Fashion Plates

By Julie Anderson

My mom was a career woman; she earned two Master’s degrees and was (and is) a computer systems analyst. So, it may not surprise you that she wasn’t all into girly toys for me when I was growing up.

Macintosh computer and calligraphy set = YES

Barbie = NO

French horn and piano lessons = YES

Princessy dress-up outfits = NO

Add to that the fact that my dad was a structural engineer and I didn’t have a sister, and you KNOW that I didn’t get to have Fashion Plates.


But, oh, I wanted them. One of my friends, Marie, had two younger sisters and a mom who was a home-ec teacher. Their house was a fairyland of 1980’s girl toys. I remember the glee I felt when Marie’s parents redid their basement into an enormous playroom, chock full of all the toys I coveted.

I remember begging Mom for Fashion Plates. They’re creative! You DESIGN YOUR OWN CLOTHES! She totally didn’t buy it. You just switch the plates around. That’s not designing clothes. Draw your own.


So, while they were never to cross the threshold into my house, I loved them at Marie’s.

The basic deal with Fashion Plates was that you had rectangular plastic plates for the head, torso, and legs of a figure. You switched up her hairdo/hat, blouse, and pants/skirt into an outfit you liked by placing the plates into a grooved tray. Then you rubbed over the raised patterns on the plates with a colored pencil or crayon to get the outline of the outfit. It was a very satisfying activity in that you actually created the fashion image, but it looked all professional and perfect because it was an etching. Then you could fill in the outlines with the colors or patterns you wanted to give it your own artistic touch.

I remember that dreamy commercial, too. A crooning male voice, Frank Sinatra-esque, that closed with a longing, And they call them… Fashion Pla-a-a-ates!

Sadly, I can’t find this early 80’s commercial online. I’d love to hear that jingle again. Here is one from 1990 that gives you the basic idea, though:

I mean, doesn’t that look FUN? The eighties had some wild, exuberant fashion trends: huge bows, colorful plastic jewelry, big hair, and tons of ruffles. Fashion plates were an awesome way for little girls to play designer and create easy, pretty fashion pictures of their own.

I’m none the worse for never owning my own set (and I’m VERY glad I know how to play piano – thanks, Mom!) but I’m also very glad that Marie had some Fashion Plates I could play with. They are a sweet little memory from my 80’s childhood.

Author: Pia Sooney

Just a little obsessed with all things 80s, Pia still has her Swatch, her cassette tape collection, and her Converse Chucks. When not making friendship pins or listening to Depeche Mode, she runs a web design business.

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