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"New for now": an exhibition about the history of fashion magazines

Written by
November 17, 2022

As a print on demand service, Peecho caters to many self publishers who publish fashion magazines, such as CT Magazine, and Fashion Affair Magazine. The fashion industry has a rich history with respect to magazines and publishing. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam held an exhibition about this history and we went to pay a visit. Here is a report about “New for now, the origin of fashion magazines”.

The exhibition was held in the Philips Wing of the museum and it was set up beautifully. There were over 300 prints on display that took us through the changes in female and male fashion. It started at the 17th century, through to the first half of the twentieth century and right up to the development of fashion magazines and fashion glossies. Thus, the exhibition was not only about the history of fashion magazines, it also showed the history of fashion itself.

The thing about fashion is: One day you’re in and the next you’re out. So, how did people keep up with fashion trends in the past? Before photography came into being, fashion was mostly shown on coloured and drawn prints. On most of these prints a short description was also added. Because of that, these fashion prints are seen as the forerunners of current fashion magazines.

The very first fashion magazine

In the beginning of the 18th century there were series of fashion prints available that reported what was fashionable on the streets. These explained what was worn and how certain accessories should be carried. For example, the so-called ‘tricorne hats’ for the men of that time were never actually worn on their heads, but the men would rather carry them under one arm. Some of the prints were used for mockery, showing the people of Paris strolling around in uncomfortable clothing with the caption saying they are slaves to fashion doing anything fashion dictates.

Fashion and Elegance: French Fashions of the 1720s, François Octavien, Quiryn Fonbonne, c. 1725 - c. 1730

Throughout the 18th century fashion became more and more extravagant: skirts had to be wider, male haircuts became longer and longer while female haircuts became even higher. During this time the need for fashion news was increasing. In England and France various attempts were made to gather as much news as possible, but it was incidental and without many images. The way to show fashion was still with separate prints and not a lot of texts.

It wasn’t until 1875 that images and texts came together in a regularly appearing publication: the French Cabinet de Modes. This was to be the first fashion magazine in history. In Cabinet de Modes very detailed information was written about the clothes and accessories shown in prints, such as clasps on men’s shoes, ribbons, buttons and hats. After the first appearance of this magazine, it did not take long for the English to respond with The Gallery of Fashion, also a periodical that wanted to show the British superiority in taste.

C’est incroyable!

The exhibition featured some nice ‘fun facts’ about the history of fashion. For example, there was a beautiful print of two Incroyables: these were fashionable aristocratic men who were part of a Parisian subculture that reacted to the French Revolution with statements of extravagance and decadence. Their attire and mannerism were luxurious and outrageous and they started many exaggerated fashion trends.
Les Incroyables, 1796, Jean Louis Darcis, ca. 1796

It wasn’t until after the French revolution that there was an explosive growth of fashion magazines. Thanks to improved printing techniques, the volumes of the magazines could go up and the prices could go down. The first fashion magazines were only available on subscription. They were very inconspicuous, without any text or design. but when the magazines came to be on display in kiosks and stores, it became more important to create a beautiful design to make the cover attractive. Moreover, the way to think about fashion started to change towards it being an art form. And as/if fashion is art, it should also be presented as art. And that is what the fashion world has been doing up til now with their beautiful glossies, both online as well as offline.

8.000 digitized prints

Unfortunately, the exhibition ended at the end of September. But there is good news. Many of the costume and fashion prints that were on display have been digitized and are now shown on the website of the Rijksmuseum. You can order these prints through Rijksstudio, a Rijksmuseum application that enables you to create your own collections as well as order your favourite Rijksmuseum artwork as wall decoration.

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