Gibson Girl

Gibson Girl

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

The "Gibson Girl" set what some argue as 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. There was merchandising of "saucers, ashtrays, tablecloths, pillow covers, chair covers, souvenir spoons, screens, fans, umbrella stands", all bearing her image.

The Image

The Gibson Girl was tall, slender yet with ample bosom, hips and bottom in the S-curve torso shape achieved by wearing a swan-bill corset. The images of her epitomized the late nineteenth 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 multi-faceted, always at ease and fashionable. Gibson depicted her as an equal and sometimes teasing companion to men. 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.

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.

The Gibson Girl personified beauty, limited independence, 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 World War I era favored a sober, masculine suit (first designed and popularized by Coco Chanel) over the elegant dresses, bustle gowns, shirtwaists, and terraced, shorter skirts favored by 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 'hour-glass' 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 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.



Additional Reading

  • Martha H. Patterson, Beyond the Gibson Girl: Reimagining the American New Woman, 1895-1915. University of Illinois Press, 2005.

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