I purchased some fashion plates on a whim at the Santa Monica Book Fair.
“Fashion plates?” you are probably thinking to yourself. “Why fashion plates?”
Fashion is one of the relatively unexplored ways in which we can examine the history of American women. Books that deal with the history of American women are one of my specialties, although until now it hasn’t involved looking at what the style of clothing tells us about different periods in history. An examination of styles, fabrics, and marketing all help to reveal interesting information about economics, women’s freedom, modesty (or lack thereof), and society’s mores in a given period of time, in this case the 1920s.
These fashion plates aren’t books, I know, but they are original watercolor illustrations for what appears to be a women’s and children’s apparel catalog. The catalog copy and prices for each outfit that would have appeared with the illustration in the final catalog appears on the verso of each illustration.
Despite some time spent on research, I have been unable to find out the name of the company or the designer of the clothes. The artist signed some of the plates, “T. Garrett”. I can’t find much about him either. Strangely, I was able to determine the art store where the paper came from; it was on Wabash Avenue in Chicago. More research is probably called for. Anybody out there have any good resources for researching fashion plates? The description I’ve written so far follows the pictures, so scroll down below to read what I’ve been able to determine already.
Garrett, T. SIX ORIGINAL WATERCOLOR FASHION PLATES. Circa 1920s.
Six original watercolor fashion plates, each approx. 11”x 14” Most signed “T. Garrett”. The designs appear to have been for a catalog of women’s and girls’ fashions, as the catalog copy and prices to accompany the picture are printed on the back of each plate. Each plate features women or girls in colorful dresses, framed in a color-coordinated oval with floral design.
Prior to the 1920s, most fashion design and illustration featured clothing for the upper class. With the advent of mass production, the 1920s were an exciting time in fashion. Until the twenties, high fashion focused only on the rich. But because the straight, tubular construction of the flapper’s dress was less complicated than earlier fashions, women were much more successful at home-dressmaking. It was easier to produce up-to-date plain flapper fashions quickly using flapper fashion dress patterns. Rather than showing what the upper crust wore and the rest of society aspired to, fashion images of the twenties reflect what ordinary women really wore.
This period marked the spread of ready-to-wear fashion. More women were wage earners and did not want to spend time on fittings with a dressmaker. The status symbol aspect of fashion began to lose its importance as class distinctions became blurred. Inexpensive, mass-produced fashion also became available. Ahead of most other countries, America pioneered mass-produced clothing for women.
Additionally, Hollywood began to influence fashion for the masses, as people visited the movies and saw films with the latest fashion looks of the day. Transfixed by the new and the novel in fashion, women immediately desired the very same fashion styles, hair and make up looks as they saw on the silver screen. They believed that if they could look like the twenties movie goddesses, they too might capture some of the same glamour and be swept away by a screen idol of their very own. New dresses, which they often created themselves, were the answer. This was achievable because the styles were straight and simple in line and very easy to make at home and still achieve a good standard.
These fashion plates represent clothes real people wore in the 1920s. After the 1920s, fashion photographs began to replace fashion illustration. These six plates along with their corresponding advertising copy are remarkable examples 1920s fashion, fashion marketing, and the end of an era that required an artist to translate the designer’s vision onto paper. Near fine.
See you on the runway!