Database Categories

Categories available are: year, country, social class, gender, type of image. Only "type" is not self-explanatory - the distinction is between full garment in pictorial sources as opposed to e.g. hats/hairstyles, footwear, undergarments, or extant garments.

All categories used are difficult to work with as definitions vary, and even if they were absolute, you often don't know the background of a person. However, I had to assign images to a certain category to make them searchable. When compiling the database, I've often felt out of my depth when I had to guess or generalise and sometimes left an image out of the database when I felt too insecure. The rules which I tried to follow are listed below so that you can take them into account when searching. Please note also that some categories are not applicable to all eras.


In those cases where no certain year is known (e.g. "early 18th century"), I have arbitrarily assigned one, usually in the middle of the given range, e.g.:

(Actually, in the last three cases, it might be any year within the range, often depending on my estimation of whether the style looks early or late.)

This was only done to make matches for year range searches possible. The search result, however, will give you the date as exactly or vaguely as I know it. The output date is never more exact than the sources I have.


If not specified by the source, it is usually deduced from the name of the person or the title of the painting. If I couldn't quite place it, I let myself be guided by where the painter lived at the time, if there was any way of knowing. It could therefore happen that a Wallonian went down as French, while a French person painted by a Flemish painter was taken for a Wallonian. Hence, I made the assumption that e.g. Wallonian Belgians were culturally closer to France than to the Netherlands region, same for French-speaking Swiss or Italian-speaking Swiss etc., and put them into the categories language-wise rather than by political borders, which are somewhat artificial anyway and tended to change over time.

Where higher nobility is concerned, there is another difficulty: Brides moved across all Europe when they were married (or traded?). Where do they, or rather their clothing style, belong to: Their native country or where they had moved to?

I preferred the native country as many of the ladies were known to remain attached to the clothing style they grew up with, unless their clothing had strong traits of their new home - and sometimes the ladies started a fad for their native dress in their new country anyway. However, I'm not sure I always followed that rule all the time. Lately I've taken to entering both countries into the database, as I do for multinational assemblies. A search for one will find either.

This category was ignored (i.e. left blank) in case of fashion plates from the late 18th century on: Fashion plates were often imported, usually from France. Proof? Compare this French fashion plate to this American one. A book celebrating the 25th anniversary (ca. 1890) of German magazine "Die Modenwelt" shows the title page of one certain number in its various country-specific editions: They came in all major European languages, including French, English and some Eastern Europen ones. In other words, the same fashion plates were published throughout Europe.

Social Class

Even more difficult than the country. Queens, Counts, Lords and Marquises are easy. But is the richly dressed "unknown lady" really a noblewoman, or just an extremely rich merchant's wife? We know that sometimes the merchants exceeded the nobles in wealth. The merchant Fugger family lent money to Emperor Maximilian, after all. Does the mistress that the widowed king was rumoured to have secretly married (Louis XIV and Madame Maintenon) count as royalty? Do we go by the lifestyle a person could afford, or by the supposed respectability of a person's trade? If we go by the latter, is our perception of that respectability tinted by our modern upbringing? To complicate it more: Is the perception of the person who sorts a picture into one category the same as the perception of the person who searches the database?

You see, the class criterion is awfully complex. Which is why it's only available through the expert search. As this database was created so that you, dear reader, find what you need, and as you have the same modern background as I do, I settled for modern definitions: for ranks, if known, and apparent wealth (or absence thereof) if not. A rough overview:

Royalty: Emperors, Empresses, Kings, Queens, royal/imperial Princes and Princesses.
Nobility: Electors, Dukes, Earls, Marquises, Counts, Baronesses, Lords, Ladies. (Caution: the Italian Renaissance is full of people who were treated like nobles but were "only" patricians, e.g. the early Medici.)
Upper class: richly dressed people without "titles", patricians, international merchants, factory owners, politicians, mayors, high-ranking military, anyone whose profession would place them in "middle" class if their clothing wasn't too damn rich, anyone who dresses richly and could afford to have their postrait painted. Also includes those "unkown" persons who may be noble, but since we don't know who they are, I've put them here.
Middle class: local traders, shop owners, artisans, painters (except for those who became rich, like Rubens), and even high-class prostitutes.
Low(er) class: peasants, servants, women making money of their own (e.g. needlewomen, maids), prostitutes, beggars, people in rags, factory workers
Clerical: people of a religious profession (monks, nuns, priests, bishops etc).

From the late 18th century on, fashion plates are not assigned any class as the anonymous models can't be put in any category. The clientele comprised anyone who could afford making that dress or having it made. In theory even a servant could wear the dress depicted - maybe in wool instead of silk, and without any lace, but basically the same.


The country/class abbreviations

b Netherlands, Luxembourg, Flanders
d Germany, Austria, German-speaking Switzerland
e England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland
f France, Wallonie, French-speaking Switzerland
i Italy, Italian-speaking Switzerland
n Northern Europe (Scandinavia, Denmark, Ísland)
o Eastern Europe (Slav and Balkan cultures)
s Iberian peninsula
a America (contrary to popular belief, this comprises e.g. Canada, Venezuela and Agentina)
y Asia
q traditionall dress of Germany, the Alpine region, and regions that once belonged to either Germany or Austria.
x Anything not in the above, currently only pre-medieval European cultures. In theory, Africa, Oceania and Oz would also go here if I had any pictures from those regions.
u unknown (i.e. I have no idea where to place the picture)
r royalty
n nobility
u upper
m middle
l lower
k clerical (as in religios offices)
x no idea




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