The Gibson Girl was created by Charles Dana Gibson in his satirical illustrations from 1890 to 1910. She represented an idealised, upper middle class, American girl. She was feminine and athletic, independent and confident. Her femininity was shown in her hair piled high on her head in soft pompadour style. She was a “new woman” who worked outside the home, dressed in an elegant skirt and business-like blouse. At leisure, she might wear a beach dress or a tennis dress but when socialising the new soft corset under her formal dress, showed off her generous bust and hips, hour-glassing from a tiny waist.
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Charles Gibson originally took inspiration from his own sister Josephine Gibson and then from his wife Irene Langhorne and her sisters, who included Nancy Astor. Subsequently, his model was Evelyn Nesbit, a young actress, whose life was later blighted when her mother allowed her to be used and abused by wealthy followers, resulting in a notorious murder trial involving her husband.
In the new century, a magazine contest was sponsored by Gibson to find a living version of his Gibson Girl drawings. It was won by stage actress Camille Clifford. Her figure and deportment demonstrated the perfect S shaped curve. Born in Belgium, she appeared on stage in the United States and in England. Having previously been a silent member of the chorus she now had a song written for her by Leslie Styles when she first appeared at the Lyceum Theatre in London in 1905. Entitled, “Why do they call me a Gibson Girl,” it included this line,
“Wear a blank expression and a monumental curl
And walk with a bend in your back
Then they will call you a Gibson Girl.”
Inevitably the life changes caused by the outbreak of the First World War, sent the Gibson Girls into oblivion.