November 27, 2011

How to use Google Books to find fashion plates (and just about anything else you can think of!)

On my fashion plate blog, I was recently asked if I would post fashion plates from the 1860s-1890s.  I had to decline, simply because I am not interested in that period of fashion history and therefore haven't put much study into it (and certainly haven't sank the hours upon hours upon hours collecting images like I have for the 1770s-1840s).  I hated to deny someone the opportunity to see fashion plates from that period, however, so I recommended that she look into one of my favorite sources, Google Books.

  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:


  1. This is good advice! I've of course only been looking at the late 18th c. and early 19th c., which, as you say, is a time period without many engravings on Google Books, so I'd kind of given up on it as an image source for any other period. I've never thought of using the thumbnail view!

  2. I'm now ploughing through La Belle Assemblée and finding some frustrating gaps... but still more than I was anticipating. As I'm planning on breaking down the gowns from various sources to their essentials to do line drawings on the changing profiles, trims, styles etc photographing from on screen is good enough to work from. I'm currently hoping to put together workbooks for my own use with the descriptions and that's what you don't get from some sites that just show the fashion plates. I guess for those issues that don't have the plates in, it's a case of hoping they turn up on ebay to copy... thanks for this post.