Industrialization also transformed French fashion, making the latest style available to the newly created middle class. For the first time, department stores made clothing at affordable prices and magazines advertised new styles by using mass-produced fashion plates such as illustrations.
The fashion plates helped Impressionist painters portray their subjects in the most up-to-date styles, which reflected their goal of portraying modern society. Renoir was always interested in the world of high fashion. The son of a tailor and husband of a seamstress, he was surrounded by fashion throughout out his life. The figures in Luncheon of the Boating Party are painted in the latest fashions with some women dressed for comfort in blue dresses and straw hats, while others, like Jeanne Samary, are dressed as if they just arrived from Paris.
New fashion trends were not only for women. In Luncheon of the Boating Party, some men are wearing suits while Jules-Alphonse Fournaise and Gustave Caillebotte are wearing sleeveless shirts and boater’s hats. Even though their casual outfits are similar to working class men, both men were members of the middle class and intentionally chose their leisure style outfits.
In the classroom activity, students will examine the different fashion trends of the late 19th century to create their own designs.
Fashions for the Seine River
La Mode Illustrée (illustrated fashions).
Fashion Plate, 1881View Detail
In the Classroom: Fashion Design Activity
Have students look closely at the figures in the painting and identify different types of styles and clothing pieces. Looking back at the Who’s Who section, discuss the ways in which clothing is conveying social status and/or occupation. Then have students connect what they learned and researched to create their own 3–5 fashion plates, or illustrations, that represent today’s fashion styles. As a class, students should compile a magazine of modern day styles, including one fashion plate from each student.