The Gibson Girls were personifications of the feminine ideal in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They represented an optimistic, morally inclined, and traditional society post Victorian Era. From fashion to culture and beyond, much can be taken from the Gibson Girl drawings. These “women” reveal a tremendous amount about the social perceptions of femininity and the place of a woman in Society during the early 20's.
The Gibson Girl was the pen and ink creation of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. Gibson started drawing at a very young age as a way to pass the time during a period of illness in his childhood. He got recognition as an esteemed artist when he was only twelve years old, and began his career in art and illustration in his early twenties. He was quickly offered a job with Life Magazine, and within five years into his career, Gibson created the number one female icon of the early 20th century, The Gibson Girl (Kennedy).
The Gibson Girl was much like the modern day barbie doll, she influenced women's behaviors as well as their perceptions of who they were and who they should be. According to writer Kate Chopin, by crossing societal lines and participating in activities that weren't common of women at the time, the Gibson Girl was a true trendsetter and revolutionary. She was more advanced than the Victorian woman, and a complete transformation from the more dependent women of Europe. (Chopin)
The Gibson Girl represented the idea of the “New American Woman”, which was a woman separated from the traditional ideals of their European predecessors. Females across the country emulated not only her looks but her charismatic and spunky personality as well. She quickly became an icon of modernity and a feminine ideal. Her alluring characteristics enchanted American society for over twenty years.
In order to understand what her impact was on society and why people took to her so well, we must first understand who the Gibson Girl was and what was she all about. The Gibson Girl was the true American beauty post Victorian Era. She was taller than most women in the magazines, she was curvaceous yet narrow waisted, and maintained a perfect shape. The Gibson Girl, or women trying to imitate the Gibson Girl, could often be found sporting tightly bound corsets, keeping their waists pencil thin but their bosoms and bottoms still full.While it is not entirely proven, the Gibson Girl is said to have been the originator of the “hourglass figure”, an ideal of beauty that still exists today. Her skin was fair, and her hair always well kept yet curly, her signature locks are frequently referred to as a “waterfall of curls.” Her style of beauty has been described as elegant and willowy. (Lively Roots) Her style and look had an “air” of upperclass aristocracy, but more down to earth and not snobbish. (Chopin)
Women began to look and dress like the Gibson Girl, imitating her hair, poise, and style. In an article on AmericanHeritage.com, writer Agnes Rogers reveals that “Girls all over the country wanted to be as nearly like her as possible. They dressed like her; they wore their hair like her.” Women's clothing companies even capitalized on the Gibson Girl look, as Rogers explains, “Manufacturers labeled “Gibson Girl” all manner of women's clothes-- shirtwaists with the “Gibson pleats” running from shoulder to waist in a tapering line, skirts, hats, riding stocks, etc.” The Gibson Girl look was something every woman wished to attain.
Her physical attributes were not the only things that build her reputation for being “every woman's ideal and every mans dream” (Chopin). Her vibrant yet mysterious personality is what really made the Gibson Girl who she was. The Gibson girl was always laid back yet fashionable, able to maintain well kept hair whilst performing in physical acts such as riding a bike or playing tennis. (Kennedy) This is revealed further when Rogers explains that “when she went into the water...
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