The Height of Fashion Then and Now

Lesson Plan


Students will examine and analyze the image of the Garden Party on the Terrace of a Country Home and discuss its usefulness as an historical document. Students will identify representations of fashion and fun of the time and create a group Then-and-Now chart to investigate the similarities and differences with modern society.

Intended Age Group

Secondary (grades 6-12)

Length of Lesson

One 50 minute lesson

Standards Area

Social Studies


Students will be able to:

  • describe and analyze what they see in the image of the Garden Party on the Terrace of a Country Home;
  • discuss and analyze accuracy in artistic representation; and
  • compare and contrast fashion and fun from two time periods.


  1. Show students the image of Garden Party on the Terrace of a Country Home. Have student describe what they see. Relate what they see to any other styles of art they have seen before. Have students guess the country from where this screen came from and if it is a modern-day artwork. Why or why not?
  2. It might surprise them to know it is from the 1720-1730s Mexico City, Mexico. Ask students if they are surprised by this information and, if they are, why.
  3. Locate Mexico City, Mexico, on a map and ask students to share any background knowledge they have about the area and region surrounding it.
  4. Share the information from the About the Art sheet with the students and discuss the Spanish Colonial period of Latin America that took place from 1521-1821. At this time Spain was a dominant influence of the culture of Mexico, in particular Mexico City.
  5. Ask students if they can see a European influence in the screen and have them point out where. Tell students that art styles from Japan and China also influenced Spanish Colonial art and ask them if they can see that influence in the style or form of the screen.
  6. Show students the “Things to Look For “information and locate those things in the painting. Ask students if it is possible to learn more about the culture of Mexico City in the 18th century by looking at artworks such as this. Can this be considered a reliable historical document of the time? Why or why not? Discuss in small groups. List some things to take into consideration such as: Could this be an artist or an art patron’s exaggeration? What about the non-wealthy Mexican society at the time? What about artistic license?
  7. There are some things that can give us real clues to how society was then and how it is different now. In small groups or as a class, draw a T-chart on the board with one side labeled “Then” and the other side labeled “Now.” List things found in the painting that were considered fashionable “Then.” Opposite, in the “Now” section, list the modern equivalent of that issue such as: Then–women had fake black beauty marks stuck to their skin; Now–women want clear skin. Recognizing that both lists are generalizations allows for an appreciation of how things change over time and recognition of some things that endure the test of time, such as the Spanish guitar. You might consider playing Spanish guitar music in the background by artists such as Rodrigo y Gabriela.


  • Note taking paper for each student
  • Variety of pencils, markers, or other writing implements
  • World map
  • Large paper, overhead, or whiteboard to create a group Then-and-Now chart
  • Optional: a way to play Spanish guitar music, like that of Rodrigo y Gabriela, in the background during discussion
  • Copies of About the Art sheet on the Garden Party on the Terrace of a Country Home (found at the end of the lesson plan) or student access to this part of Creativity Resource online
  • Color copies of the image, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards

  • Social Studies

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention

About the Art

Garden Party on the Terrace of a Country Home

Garden Party on the Terrace of a Country Home

circa 1725


Who Made It?

Although we do not know the name of the artist(s) who created this screen, we do know that it was made in Mexico City sometime between 1720 and 1730. During this time, Mexico was part of the area governed by Spain in the New World. The Spanish Colonial period in Latin America lasted for 300 years, from 1521 to 1821. By 1598, the Spanish empire in the Americas spread from present-day southern Colorado to the tip of South America (excluding Brazil). The resulting culture and art is a combination of the European and indigenous cultures. Spanish Colonial artists were also greatly influenced by Asian art, which they encountered through trade.

What Inspired It?

Folding screens or “Biombos” (bee-ohm-bows) were used in homes to divide spaces, block drafts, and provide privacy. The folding screen form was invented in China, perfected in Japan, and introduced to the Western world through trade in the late 1500s. By the early 1700s, a new genre of screen was invented in Mexico City. Partially derived from a fashion for pastoral paintings in Europe, screen painters began to depict scenes of upper and middle class people enjoying a leisurely afternoon on the garden terrace of a country home. There are only about a dozen screens like this known today, and all were made in Mexico City in the 1700s. These screens provide a glimpse into upper-class life and recreation in Mexico in the 1700s, during the season of summer parties. As is the case with most garden party screens, the people on the left appear more richly or more formally dressed than those on the right. The precise social reason for this is still unknown. It may indicate that both upper and middle class people participated in these festivities. Or it may represent the upper class owners of the summer home and their guests on the left, and the servants or employees, also participating in the festivities, on the right.


Card Players
Card Players

On the far left, men and women dressed in party clothes sit around a table playing cards. The coins and small beans on the table indicate that they are gambling. The cards they use are an older design—the clubs are actual wooden clubs, the spades are daggers, the hearts are a cup or chalice, and the diamonds are gold coins.


The woman on the right side of the table holds a cigarette in her right hand, and the man behind her holds what appears to be a cigar. Tobacco was a New World product and was unknown in Europe before contact with the Americas. In Europe, usually only men smoked tobacco, but in the Americas it was completely acceptable for women of all classes to smoke.


On the right side of the screen a woman sings and plays a distinctive Mexican guitar. The man next to her is playing a violin or fiddle while another woman appears to sing.


Both women in the band wear the distinctive Mexican striped rebozo, or rectangular shawl, which is still made in Mexico today. The woman with the guitar also wears a paňuelo, a triangular scarf tied around her neck. This type of scarf was worn by both men and women in Mexico and eventually evolved into the cotton bandanna worn by cowboys.


The clothing is faithful to the era. All of the women wear full skirts, fitted bodices, elbow-length sleeves, and lace ruffles at the cuffs and necklines. The also wear elaborate jewelry made from gold, pearls, and other stones. The men on the screen all wear knee breeches, stockings, white shirts, and coats of the period. The men also wear powdered white wigs.

Beauty Marks
Beauty Marks

Many of the women wear fake beauty marks called chiqueadores. The marks are made from black velvet or tortoiseshell and placed on the women’s temples. Fake beauty marks were very fashionable among women in Europe and the Americas at this time.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.