Boston Public Library
À la Mode, 1795 to 1920
Fashion Plates
Rare Books Department


 

Fashion Influences from Abroad

 

The Boston Public Library’s Department of Rare Books and its Department of Fine Arts contain many books illustrating native costumes from European, African, and Asian countries. The three books featured here suggest how exotic fashion influences came to affect Western dress.

Designs of Chinese Buildings, Furniture, Dresses, Machines, and Utensils, published in London in 1757, is a wonderful example of cultural crossover. Such books bred a passion in France for Chinese style, and "chinoiserie" can be seen in French porcelains and furniture finishes up until the French Revolution. These stylistic elements worked their way into European women’s fashions, as well. The Chinese women (note that their eyes are quite Europeanized) are wearing loosely draped, high-waisted garments similar to what will become the classical silhouette and their hair is dressed in a style that inspired the 1830s version called "à la Chinoise."

Two "Oriental Albums" from 1856 and 1862 reflect the mid-19th century fascination with the Middle East. The women pictured here, with their bold, direct gazes, one with legs outlined with harem pants, and the other with a smoking cigarette, must have shocked genteel European and American ladies. Yet these images profoundly influenced Western female style. "Turkish trousers" served as the model for the "bloomer costume," worn by mid-century suffragettes in America. Although the bloomer costume failed as a dress reform garment, it lived on as athletic costume for women through the end of the 19th century. And the cigarette became an essential fashion accessory for middle-class women in the 1930s.

Fashion and Classicism
Fashion Plates 1818-1846
Fashion Plates 1862-1896
Changes in 19th Century Male Fashion
Fashion and Modernism
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Exhibit Images

Chinese designs, 1757

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Chinese designs, 1757

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Chinese designs, 1757

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Chinese designs, 1757

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Oriental Album, 1856

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Oriental Album, 1862

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