What do pinup fashion and 1950’s Vogue have in common with 1890’s Edwardian & Victorian era Gibson Girls? Fabulous curves and accentuated waists, of course! Two different but overlapping themes of different eras focus on the celebration of womanly femininity.
The resounding impact that this era had on todays fashion can still be seen in the pencil and flared mid-calf skirts, wide shoulders or belted waists of our everyday fashion, not to mention in the increasing mainstream pinup and burlesque culture escalating around the world. And of course, a slender feminine waist always offsets the balance of the silhouette with beautiful contrast, which is why corsets have been worn through centuries of fashion.
Christian Dior’s 1950’s ‘New Look’ saw a celebration of small waists (with corsets) and softly sloped shoulders, echoing some of the old ideals of Victorian era fashions from the more peaceful and prosperous times of the Edwardian and early Victorian eras. Widely considered the era when the first ‘pin up’ girl was created, the 1890’s ‘Gibson Girl’ images created by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson portrayed the idealised feminine beauty of that era, with long A-line skirts, lace, and two-piece shirt and skirt pairings popularising during that period.
Kate Chopin writes a lovely blog on the topic of the Gibson Girl, stating (with paraphrasing) –
“She remained a constant ideal for over two decades. Her hourglass figure, corset and upswept hair with flowing curls became the fashion necessity of the early 1900s. The Gibson Girl created the perfect woman, combining traditional female beauty with the ‘spunk and wit of American youth’. She was ‘fashion, beauty and social success.’ The ‘aristocratic air’ was obvious by the Gibson Girl’s dress and persona. She was the ‘spirit of the early 20th century’. The Gibson girl reflects an important page in social history and provides a peek at a period of traditionalism that has been lost.”
And here’s an interesting snippet that shows the power that was so celebrated in this ultra-feminine beauty; the perceived strength of a woman celebrating the attributes that make her so captivating.
Especially the confidence!
“Susan E. Meyer described the Gibson Girl attributes in her book, America’s Great Illustrators: ‘She was taller than the other women currently seen in the pages of magazines… infinitely more spirited and independent, yet altogether feminine. She was poised and patrician. Though always well bred, there often lurked a flash of mischief in her eyes. She would smile, but was never seen laughing; further adding to her enchanting persona of self-assurance.“”
Flash forward to the 1950’s – Christian Dior believed that women wanted to return to glamour after the harshness of World War II and silver screen starlets like Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly were inspirations for this unhindered feminine beauty. I’m a strong believer that humans innately crave beauty, as I wrote in my blog on the documentary Why Beauty Matters by Roger Scruton. There’s something hopeful in being inspired, something quite strong and pure, which I think plays a part in why we seek both beauty and inspiration in our lives and our fashion.
Vogue described The New Look as being “from the era of Madame Bovary…wasp-waisted Gibson Girl shirtwaists, pleated or tucked…slow-sloped, easy shoulders…wrapped and bound middles–barrel (almost hobble) skirts–longer, deeply shaped shadow-box décolleté-padded hips…” Enchantingly womanly.
In his autobiography, Christian Dior said of his Spring 1947 ‘Corelle‘ collection – “I wanted my dresses to be constructed, molded upon the curves of the feminine body, whose sweep they would stylize.”
Named ‘Corelle‘ after the botanical term for the frail petals at the center of a flower, the post-war style flashed across Europe and America to much acclaim and made a lasting impact on the fashion and films of that generation.
Today we see reflections and recreations of that corset-waisted silhouette in pinup fashion and other waist defining trends and styles.
Plus sized fashion is also increasing attention to cinched waists, belts and other curve-flattering accessories, as well as an abundance of feminine curves. Waist training and corseting is back on pop cultures radar (being very popular in the 1900’s, again in the 1950’s, and now.) The waist is definitely back in vogue.
Perhaps it is the natural yearning for the sublime that I ruminate over in my blog post on Why Beauty Matters, but I notice that there is a reaching back in history for fashion that flatters the curves of a woman, for fabrics that ignite the imagination and styles that allow us to be as feminine as we so desire.
Maybe it’s simply my eyes opening to the broader world as time dances on, but I’m finding myself ever more captivated by eras past.
While I have always been a fan of the pencil skirt and cinched waists, it has only been more recently that I’ve realised the full extent of my true passion for the Georgian to Victorian eras (which included the Gibson Girl Edwardian era) and the styles, art and fashions of the time.
It’s fascinating to know that the styles by which I am so entranced have been loved by millions of women around the world for hundreds of years. The corseted waist and the femininity that it symbolises keeps on returning, ever more by choice of the women who choose to wear them, generation after generation and century after century.
There’s something very empowering in knowing that I have chosen to share with so many women a passion for the beauty and power that makes us so wonderfully female. It is a path I will continue to explore in my pursuit of beauty, and one that I’m quite certain will be an adventure of the most exquisite kind.
Fabulously eccentric actress, TV host, curvaceous model and founder of Hong Kong ’s first luxury corset brand, Pearls & Arsenic. I love sharing my passion for all things elegant, beautiful & inspiring. My Dearest Beloved and I live with a fluffy Angora rabbit named Lord Pemberly III, who is a ridiculous snob, and his dwarf-lop bunny brother, The Earl of Tillington. Find me on IG @RavenTao or FB : Raven Tao
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