From its first number in July 1830, Godey's Lady's Book included hand- colored fashion illustrations. The earliest single-page hand-watercolored illustrations contained one or two figures amid little or no background, and pictured Continental fashions. These images became more complex as technological capabilities increased and the magazine's subcription base broadened. By 1861, the single-page illustrations had become fold-out plates, still hand-tinted by women operatives, that included as many as a half-dozen figures set in a detailed background. Its elegant fashion plates made Godey's the most successful of a number of magazines of the period that supported editorial content with such embellishments.
Such attention to fashion resulted from a matrix of social, economic, and technological factors, including urbanization; mechanized weaving; the home sewing machine; the availability of ready-made clothing; an increase in disposable cash; and the ease with which commodities, including clothing, dry-goods, and magazine, could be circulated nationwide. Yet dispite the complexity of these material factors, it has been common toblame Gody's and its editor for purveying extreme fashions to a gullible readership. Ann Douglas, for example, suggests that fashion could be equated with the intellectual flabbiness of the period. Her subchapter, entitled "The Economic Value of the Euphemism: Finery to Flattery," moves seamlessly from a consideration of fashion places to "female" "alienation" to Hale's "[shrewd] exploit[ation] of this unstated dynamic" (71). Other studies equate the fashion plates with the magazine's content and the magazine with its literary editress. Ruth Finley 1932 biography of Hale is illustrated