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Costume & Fashion as Revealed in Playing Cards

Costume & Fashion as Revealed in Playing Cards
By The World of Playing Cards • Issue #3 • View online

Hello all,
In this newsletter we’re looking at how fashion and costume is represented through playing card art since the 14th century through to today.
History of fashion’ cultural game by Erika Werner-Nestler, 1954.
History of fashion’ cultural game by Erika Werner-Nestler, 1954.
Wearing clothing to keep warm goes back thousands of years, but the idea of ‘fashion’ denoting taste and style arose during the Renaissance. Professional tailors produced original and exciting new designs to make their wearers feel more special, or to flatter their body shape.
When playing cards first arrived in Europe in the late 14th century, medieval Gothic styles prevailed. It is this type of clothing that the earliest cards portray. As the court cards (king, queen, knight or page) in playing cards tend to be wearing the clothes worn at court, antique cards are historical documents which show popular dress of their time.
For example, the luxury, hand-painted Stuttgart Cards (Stuttgarter Kartenspiel) dated c.1430, were probably intended for fashionable esteem in courtly society where the sport of hunting was part of life:
The pack originally contained 52 cards with suits of ducks, falcons, stags and hounds. In the court cards the suit symbols are depicted in a harmonious relationship with the human figures: the artist has portrayed a somewhat idyllic lifestyle with close relationships between the figures and the animals.
The pack originally contained 52 cards with suits of ducks, falcons, stags and hounds. In the court cards the suit symbols are depicted in a harmonious relationship with the human figures: the artist has portrayed a somewhat idyllic lifestyle with close relationships between the figures and the animals.
The elaborate, Gothic interpretation of the Spanish-suited pack by the “The South German Engraver” creates a feeling of excitement and anticipation to commemorate the marriage in 1496 of Felipe I of Spain and Doña Juana, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella.
As can be seen, the cards are decorated - not quite 'transformed' - with birds, animals, plants, children and other miniature creatures.
As can be seen, the cards are decorated - not quite 'transformed' - with birds, animals, plants, children and other miniature creatures.
Some early styles were perpetuated into more staid ‘standard’ patterns, such as the standard English pattern shown below, which was originally imported from Rouen in France in the 16th century. The court figures are dressed in late medieval style which has been preserved in the double-ended cards used around most of the world today.
See also: https://www.wopc.co.uk/france/pierre-marechal
See also: https://www.wopc.co.uk/france/pierre-marechal
Modern anglo-american playing cards evolved from late fifteenth century French cards. The so-called ‘Suicide King’ (King of Hearts) originally held an axe: 
Many other standard patterns, on close inspection, can be seen to imitate late medieval or Renaissance styles.
Moving into the 17th century, the time of the Three Musketeers, various trends influenced the way people dressed, especially French fashion. The double-ended fantasy courts cards by A.G. Müller, depict characters from the French court in 17th century period costume.
Richelieu by A.G. Müller, 1935
The double-ended fantasy courts cards depict characters from the French court in 17th century period costume.
The double-ended fantasy courts cards depict characters from the French court in 17th century period costume.
While the wealthy continued to determine the most popular styles, political preferences and the rise of the middle classes also had an influence.
Knavery of the Rump, 1679
The Knavery of the Rump political deck, first published in 1679, is a satirical portrayal of Oliver Cromwell’s Government. The illustrations provide a visual impression of the clothing of times.
This pack shows a satirical portrayal of Oliver Cromwell's Government, which also depicts townsfolk in traditional dress.
This pack shows a satirical portrayal of Oliver Cromwell's Government, which also depicts townsfolk in traditional dress.
French suited German engraved cards c.1610 to 1650
A delightful set of early 17th century engraved and hand-coloured German playing cards depicts kings, queens and valets as debonair and gracious, wearing doublets, breeches, and hose for men and long gowns for women: There seems to have been plenty of room inside these clothes.
We could continue our stroll through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries all of which are amply represented by numerous Rococo decks, period costumes as in the Jeu des Rois de France deck by Grimaud, or the splendid historical playing cards of Dondorf or Gibert. Some of the fancy dresses may not have been comfortable to wear but impressive in a ballroom or on a red carpet, under chandeliers and with a string quartet.
But here is just one more…
Parisian Actors and Opera Singers, c.1865
The extraordinary ‘Actors and Opera Singers’ deck printed by Avril et Cie, Paris, c.1865.
The photographs were taken by the famous French lithographer and photographer Adolphe Bilordeaux (1807-1872) who pioneered the use of salt print technique on waxed paper.
The photographs were taken by the famous French lithographer and photographer Adolphe Bilordeaux (1807-1872) who pioneered the use of salt print technique on waxed paper.
More recent fashion is illustrated in the “Fashion Face Off” deck by Erin Petson designed for an audience of editors, buyers and influencers.
Showcasing creativity in female attire.
Showcasing creativity in female attire.
Space will not allow us to explore other new trends such as ethical fashion or upcycling your wardrobe in this newsletter. Instead we would like to show a glimpse of the cross-over with ethnicity and folklore in the wide range of traditional costumes and ethnic dress styles which are found on playing cards from around the world, often better than the fashion industry itself. These sources are beginning to re-emerge into creative and contemporary cultural identity brands and party dresses available online.
There is more originality and inspiration in playing card designs than one might have expected.
Dutch costumes quartet game, 1983
Netherlands Kostuum Kwartet game designed by Gerard Huijg, published by Stichting Nederlandse Folklore (Dutch Folklore Foundation), Amsterdam, 1983.
Netherlands Kostuum Kwartet game designed by Gerard Huijg, published by Stichting Nederlandse Folklore (Dutch Folklore Foundation), Amsterdam, 1983.
Kenya Tribes Playing Cards
There are about 42 different tribes in Kenya, making more than 42 ethnic communities each having its own traditional practices, music and symbols.
There are about 42 different tribes in Kenya, making more than 42 ethnic communities each having its own traditional practices, music and symbols.
Bharata Playing Cards published by Sunish Chabba, 2018
Bharata Playing Cards - Series 2 - published by Sunish Chabba in collaboration with Indian illustrator Ishan Trivedi
To explore more Fashion and Costume playing cards visit our Costume section: https://www.wopc.co.uk/explore/keyword/costume/ 
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