Wednesday, December 12, 2018

La Mode Illustrée, 1903

A couple of weeks ago I went with a group to the Christmas markets  in Strasbourg and Colmar. Both were delightful, Strasbourg being a larger cityhas a lot to offer when there is no Christmas market because of its many interesting stores, restaurants and cafes. 

Colmar is smaller and quaint. It has a nice covered market much like the one in my city. It also has a cobble stone old town. The Christmas market can be visited in in just a couple hours. Again, when cold, there are many fun shops. Walking past a book store that sells old books, I saw that there was a book in the window about fashion written in the mid to late 1800s. I have visited many book stores like this and have always come away empty handed but due to the book in the window I went in.

In the store was the owner and a middle aged french couple that were in the final stages of buying a book and a couple of old postcards. They had interrupted his lunch. On a old wood table pushed up against the wall under a shelf of books was the uneaten parts of his lunch on a hand thrown dark blue pottery plate. The knife and fork left in a position as to say "I am coming back". Next to the plate was a half of glass of red wine. I am always pleased to see this type of thing since it is so, well, French.

I said Bonjour and then listened in to the conversation the three were having about the postcards. Besides greeting me back there was no move to help me. You always say hello to the shop keeper when you enter any small shop. This is very French. This is just how it is done, greet, then start looking around or in my case take my time and wait and listen to the conversation. After a couple minutes the man of the couple turned to me and told the shop keeper that he should really help me.  The shop keeper turned to me and asked me in French which language I would like to use, French, German or English. This was way too fun so I answered him in all three languages but then in German told him that my best language was English.

I then inquired in English if he had any La Mode Illustrée books.  He thought about it and then said he had three books I might be interested in. The first was the book in the window. In pencil on the front inner cover was the price and how many fashion plates were contained within. I paged through it was he went to find the other two. Fashion plates and the descriptions of the dresses in french was not what I was interested in but it was a beautiful book with a breath taking price. The plates were beautiful and still had the thin sheet of tissue that separates the color page from the print on the previous page.

The second book was sort of the same, only smaller. the plates were not as nice but it was a sewing book. Again interesting to look at but not what I was searching for. The descriptions of how to construct things assumed that you were an expert seamstress. 

While paging through that book, the shop keeper was on a step ladder next to the table with his forgotten lunch reaching a book off of the very top shelf.  As he brought it down he exclaimed that he was sure he had one of these up there somewhere. 

He actually had one of the books I was searching for from 1903!

The conversation with the french couple started up anew as I was allowed to look at the three books at my leisure at the table next to his cold and neglected lunch.

La mode Illustréstarted publication in 1859. What years they published the books of the entire year I have not been able to determine. The books do not include the much sought after patterns but come in a nice bound book cut down just a little from the original magazine size. Starting mid year in 1897 the cover drawing for each weeks issue turned to color. I own a 1897 book which is why I know this.  

 The French couple finished picking out postcards, their book was placed in a plastic bag, several hundred euros changed hands, they bid me adieu and were gone. The owner of the shop then turned his complete attention to me. We negotiated the price down from what the inside cover said. He gave me a brochure on the upcoming antique book sale happening in town early next year and let me know he is in my town several times a year selling his books. There is a big antique market shamefully I have never been to once a month at the nearby convention center. Next year I will need to go.

So while you are here, I thought I would share with you several pages from the book.
Notice the fold line. None of my other books have this so I wonder if they were bound by individuals and not the publisher. I would think that if they were different, but all of mine have the same outside cover with letters spelling out the magazine name and year on the spine and are the same size. The fold is interesting.

Continuing on:
Darn we all missed this Monday, 30 March exposition of new fashion of the season by over 100 years. Seeing the price of the jacket made me wonder how much would that accordion pressed taffeta jacket cost in today's dollars? 

Searching on the web I found that in 1901 dollars 150 Fr would be approximately 572 Euros or about $652 USD in today's dollars. OK, a little pricey but you are in Paris and it is made out of yards of accordion taffeta. Not to mention the height of fashion.

I suppose we could buy the hat but hair styles and age must be taken into account:
Old ladies get boring hats. Some of these hats one needs to watch the door as you enter a room.

Continuing through the book, the wedding dress was really something:
Love those sleeves! There are variations to those and here they are:
Elsewhere there are drawings dissecting the sleeves so you at home can draft them. 

Continuing on I have decided I want that shoulder shawl thing:
I would wear that with blue jeans.

Now the reason I buy this particular magazine is not for the fashion. Instead, I learn a lot of things about items I find at flea markets. Take this piece:
Notice how this can be wrapped around for say, a sleeve, maybe at the wrist and tacked so it looks like one continuous piece of lace. I have found these and thought they were lace bits when in fact if I had 2 of them I could put them on a blouse at the wrist.

People are beginning to have this belief that I am an expert at dating lace. Here is a good example of something I might find bits of and now I can date it if I actually found a piece. Don't laugh, it is not that uncommon that I do.

Then there is the other items one might find. It is nice to know how these items were used:

How about a book cover?

There is a nice issue on the Catholic first communion:
Girls and the dresses is pretty normal to see. But what about the boys? 

Several years ago I saw something odd at a flea market and inquired into what it had been used for. It was a band with a bow on it made of satin and just a touch of lace across the bottom. Here it is, this is what the boys wore for first communion from the magazine:
I can and will be pouring over this book for hours but I thought you might enjoy this little peak.


  1. Wow! Great find and I know something of your extensive collection of vintage laces and such! Pretty much a treasure trove!!! Ha

  2. I love your description of the bookshop - and such a treasure!