The Iconic Gibson Girl: The Feminine Ideal of the 1890s

A sketch of the Gibson Girl, modeled after Irene Langhorne

The Iconic Gibson Girl: The Feminine Ideal of the 1890s

Even if you don’t know much about the history of advertising, you’ve probably heard of the Gibson Girl.  She represented the feminine ideal of the 1890s and was the first media image of an ideal woman, establishing society’s preference for an hourglass figure and portraying the image of the girl next door.

Illustrator Charles Dana Gibson developed The Gibson Girl. He did countless sketches. Some based off real models including his future wife, Irene Langhorne, and actresses Evelyn Nesbit and Camille Clifford.

Gibson felt his girl was a composite of women he saw in public.

Feminine Ideal

A woman dressed in the style of a Gibson Girl
A woman dressed in the style of a Gibson Girl

The image Gibson created inspired other illustrators, and images appeared in magazines and on merchandise.

Some of the features of the Gibson Girl were:

  • Impeccably dressed
  • Upswept hair
  • Body in an s-curve with large bosom and hips, but small waist
  • Tall
  • Youthful
  • Upper class
  • Aloof and confident
  • Glamourous

At the same time, she is usually depicted as having equal status with men. She married only for romance and preferred to stay single. Men, however, fell hopelessly in love with her.

She used her feminine wiles to get what she wanted but was intelligent.

The Gibson Girl remained the ideal for nearly 25 years until World War I when women’s fashions changed. In addition, women no longer needed men to get what they wanted in the world. They were able to forge their own, independent, paths.

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Updated: 22 October 2020
Melina Druga
Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.
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