Monday, December 29, 2014

Les Modes Parisiennes, October 1864

Les Modes Parisiennes, October 1864
I was very surprised to receive this Les Modes Parisiennes, October 1864 fashion plate as a gift from the Kearny Museum Committee. Its story is even more surprising: apparently, a committee member was at a flea market and one vendor had chucked this fashion plate into the trash, "because it had torn edges."

This so clearly demonstrates our modern "throw away" state of mind. Forget the provenance, historical significance, and aesthetic value, it has a ripped corner so therefore it's trash! Consider that, in the first place, the damage to the plate could've been the result of mishandling or overuse. It all comes down to care and consideration when handling antique pieces!

I'm keeping the fashion plate in the plastic slip I received it in until my archival quality acid-free slips arrive!

Now, back to the fashion plate:

The fashion plate is a bit faded; the "October, 1864" is barely legible at the bottom of the plate. It has a few chunks missing from the edge.

The lady on the left is wearing what appears to be a red Zouave jacket with pom-pom trim and a pale blue or white skirt with a subtle stripe. She wears a delicate snood and a flower or bow atop her hair.

Zouave jackets were very popular in the 1850s and 1860s. These jackets are characterized by their short length, open front, large sleeves, bright colors and braided trim. Their name derives from their similarity to the military uniform worn by Zouave infantry regiment of the French Army.

The lady on the right is wearing a gown made of crisp and stunning blue silk. The jacket features a cut-away front and is worn over a light blue button-up vest. The jacket is trimmed with vandyke trim and some sort of black braid, and a lace collar is visible at the neckline. She wears a wristwatch (according to this article, wristwatches were more commonly worn by women and pocket watches worn by men) and a large, delicate lace cap. In my opinion, the whole outfit is reminiscent of 18th century styles, such as the riding habit.

The New York Public Library actually has this fashion plate in their Digital Collections. It appears that they have the rest of the 1864 Les Modes Parisiennes as well. The colors in my plate are much more vivid and bright.

Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collections

Of the two outfits in the above plate, which would you rather wear?


  1. Oh Gabriela, what a beautiful gift! I can hardly believe that someone would throw such a treasure away for mere torn edges, especially because the drawing itself is not at all damaged! You are so right when you say that this demonstrates the throw away mindset - very unfortunate for the future. Fortunate, however, that it ended up in your possession! And, I am lusting over that blue silk gown...

    1. I never thought I'd get into mid-nineteenth century costuming, but the more I look at that blue dress, the more my mind is changing! It's a beautiful and unusual design.

  2. Zouave designs probably became popular because some of the French soldiers fought on the Confederate side.
    Thank you for posting this! I too am loving the blue silk!
    Nancy an

  3. What a wonderful gift! These are always the best sort - when a person spots an item which they know will really mean something to the recipient. And what a story as well. I despair sometimes, but at least the plate is now in safe hands!

    I love the blue dress. I love blue anyway, but that jacket and vest combination is so stylish.