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.
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?