French Fashion Publications and Children's Fashions: La Mode Ilustree (1840-1937)

Figure 1.--"La mode illustré" in 1892 described this a blouse for a 3 to 5 year old boy. French publications often used the term "blouse" to describe a smock, although it had other meanings as well. Notice the stylish low waist of the smock. The boy seems to be weating his smock over bloomer knickers, long dark stockings, and low-cut shoes with bows. Notice the bows on the girl's shoulders. Those stmbolized the leading strings once worn on girl's dresses.

One of the most influential and long lasting French fashion magazines was La Mode Ilustree. This magazine was particularly important for any assessment of 19th century children's fashions as it sought to deal with children's fashions and issues. It also spanned a long time period from 1840 to 1937. The first and long serving editor wrote extensive pieces, advising French mothers on children's fashions and other domestic issues.

French Fashion

Perhaps no where in Europe was fashion relegated more importance than France. Even during the height of the turmoil engulfing revolutionary France at the end of the 18th century, fashion magazines like the Journal de la Mode et duc Goût during the 1790s. Likewise fashion magazines continued to publish during the German seige of Paris in 1871. Over 100 fashion magazines appeared in France between 1840 and 1870.


La Mode Illustree was founded in 1860 and became one of the most popular of all the French fashion magazines. It was founded by the redoutable Emmeline Raymond who edited the magazine until her death I 1902.


Its subtitle, Journal de la Famille," indicated the publications emphasis on the entire family. La Mode Ilustree was France's first large format fashion magazine and was published for a longer period than any of its rivals. It was published in four editions at various prices depending on the number of color plates and patterns. Madame Raymond south to create an encyclopedia for women. La Mode Illustree was not, however, a woman's magazine in the modern sense, this would have been essentially foreign to Madame Raymond's sensibilities. Madame Raymond's successor explained, "A woman's magazine? The great spirit of our founder would never have supported such a notion. A woman is inseparable from her family. In order to be headed and admired and to perform a real service, the entire household must be addressed. [La Mode Illustree, 1909]


The French are known for their emphasis on fashion and La Mode Illustreé had a major influence on French fashion. The clothing presented in the magazine, however, was carefully tailored to the magazine's primary audience when it first appeared, the growing bourgeois of increasingly prosperous mid-19th century France. La Mode Illustree avoided many of the more elaborate fads and extremes of the 19th century. Madame Raymond advised her readers to "... avoid every mistake in `savoir-vivre', all fashion abbreviations, all wrongful expenses, demonstrating the elegance of simplicity when reconciled with the greatest possible economy." [La Mode Illustree, 1902] Following its role as a family magazine, considerable attention was given to children's clothing, more than most other French as well as foreign fashion magazines of the day. The emphasis on family fashion and focus on the middle class families makes La Mode Illustree and extremely valuable resource for assessing French fashions trends from the mid-19th to through the early 20th centuries. The magazine also included interesting articles about foreign children as well as composition contests for school children.

Victorian Concept of Childhood

The changing concept of childhood during the Victorian era can be seen on the pages. Images in the 1840s often show the children as mere appendages of their fashionable mothers. Often children are show hanging on to their mother's skirts. As the Victorian era progresses, the children are increasingly shown independent of their mothers, playing or engaging in active, interesting activities. The children are portrayed in idelylic settings engaged in contemprary activities, often with popular toys of the day. HBC does not know if the children's compositions touched on fashion, but this is a topic under investigation.


Some interesting observations can bein made based on the fashions illustrated in La Mode Illustree.
Smocks: Smocks are rarely shown, perhaps because these are considered a utilitarian garment, not worthy of attention in fashion magazine.
Gender: The garments illustrated are carefully separated identified by gender and age. The editor provides detailed advise on what kind of fashion is suitable for which gender and at what age.
Practicality: While the styles portrayed may look rather formal to our modern eyes, they are in fact rather more atuned to active children than many 19th century clothes worn by American and British children. There are many practical, seemingly comfortable garments designed to permit physical activity. Some of the excesses of Victorian fashion such as ringlet curls are no where to be seen. Nor do Little Lord Fauntleroy suits with large lace collars and floppy bows seem as dominate a fashion as was the case in America.
America: La Mode Illustree did have an important influence on American fashion. Madame Raymond became the Paris correspondent for Harper's Bazaar when that magazine appeared in 1867. Harper's was for years the primer American fashion magazine and thus American mothers were kept well informed on the latest Parisian fashion, including that for children.


We believe that the pattern sheet were included in La Mode Magazine. There was also apparently text on fashions, gossip, household and beauty tips, as well as the doings of the day. Some of the patterns are available at the Vintage Pattern Lending Library.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: January 14, 1999
Last updated: July 22, 2002