The last two posts have been about Evelyn Nesbit, and although there’s at least one more to go, I want to take a slight detour and talk about the Gibson Girls!
The Gibson Girls are the invention of Charles Dana Gibson, an American illustrator.
His illustrations appeared in the 1890s, and by the turn of the century, they were instantly recognizable icons and household names. And quite possibly the first pin-ups to ever exist!
The Gibson Girls had beautiful hair piled on top of their head and perpetually bored expressions. Despite being sturdily built and somewhat addicted to objectifying men, they were also feminine and beautiful. Their popularity marked a departure from the frail Victorian lady, who was in vogue in the early 1890s. Gibson regarded them as the idealized American woman.
Evelyn Nesbit, of course, was one Gibson Girl model, but she was by no means the only one. Gibson’s own wife, Irene Langhorne, was the original model. Camille Clifford was another very famous model, and probably the one who most resembled the illustrations.
Apparently, the Gibson Girl look is no easy feat to achieve. The voluminous hair would be difficult for almost any woman to achieve unassisted, so natural hair is supplemented with a charmingly named “rat” – which is a piece of a woman’s own hair (maybe taken for a hairbrush over time), or a purchased piece. The rat is placed under the piled up hair to help maintain the required height.
It does seem that, in general, the Gibson Girl look was much more attractive in an illustration than when real women attempted it. Perhaps it’s just knowing that there is a “rat” is under their hair.