Gibson Girl

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Sketch of the Gibson Girl by Charles Dana Gibson

The Gibson Girl was the personification of a feminine ideal as portrayed in the satirical pen-and-ink-illustrated stories created by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson during a 20-year period spanning the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in the United States.

Some people argue that the "Gibson Girl" was the first national standard for feminine beauty. For the next two decades, Gibson's fictional images were extremely popular.[1] There was merchandising of "saucers, ashtrays, tablecloths, pillow covers, chair covers, souvenir spoons, screens, fans, umbrella stands",[2] all bearing her image. The artist saw his creation as representing "thousands of American girls".

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[edit] The image

The Pin-Up by Charles Dana Gibson.

The Gibson Girl was tall and slender yet with ample bosom, hips and bottom; she had an exaggerated S-curve torso shape achieved by wearing a swan-bill corset. The images of her epitomized the late 19th- and early 20th-century Western preoccupation with statuesque, youthful features and ephemeral beauty. Her neck was thin and her hair piled high upon her head in the contemporary bouffant, pompadour, and chignon ("waterfall of curls") fashions. The tall, narrow-waisted ideal feminine figure was portrayed as being multi-faceted, at ease, and fashionable. Gibson depicted her as an equal and sometimes teasing companion to men.[3]

The artist believed that the Gibson Girl represented the beauty of American women:

I'll tell you how I got what you have called the 'Gibson Girl.' 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. I saw her idling on Fifth Avenue and at work behind the counters of the stores... [T]he nation made the type. What Zangwill calls the ‘Melting Pot of Races’ has resulted in a certain character; why should it not also have turned out a certain type of face?...There isn’t any ‘Gibson Girl,’ but there are many thousands of American girls, and for that let us all thank God.[4]

Gibson believed that America's Gibson Girls would become more beautiful:

They are beyond question the loveliest of all their sex...In the United States, of course, where natural selection has been going on, as elsewhere, and where, much more than elsewhere, that has been a great variety to choose from. The eventual American woman will be even more beautiful than the woman of to-day. Her claims to that distinction will result from a fine combination of the best points of all those many races which have helped to make our population.[4]

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 high coiffure and long, elegant gowns that wrapped around her hourglass figure and tightly corseted wasp waist defined the style.[5]

Among Gibson Girl illustrators were Howard Chandler Christy whose work celebrating American "beauties" was similar to Gibson's, and Harry G. Peter, who was most famous for his art on Wonder Woman comics.

"They are only collecting the usual fans and gloves" by Charles Dana Gibson

The Gibson Girl personified beauty, independence, personal fulfillment (she was depicted attending college and vying for a good mate, but she was never depicted as part of the suffrage movement), and American national prestige. By the outbreak of World War I, changing fashions caused the Gibson Girl to fall out of favor. Women of the World War I era favored a practical, more masculine suit, compatible with war work, over the elegant dresses, bustle gowns, shirtwaists, and terraced, shorter skirts favored by the Gibson Girl.

[edit] Survival radio

The USAAF World War II-era SCR-578 (and the similar post-war AN/CRT-3) survival radio transmitters carried by aircraft on over-water operations were given the nickname "Gibson Girl" because of their "hourglass" shape. The radio included a balloon with water-activated hydrogen inflator and 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 life boat, 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. A similar design was used by the German Luftwaffe circa 1939.[6]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ "Bookishness: The Gibson Girl". Life XXIV (620): 312–313. November 15 1894. http://books.google.com/?id=bB0AAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA312. Retrieved 2009-07-27. "Mr. Gibson has a great responsibility on his shoulders, and if he once fully realizes it, it will keep him awake nights. I wonder if he knows that there are thousands of American girls, from Oshkosh to Key West, who are trying to live up to the standard of his girls." 
  2. ^ Charles Dana Gibson and the Gibson Girls
  3. ^ American Beauties
  4. ^ a b Marshall, Edward (2010-11-20). "The Gibson Girl Analyzed By Her Originator". The New York Times. http://sundaymagazine.org/2010/11/the-gibson-girl-analyzed-by-her-originator/. Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  5. ^ "Why Do They Call Me A Gibson Girl? Miss Camille Clifford Singing The Song Which Reached Miss Edna May's Heart". The Bystander XII (149): 83. October 10 1906. http://books.google.com/?id=yvERAAAAYAAJ&pg=PT32. Retrieved 2009-07-27. 
  6. ^ Wireless for the Warrior

[edit] Further reading

  • Patterson, Martha H. Beyond the Gibson Girl: Reimagining the American New Woman, 1895-1915. University of Illinois Press, 2005.
  • Patterson, Martha H. The American New Woman Revisited: 1894-1930. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2008.
  • Pollard, Percival (June 1897). "Sundry "American Girls" In Black-And-White". The Book Buyer: A Review and Record of Current Literature XIV (5): 474–478. http://books.google.com/?id=_0QDAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA474. Retrieved 2009-07-27. 
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