The fashion plate is an old type of fashion media, considered to be a minor art form. At the same time there are a plenty of discussions around the misleading historical value of the plate due to the obviously idealized images it provides. However, Charles Baudelaire, French poet and writer as much as dandy admired fashion plates for that particular quality in his famous essay “The Painter of Modern Life”:
…They are often very beautiful and drawn with wit; but what to me is every bit as important, and what I am happy to find in all, or almost all of them, is the moral and aesthetic feeling of their time. The idea of beauty which man creates for himself imprints itself on his whole attire, crumples or stiffens his dress, rounds off or squares his gesture, and in the long run even ends by subtly penetrating the very features of his face. Man ends by looking like his ideal self.
Seemingly, fashion plate reveals how our idea of beauty changes over time. Every style requires its own time. Even though fashion is a form of self-creation, it can never be performed by any individual alone. It is apparently a process of collective definition what then was partly created by means of fashion plates and today by means of fashion media such as Instagram, fashion press, bloggers, celebrities, trend forecasters etc.
Baudelaire considered fashion never be “natural” but necessarily artificial. According to him the popular belief that fashion is/should be progressing toward greater naturalness is naive. In the shadow of that interpretation fashion plates can, in accordance with Valerie Steele (Steele, Valerie, Paris Fashion. A Cultiral History, p. 99-100), be regarded as a certain propaganda of the latest style which helps to define and create new contemporary ideals of beauty as a part of the modern life.
For me it is a bit of a déjà-vu feeling as it is exactly what fashion media doing today – creating a new modern beauty by using its resources as propaganda tools. Thus nothing has changed since Baudelaire, besides the style that is expected to live up to the beauty standard of every particular time. Today’s street style beauty can at first glance give an impression of naturalness and relaxed aesthetics. However, it is not natural, in my view, when the style as such is a result of collective definition what already there excludes any naturalness. It was natural when it still was “an outsider”. Today, it is obviously a new chic, a new glamour and a new fashion philosophy – new modernity.
I am an individual with creative mind, which needs to be fed with fashion magazines, articles on Business of Fashion, Instagram pics, “New Arrivals” on Mytehresa.com, FB, art exhibitions etc. to get inspiration and create what I consider my own physiognomy of the modern fashion and style. Seemingly, I am a part of the collective quintessential process of self-creating, we all are, more or less, aren’t we…