ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Gibson Girls - American Beauty Icons

Updated on October 22, 2017
PatriciaJoy profile image

Previous writer and editor at BellaOnline. I love sharing articles on many topics.

Gibson Girl portrait known as Irene Adler - see note below.
Gibson Girl portrait known as Irene Adler - see note below. | Source

An Age of Optimism

The Gibson Girl was a fashion and beauty icon in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But more than that, the artist that created her—Charles Dana Gibson—believed she embodied the emerging independent yet still perfectly feminine American woman he idealized.

His drawings became wildly popular and many young women wanted to be the Gibson Girl. The merchandising of these images reached proportions comparable to Star Wars. You could dine on your Gibson Girl tablecloth and china, and if you fancied an after-dinner stroll you could bring along the umbrella bearing her image in case of rain, just to name a few of the items to choose from.

It may seem strange to think of a graphic illustration having such an impact on American culture. But imagine if there were no movies, TV or internet. Photography was still considered a new art and more expensive than paying an artist for drawings. Before the silver screen lit up imaginations, it was illustrators whose work appeared in newspapers and popular magazines that set the tone for fashion.

Gibson Girl Trivia

The portrait above is known as Irene Adler, a fictional character from the Sherlock Holmes story "A Scandal in Bohemia" and was one of the few people to outwit the great detective. It's unclear if Gibson meant to depict this character or his wife Irene in the drawing.

The artist at work - By George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The artist at work - By George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

About the Artist Charles Dana Gibson

Golden Age of Illustration

Artist Charles Dana Gibson was the son of an American Civil War veteran and a loving mother. Both his parents encouraged his talent in drawing silhouettes, a popular art of the era. Though, they were of meager means, they managed to send him to art school. He was able to study for two years but his family couldn't continue to pay his way. He set out to sell his drawings, but he didn't prove to be much of a businessman at that time.

He was persistent though and eventually started to sell his illustrations to many popular publications. While he was a working artist, it wasn't until he created the Gibson Girl that he became well known. After World War I when the Gibson Girl was less popular and the flapper girl became all the rage, he settled down to do mainly oil portraits of his home state and family.

Learn How to do Gibson Girl Big Hair - Even if you think you can't

Gibson Girl Hair

Oh that hair!

The Gibson Girl look included her famous updo which was a take on the chignon. It was a mix of classic elegance and a hint of fiery spunk with wisps of hair falling out in a seemingly haphazard fashion. This style epitomized the outgoing, optimistic spirit inherent in Gibson's illustrations. It showed a lot of class with just enough of an air of independence.

Long hair for women was the status quo of the era. This hairstyle gathered these long locks on the top of the head or in a bun closer to the back. Women with naturally thick and curly hair had an easier time pulling this look off, but with some effort, women with almost any texture of hair could make it work.

Evelyn Nesbit - Studio of Napoleon Sarony [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Evelyn Nesbit - Studio of Napoleon Sarony [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Gibson Girl Fashion

The fashion was dictated by the mores of the day which included Victorian era sensibilities. A woman was expected to be feminine and not show too much skin, though some shoulder and possibly a hint of cleavage was allowed. While this seems a bit stuffy compared to today's standards, sexuality was still present in the obvious curves of the hourglass figure held in place by corsets and showed off by long flowing gowns. Day wear was near ankle-length skirts, frilly tops accentuated by cinch waists. See the example below.

This photo is that of Evelyn Nesbit. She was an artist's model and chorus girl who was one of the many women who posed for Gibson. She portrays the elements of Gibson Girl fashion, though her personal life reads like a sordid novel, but that's a different story.

It wasn't just American women who embodied the Gibson Girl look. In fact, the artist held a contest to search for the ideal feminine beauty he envisioned the Gibson Girl to be. He chose the Belgian-born actress Camille Clifford as the woman who represented this ideal. This style was incredibly popular in Europe and America.

Examples of Early 20th Century Fashion

Public domain at
Public domain at | Source
By Woolnough-Corsetiers (Corset Styles 1909-1910.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Woolnough-Corsetiers (Corset Styles 1909-1910.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Corset Poll

Would you ever wear a corset?

See results

The Gibson Waist

What gave the women of the era that lovely shape? You guessed it—corsets. Even though I think we've gone to the opposite extreme (letting it all hang out if you will), I'm still glad the days of feeling naked without a corset are long behind us.

The Beauty Fades

But leaves a lasting impression

At the time the Gibson Girl first became famous, America was in the midst of the Gilded Age, a time of incredible economic growth due to industrialization. The name came from the title of a book by Mark Twain, the famous American humorist. The term implies that which appears beautiful on the outside but is full of turmoil within.

This was a time of great wealth and conversely great poverty. Not all wealthy industrialists treated their workers with respect. The Gilded Age preceded the Progressive Era when many social policies changed including better treatment of workers. While her ideal impressed itself upon a culture, she was clearly of a certain class unlike what many regular Americans of the time personally had any experience with other than what they read about or were employed by.

The popularity of the Gibson Girl's image lasted into the beginning of the 20th century but faded not long after the start of World War I. Fashions changed, and the flapper girl came into vogue. The Gibson Girl's impossibly thin yet voluptuous figure was hardly attainable for the average woman. Maybe the reason she still holds a place in our national collective psyche is that even with reasons to be pessimistic she represented a spirit of innocence and hope at the turning of a new century.

Sources consulted

Stars of the Edwardian Stage: Camille Clifford. Stage Beauty, accessed January 2011.

Charles Dana Gibson and the Gibson Girls, Lively Roots, accessed January 2011,

The Gilded Age. Schmoop University, 2010.

Dworin, Caroline H. The Girl, the Swing and a Row House in Ruins. The New York Times, November 4, 2007.

© 2011 PatriciaJoy

Are you a Gibson Girl fan?

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      I have some Gibson prints that I should get framed. Love them.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 

      5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      I've put my hair in a Gibson Girl style without realizing what I was doing! Fun page :)

    • chrisilouwho profile image


      5 years ago

      this is really interesting, love the drawings

    • shay-marie profile image

      Shay Marie 

      5 years ago from Southern California

      I saw Gibson Girl wallpaper in a restaurant once. I thought it was the coolest thing ever!

    • VspaBotanicals profile image


      5 years ago

      Fantastic Lens!

    • David Stone1 profile image

      David Stone 

      5 years ago from New York City

      Nice piece of Americana. I loved it.

    • Blonde Blythe profile image

      Blonde Blythe 

      6 years ago from U.S.A.

      Yes! I have gibson girl pictures on my walls! Fascinating lens!

    • ClassyGals profile image

      Cynthia Davis 

      6 years ago from Pittsburgh

      I am totally a Gibson Girl fan. Angel Blessings**

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      High Five" Gibson created one heck of a gal! Well written and Nicely done.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens, and fascinating read. I'd never heard of the Gibson girls but I've seen them show up in old advertisements all the time.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I'd never heard of the Gibson girl look but I've seen this figure in advertisements from the period. It reminds me of a conservative sort of woman who was being replaced by the later flapper girl.

    • PatriciaJoy profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Michigan

      @Timewarp: Thanks so much for the blessing.

    • Timewarp profile image


      8 years ago from Montreal

      Enjoyed this unique lens, I blessed it as well :)

    • PatriciaJoy profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Michigan

      @Missmerfaery444: Thanks so much for the blessing. It was a fun subject to write about.

    • Missmerfaery444 profile image


      8 years ago

      I think this is a lovely era of fashion and it was great to learn more about it! Blessed.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)