The Gibson Girl

Until I started researching for my November release, I had no idea that the Gibson Girl actually began as a satirical portrayal of the feminine ideal of beauty in America around the turn of the 20th century. For a twenty-year period between 1890 and 1910, Charles Dana Gibson created pen-and-ink illustrations representing what he called a “composite of thousands of American girls.”

Named after Mr. Gibson’s illustrations, the Gibson Girl image epitomized the late 19th and early 20th century America’s preoccupation of youth and fleeting beauty. This ideal image of womanhood combined elements of both the “fragile lady” and the “voluptuous woman.” The basic slender lines and a sense of respectability came from the fragile lady. While the large busts and hips were taken from the voluptuous woman, though not in vulgar or lewd terms as had been the case prior to this.

The Gibson Girl was supposed to be tall and slender, statuesque, narrow-waisted, with ample bosom, hips and buttocks, often exaggerated by wearing a swan-bill corset. The Gibson Girl’s neck was supposed to be thin and highlighted by piling the woman’s hair high atop her head.

Of course, she was a member of upper class society, a modern woman at ease in her own skin, yet still stylish. She could be found cycling, playing tennis or engaging in other athletic activities.

She was supposed to be calm, independent, and confident, an equal sometimes teasing companion to men.

When Mr. Gibson was asked where he came up with this depiction of the quintessential American Beauty, he was known to say, “I saw her on the streets, I saw her at the theatres, I saw her in the churches. I saw her everywhere and doing everything…there isn’t any ‘Gibson Girl,’ but there are thousands of American girls, and for that let us all thank God.”

By the outbreak of World War I, changing fashions caused the Gibson Girl to fall out of favor when more practical clothing became the norm and women flooded the workforce out of necessity. Nevertheless, she will always be considered the image of turn-of-the-century American Beauty.

To me, the Gibson Girl is a gorgeous representation of feminine beauty, and far more attainable (sans the corset) than what we consider beautiful today.

What say you?

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Award-winning, multi-published author Renee Ryan sold her first book by winning the 2001 inaugural Dorchester/Romantic Times New Historical Voice Contest. She sold her second book to Harlequin Love Inspired Historical and has since sold nine more manuscripts to Love Inspired and Love Inspired Historical.

10 thoughts on “The Gibson Girl”

  1. Renee, what a great post! I learn something or lots of somethings some days and today was one of those multi-something days. Great information. I didn’t know the history behind the Gibson Girls. Thanks for sharing. Hugs, P

  2. Phyllis, Thanks for stopping by today. One of the things I love about contributing to this blog is the research I have to do for the poste. I learn soooo much. Perpetual students unite! 🙂

  3. I didn’t know this is where “Gibson girl” origniated. I’ve always loved the shape portrayed in his drawings–I just wish the focus on fleeting beauty hadn’t been the only thing that stuck with society.

    Thanks for a great post.

  4. I had always heard the term” Gibson Girl”, but like you never knew where the term came from.. I like to think that Mr. Gibson’s did the world a favour, when he brought these beauties to light… And today I would say we are all in one shape or other ‘Gibson Girls”..

  5. The Gibson Girl was gorgeous. But those corsets! Oh, my stars! Think what wearing those things must’ve done to their insides.
    Me, I love the comfortable clothes and shoes we can wear these days.
    Thanks for a great post, Renee.

  6. I remember my hairdresser telling me she would do my hair up in the Gibson Girl style for my wedding. It was more of a 1940s rolled hairstyle than a true Gibson Girl, but the historic name she gave it made me feel elegant.

    I enjoyed learning more about the actual Gibson Girls, Renee. Thanks!

  7. Super good stuff, Renee. I think I’d die having to acquire a waist that small. I’m gasping already. I remember us girlfriends playing with hairdos like that when we were little.

  8. Renee, thank you for an interesting post.

    I sometimes think that the Gibson Girl did us no favor. She set a standard of beauty that might have left the average women feeling inadequate. Not much has changed. We’re still trying to emulate what society deems to be the perfect woman. I just wish she was short, fat and wrinkled.

  9. Hi Renee! When I hear “Gibson Girl,” my first thought is BIG HAIR! It’s such a unique look. Thanks for the fun post. Hmmm…. do you think the original Barbie (around 1960) has a Gibson girl look? I do.

  10. I so enjoy these informational posts. Knew of the Gibson Girl look but not where the name came from. My hairdresser did my hair in this style a long time ago for a special banquet. I felt very elegant but my hubby was not fond of it. Perhaps if my shape had been ‘Gibson Girl’ he would have been fond of it 😉

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