In my opinion, this is one of the best uses of the internet I have ever seen, especially for those of us interested in history. Google has amassed a staggering collection of public domain books, journals, magazines, etc. and digitized them in (usually) pretty good quality. I have collected many of the fashion plates that I post from there, but it is also a wonderful place to find patterns and other inspiration. My only qualm with GB is that it can be a little hard to navigate the first few times I used it, so I put together a few tips in case you are interested in diving into the wonderful world that lives in the massive servers of The Goog. Fair warning: it is the ultimate time sink, and I will occasionally find that I have spent HOURS going down the rabbit hole! Have fun!
(Another warning: they don't have much from pre-1810, so it isn't a great source for images of 18th Century stuff. They do have many of the early Lady's Magazines digitized, they just don't have engravings in them. They are still fascinating to read!)
The first step is to find out what you want to search for. You can search by term, date, author, title- anything, really! For fashion plates, I always search by title, as that can be the most specific term. You really only need to know one publication title, and you can find others from there (more on that below), so just stick something in (Ackermann's Repository of the Arts, La Belle Assemblee, Godey's Lady's Book, and La Mode Illustree are all good choices!):
The rest is told in (great big) pictures! Yay!
Here's the search results:
And here's the view when you click on a publication title:
And here's how you save something: