Long before glossies and style bloggers there were fashion plates, which the rich woman of yore would take to her modiste (and the less-rich woman would try recreating at home). But have you ever noticed how the women in these illustrations of whatever was “in” for the season always look like they’re discussing something majorly juicy?
For instance, this beauty, from the waning days of Louis XVI’s reign. I guarantee that woman carrying the fan has rolled up with some serious intel about some debauched, disease-ridden aristocrat or another. Those two on the right are trying to pretend like they don’t care but oh they damn sure do:
It’s 1798 and according to the accompanying caption, “Two women and a baby watch naval manoeuvres from the quayside through a telescope.” They are definitely speculating about how much the dashing Captain so-and-so has in the bank and how vastly preferable he’d be to some feckless do-nothing minor lordling who’s got a gambling addiction, to boot.
1832. My God, ladies, I know her dress is shocking in the extreme, but do try not to all look over at once.
1845. Clara has been competitive for years, and Elizabeth has largely tolerated it. Where’s the harm in another woman trying to one-up your stylish new bonnet, really? But today, she took it too far.
1847. “I don’t know anything about that.”
1848. The real action is happening in the next room, because this is eavesdropping if I’ve ever seen it.
May 1862. This confrontation has been building for years, ever since their schooldays at Bath.
May 1863. Last night somebody let somebody take liberties in a darkened ballroom corner and these women are on the case.
1872. Whatever that woman in the pink ribbons is whispering, this much is obvious—somebody’s reputation is about to get fucking nuked.
1875. “He sent you a sketch of his WHAT????”
Photos via Hulton Archive/Getty.