far flung corners of the country could keep their finger on the pulse of the rapidly changing fashion industry.

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