Gilded Age Glamour Personified: The Gibson Girl

Bartow-Pell’s current exhibition, Gilded Age Glamour, features fashions and fashion prints from the museum’s collection. These stylish ensembles from a lost era are on view until April 30.

Style divas in the Gilded Age of the 1890s and beyond were inspired by the Gibson Girl, the ne plus ultra modern woman of taste, beauty, self-assurance, and glamour created by the illustrator Charles Dana Gibson (1867–1944) and partly modeled on his wife, Irene, one of the famous Langhorne sisters. Statuesque, sophisticated, and athletic, the Gibson Girl was an American aristocrat who wore her clothes as a supermodel would today. A wasp waist and shapely bosom gave her the perfect figure for fashions of the time.

Gibson 3 girls

This illustration and others reproduced here date from the 1890s and are from The Gibson Book: A Collection of the Published Works of Charles Dana Gibson in Two Volumes, Vol. I (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons and R. H. Russell, 1906).

In Gibson’s world, the ideal woman is independent and beautiful. Men admire her, society gossips about her, and parents fret as she coolly moves through a myriad of social occasions and tête-à-têtes.

Gibson dress shopping

The Gibson Girl looks at us confidently, pouts prettily, or gazes serenely into the distance in order to display her handsome profile.

Gibson Tea Drinker detail

BPMM’s exhibition is a rare chance to see fashions in our costume collection that were worn during the glamorous Gibson Girl years of the Gilded Age.

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“Toilette de Plage (Beach Ensemble),” La Grande Dame, Revue Mondaine Cosmopolite, no. 32 (Paris: Ancienne Maison Quantin, 1893–96). Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. The woman in Bartow-Pell’s print enjoys the outdoors and boldly directs her gaze at the viewer.

Toilette de Theatre full size jpg

“Toilette de Théâtre” (Theater Ensemble), La Grande Dame, Revue Mondaine Cosmopolite, no. 45 (Paris: Ancienne Maison Quantin, 1893–96). Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. This 1890s fashion print from a French magazine can be seen in BPMM’s current exhibition. It depicts the era’s leg-of-mutton sleeves (creating a strong shoulder line) and a stylish large hat. Like the American Gibson Girl, the model is a modern woman who exudes confidence, style, and beauty. Her lovely face is shown in profile.

We hope you will join us on Thursday, April 21, at 7:30 p.m. for “Fashion and Femininity in Gilded Age America” by exhibition curators Claire McRee and Sarah Pickman, who will discuss the era as a turning point in how women dressed and lived.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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