The Gibson Girl

The Gibson Girl was the personification of the feminine ideal as portrayed in the satirical pen and ink illustrated stories created by Charles Dana Gibson during a twenty-year period spanning the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in the United States.

Charles Dana Gibson, Time 1927

Charles Dana Gibson, Time 1927

The Gibson Girl set what some argue was the first national standard for a feminine beauty ideal. For the next two decades, the popularity of this fictional image ushered in a national mania for all things Gibson, and she sold saucers, ashtrays, tablecloths, pillow covers, chair covers, souvenir spoons, screens, fans and umbrella stands, all bearing her image.

The Gibson Girl, Vogue 1934

The Gibson Girl, Vogue 1934

The Gibson Girl was tall and slender and endowed with an ample bosom, hips and bottom, molded into the S-curve torso shape by a swan-bill corset. The images of her epitomized the late nineteenth and early tewntieth century Western preoccupation with statuesque, youthful features and ephemeral beauty. Her neck was thin and her hair piled high on her head in the contemporary bouffant, pompadour, and chignon (“waterfall of curls”) fashions.

The Crush, 1901

The Crush, 1901

The tall, narrow-waisted ideal feminine figure was portrayed as multi-faceted, always at ease and fashionable. Gibson depicted her as an equal, and sometimes teasing, companion to men.

At the Beach, 1901

At the Beach, 1901

Many models posed for Gibson Girl-style illustrations, including Gibson’s wife, Irene Langhorne (who may have been the original model, and was a sister of Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor) and Evelyn Nesbit. The most famous Gibson Girl was probably the Belgian-American stage actress Camille Clifford, whose towering coiffure and long, elegant gowns wrapped around her hourglass figure and tightly corseted wasp waist defined the style.

Camille Clifford

Camille Clifford

Among Gibson Girl-style illustrators were Howard Chandler Christy whose work celebrating American beauties was similar to Gibson’s, and Harry G. Peter, who was famous for his artwork in Wonder Woman comics.

Art Work by H.C. Christy and H.G. Peter

Art Work by H.C. Christy and H.G. Peter

The Gibson Girl personified beauty, but only limited independence and personal fulfillment (she was pictured attending college and choosing the best mate, but she was never pictured as part of a suffrage march), and American national prestige. By the outbreak of World War I, changing fashions caused the Gibson Girl to fall from favor. Women of the post-World War I era began to favour a simpler, more practical but no less elegant style of dress created by designers such as Coco Chanel over the restrictive dresses, bustle gowns, shirtwaists, and terraced skirts favored by the Gibson Girl. By the mid-1920s the Gibson Girl’s iconic place in fashion had been replaced by the flapper, and she became it yesterday’s girl. Or did she?

The Gibson Girl Survival Radio
An AAF survival radio transmitter carried by World War II aircraft on over-water operations was named the Gibson Girl because of its hourglass shape. It included a fold-up/down metal frame box kite for which the flying line was an aerial wire. A hand-crank generator provided power for the distress radio signal. When the user was seated in an inflatable lifeboat, the Gibson Girl shape of the radio allowed it to be held stationary, between the legs and above the knees, while the generator handle was turned. The distress signal, in Morse code, was produced automatically as the handle was turned.

The Gibson Girl Radio

The Gibson Girl Radio

If you look carefully you can still see the classic Gibson Girl shape and ideal in 21st century fashion icons.

Barbies, ca. 2009

Barbies, ca. 2009

 

Author: Alexandra Highcrest
Research: Angelina Pieros
Sources: Condé Nast Archives, Fashion in Costume 1200-2000, Wikipedia

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The First Bra

Bra history dates back as far as ancient Crete but the word brassiere didn’t appear until 1907, when it was coined in an issue of American Vogue. Prior to 1907 early bras were referred to as soutien-gorges by the French or bust improvers (or BBs) by the Edwardian British.

Lingerie 1910 to 1914

Lingerie 1910 to 1914

Most of the fashion designers of the early 20th century claimed to create the first bra and they all promoted breast restraining garments in order to mold their clients’ bodies to the newer, simple straight dress styles. These early undergarments were similar to the tight camisoles of the 1980s and 90s. The term camisole was used for these garments at the beginning of the century but was replaced by “Bust Bodice” in 1905.

Mary Phelps-Jacobs, 1929

Mary Phelps-Jacobs, 1929

Fashion bra history really began in 1914 with the first bra patent filed by the New York debutante Mary Phelps-Jacobs. Hers was the first elasticized, backless brassiere, designed to release women from their corsets and enable them to participate in sports and other activities without physical restraint (Coco Chanel must’ve approved).

The prototype consisted of no more than two pocket-handkerchiefs and a piece of pink ribbon. She conceived the idea while dressing for a ball. The thought of dancing the night away in a tight whalebone corset inspired her to find a looser, less constricting substitute. Within half an hour her French maid stitched together an ultra lightweight bust supporter and Jacob was able to enjoy the ball with a new sense of freedom. Friends to whom she confided her secret asked her to produce bras for them, and later a letter arrived from a total stranger asking for one and enclosing a dollar bill. Phelps-Jacobs realized there was a market for her invention and hired a designer to produce a detailed specification for her patent application. She sold the patent to the Warner Corset Company for $1,500 outright. Had she opted for royalties instead, she would have earned a fortune. Over the next 30 years Warner made $15 million on the bra.

The Jacob Patent, 1914
The Jacob Patent, 1914

 

Author: Alexandra Highcrest
Research: Angelina Pieros
Sources: 20th Century Fashion, Wikipedia