Lois Leveen

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February 21, 2012

My (Victorian) Angel is a Centerfold

Welcome to the special place in my mind where Godey's Ladies' Book meets the J. Geils Band.

Ever wonder where the phrase "fashion plate" comes from? In the mid-nineteenth century magazines like Godey's began including "plates" or pictures of the hottest fashions. Get your corset gussied up tight, ladies, because they are showing some bare elbows in Paree.

The advent of print media technology that made such plates cheap enough to reproduce (not to mention postal service that made magazine delivery more feasible) contributed to a new era of female consumerism. These plates were so treasured that women would sometimes save them and hang them as wall art (think of it as the Christie Brinkley poster thumbtacked to the teen bedroom running that J Geils soundtrack).

Women of the emerging American middle class--aspiring to be Victorian "angels in the house"--could now be told how to dress, and how to comport themselves, with charming regularity. An exciting new era, even if that baby does look a little Edward Gorey-esque. At least the young girl approaching it is armed with a saber. I'm sure everything will turn out just peachy, aren't you?
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