Fashion Plates

If you’ve reached this article trying to get back in touch with that favorite toy of yours in which you put little pink plates featuring raised designs of ladies, clothing and textures into a tray, covered your choices with a sheet of paper, rubbed a black crayon tool over it and produced a wonderful picture, you’ve come to the right place. The toy you are thinking of is Fashion Plates, released by Tomy in 1978!

While not specifically a doll, finds this fashion game for girls to be close enough to a paper doll idea to belong here, and if you were a little girl growing up in the era when The Ginghams Paper Dolls were top favorites, then chances are, you may have had Fashion Plates, too! We hope the photos and information in this article will help you relive all of the fun you had designing your idea of high fashion with Fashion Plates. Right now, you’re lying on the living room floor on a shag carpet or one of those rough, bristly family room ones, your older brother is watching re-runs of Kung Fu or The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries on TV maybe, and your mother is in the kitchen making mashed potatoes that smell so delicious, you can hardly wait for dinner. But you’re happily occupied choosing your designs and coloring them in as well as your little hands can manage. Remember that?

History And Photos of Fashion Plates by Tomy
The Tomy Coporation has been in existence since 1923, and in the decade of the 1970s, was most focused on its Preschool line of toys for very young children, but during this period the company produced a number of little model cars as well as the highly popular Fashion Plates toy. If I remember correctly, I received mine for Christmas and was just thrilled when I peeled off the pretty wrapping and saw this box, pictured below:

Fashion Plates Toy by Tomy

The words on the Fashion Plates box read:

The kit that helps young designers, 6 and up, create fashions. Hundreds, thousands, even millions of fashionable combinations can be created.

Pretty exciting! I’m sure the parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles of countless little girls got a look at this fashion game on the shelves of Toys “R” Us or a small, local toy shop and realized what a hit it would be as a gift.

Fashion Plates image

Opening the box, the lucky little girl found a fascinating cream colored plastic tray, pictured above. 4 of its compartments were filled with light and dark pink square and rectangular plates featuring the designs, the 5th held a tan rubbing tool which was filled with a substance rather like black crayon and the 6th contained an appealing tan and pink box of pretty colored pencils.

To the left of the compartments was a curious dark tan frame that could be opened and shut and, quick as a wink, this was where every girl realized the pink fashion plates were meant to go. Select your plates, put them in place, put a piece of typing paper on top, rub over it with the black crayon tool and, like magic, your design appeared on the paper! The raised designs of ladies and clothing resulted in graphics not unlike the black outlined drawings featured in children’s coloring books, and they had a lot of detail in them for being so small. The Fashion Plates toy came with a black-and-white instruction booklet for anyone who wasn’t quite sure how to get started playing with it.

Fashion Plates For Girls, Detailed Photo of Each Plate

Fashion Plates Toy 1978

The above 2 photos should really bring back some memories for you if you played with Fashion Plates. The toy came with a total of 15 fashion plates. The largest plates were of skirts and trousers. The medium-sized plates featured a woman’s head and blouse or other fashionable top. The smallest plates gave further separate choices of heads and blouses.

The fashions of the late 1970s are fantastically encapsulated in this toy. From denim skirts to bellbottom pants to disco dresses, every plate is a blast from the past. I so well remember the lady with the flower in her hair and the woman in the tennis costume. There was a long prairie skirt that would have suited Holly Hobbie, in perfect keeping with the prairie fashions popularized by TV shows like Little House on the Prairie and clothing lines like Gunne Sax. There are ruffled hems and blouses tied with bows, scarves and hats and boots! If you miss the look of the 70s, you’ll find it well represented by this memorable vintage toy.

More Fashion Plates Photos

In looking back, I believe one of the neatest features of this fashion game for girls was that the reverse side of the plates had beautifully textured patterns embossed on them. There were plaids and checks and floral patterns and textures along the lines of houndstooth and random dots.

Once your black-and-white outline image was created, you could remove the plates and replace them with the textured plaques. Using your colored pencils, you could then carefully color in certain areas of the clothing and the textures would appear just where you wanted them.

This added such variety to the fashion combinations you could design. The lady shown on the front of the Fashion Plates box gives an example of this with the model wearing a plaid textured jumper. I just loved this aspect of this toy.

In many ways, the 1970s were the last gasp of natural fibers making up a major portion of the apparel available in department stores. Cotton, linen, wool and silk were the mainstays of fashion design until the “miracle” fabrics of the 1950′s and onward began pushing them off the racks. Suddenly, more and more Amercian women were dressed in polyester, acrylic, nylon and other synthetic textiles – not nearly as nice as the naturals. In the 1970′s, we still had our wool camel coats and sweaters, cotton dresses, silk blouses and denim and linen skirts. The apparel and textures represented by the Fashion Plates toy holds a memory of those higher quality clothes. Good luck finding almost anything in a 21st century department store that isn’t synthetic! Yes, I guess you could say I miss the 70s.

The 1970s and early 1980′s were an extremely designer-conscious period. Designer jeans were especially desirable and I thought fans of Fashion Plates would get a kick out of watching this 1980 commercial for Sergio Valente jeans which, like Jordache and Sassoon, were considered the thing to wear! The sound of this video is a little gritty, but anyone who remembers VHS tapes, tracking and dirt will be forgiving, I’m sure.

Did you remember that jingle from childhood? Fashion Plates fits right into this era, and while much has been written about the woes of kids whose self-esteem is sadly tied up in owning the ‘right’ clothing labels, I think there is something more positive that can be attributed to this toy.

Matters of dress are a universal concern. We all have to figure out what to wear and a toy like Fashion Plates let us consider styles, colors and fabrics that we personally found most appealing. And if your family was of modest income, like mine, you had to think even harder about how to dress in a manner that you liked because a smaller budget had to stretch further.

In my family, as in so many others, sewing was the solution and there wasn’t a year that went by in my childhood in which my dear mother didn’t sew new Christmas or Easter dresses for each of we girls, not to mention summer sundresses and new little ensembles for fall school clothes. My mother still sews all kinds of fabulous clothing for herself and my own sewing machine has become one of my most prized possessions. Little did I know that as I browsed through the options in my Fashion Plates toy as a child, I was forming creative opinions as to my tastes in dress that would one day commute to my happy work as a grown-up seamstress!

Toys That Are Similar To Fashion Plates
Tomy’s Fashion Plates was a big success, and similar toys were released both by Tomy and other companies. The same year that Fashion Plates was introduced (1978), a related toy ostensibly meant for boys and called ‘Mighty Men and Monster Maker’ was introduced by Tomy. I’m not sure if it was an equal success.

Not wanting to be left out, Mattel produced its own Barbie Fashion Maker which functioned rather like an old-fashioned printing press, cranking out designs. There was a Hello Kitty fashion plates-type toy and Kenner produced a toy called Draw Rings with a Strawberry Shortcake theme in 1983.

Additionally, Tomy produced a travel-sized set of Fashion Plates meant to be good for taking on road trips. Like lots of kids, I got carsick if I tried to read or draw while riding in a vehicle, so I never played with that one!

Collectors Value of Fashion Plates Today

Tomy’ Fashion Plates are highly sought after today. I have seen bidding wars drive up their price at auction as much as $80 – $100. People really want to get this toy back if they once owned it but lost it along the way. What you especially want to look for at auction is that the Fashion Plates toy for sale still has all 15 of its plates. You can sometimes find replacement parts of the black crayon tool, and you can use any colored pencils to play with this fashion game, but without the full set of plates, you will be missing important parts of the toy. A mint condition Fashion Plates toy should include a box in great condition, a tray with minimal wear and functioning open-and-close frame, 15 pink plates, black crayon tool, pink-and-tan boxed colored pencil set and an instruction booklet.

Did You Play With Fashion Plates?
What do you remember about them? Did you have a favorite ensemble that you created time and again? Did anyone ever paste the paper figures to cardboard, cut them out and make paper dolls out of them? Do you remember the TV commercial for Fashion Plates? I’ve tried in vain to find it on YouTube. Maybe someday it will show up. What I can remember about it is some string-heavy disco music and a voice singing dreamily, “Fashion plates…fashion plates…”.

If you have any memories about Fashion Plates that you’d like to share in the comments below, and all our readers would just love to hear about them!

Do you still own Fashion Plates? Would you care to email me a picture of some of your designs made with this toy so that readers can enjoy them? Please, leave a comment!