Picnic with the Gibson girls of today

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It all started last May after I watched the 7th episode of the first season of Girls (go Lena Dunham!). Jemima Kirke (who plays Jessa) had the most amazing hairstyle (my favourite of 2012, I’d go that far). Then I watched this interview where Lena Dunham called that particular hairstyle “futuristic Victorian”. I did some research on late Victorian and early Edwardian hairstyles but British hair history aside, I kind of forgot about it. Then, six months later my friend Olivia sent me a video of Fleetwood Mac performing “The Chain” live and we were both trying to understand what Stevie Nicks wore her hair like in that video. Then Olivia did more research and came back to me with the news that Stevie Nicks’s inspiration were the Gibson Girls.

Taken from Wikipedia: The Gibson Girl began appearing in the 1890s and was the personification of the feminine ideal of beauty portrayed by the satirical pen-and-ink illustrations of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson during a 20-year period that spanned the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in the United States. The artist saw his creation as representing the composite of “thousands of American girls.” The Gibson Girl image that appeared in the 1890s combined elements of older American images of female beauty, such as the ‘fragile lady’ and the ‘voluptuous women.’ Her neck was thin and her hair piled high upon her head in the contemporary “waterfall of curls” fashion. She was a member of upper class society, always perfectly dressed in the latest fashionable attire appropriate for the place and time of day. The Gibson Girl was also one of the new, more athletic shaped women, who could be found cycling through Central Park, often exercised and was emancipated to the extent that she could enter the workplace. Gibson depicted her as an equal and sometimes teasing companion to men. She was also sexually dominant, for example, literally examining comical little men under a magnifying glass, or, in a breezy manner, crushing them under her feet. Next to the beauty of a Gibson Girl, men often appeared as simpletons or bumblers; and even men with handsome physiques or great wealth alone could not provide satisfaction to her. Gibson illustrated men so captivated by her looks that would they would follow her anywhere, attempting to fulfill any desire, even if it was absurd. One memorable drawing shows dumbstruck men following a command to plant a young, leafless tree upside-down, roots in the air, simply because she wanted it that way. Most often, a Gibson Girl appeared single and uncommitted; however, a romance always relieved her boredom. Once married, she was shown deeply frustrated if romantic love had disappeared from her life, but satisfied if socializing with girlfriends or happy when doting on her infant child. In drawings such as these there was no hint at pushing the boundaries of women’s roles, instead they often cemented the long standing beliefs many from the old social orders held, rarely depicting the Gibson Girl as taking part in any activity that could be seen as out of the ordinary for a woman.

I went through tons of photographs and illustrations of the Gibson Girls and decided to update their look by doing three variations. All three had to look as if a girl did them in five to ten minutes, something that a girl in 2013 can certainly relate to. The other thing is that I didn’t want the hair to be as wavy as the originals, preferring the girls’ natural wave (I only used a curling tong on Katerina). This is  the next step after the buns all girls have been wearing on top of their heads. The thing about this hairstyle is that you might think of it as a “grandma” hairstyle but actually worn by a young girl and being a little messy, it looks really young and fresh. I did Katerina’s hair really big and messy with the bun being tiny and flat and consisting of two twists of hair (second picture from top). This looks more like the hair in the illustrations. Klea’s hair has less volume but the bun is much bigger (fourth picture from top). Magda’s hair is not big at all and I let wisps of hair down all around her head, a cross between the “Jessa” hairstyle and Evelyn Nesbit’s hair (third picture from top). Marina Stat did the make-up. Today’s Gibson girls are not dreaming of a prince rescuing them. They’d rather steal his cup and drink from it. I would like to thank all the people that helped me out with the shoot. Olybia was our driver and let us use Norma (my favourite dog on the planet) in a shot. Natasha provided me with the perfect picnic basket and the amazing vintage “prince” cup (you always magically appear and save my ass at picnics, you know what I mean). Helen lent us the tablecloth. Kostas did the set design.

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Jemima Kirke (as Jessa) in Girls.  My favourite hairstyle of 2012 and the one that started it all (could not find photo credit for the picture).

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Jemima Kirke (as Jessa) in the second season of Girls (could not find photo credit for the picture).

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A late Victorian hairstyle courtesy of Georgine De Courtais’s book Women’s hats, headdresses and hairstyles. This is too well-constructed and has the “grandma” effect we were trying to avoid here.

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An early Edwardian hairstyle courtesy of Georgine De Courtais’s book Women’s hats, headdresses and hairstyles. This is the hairstyle I referenced.

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Two of Charles Dana Gibson’s Gibson girls illustrations. My Gibson girls used the magnifying glass to find and collect insects. No torturing of small men in my story.

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Gibson girl Evelyn Nesbit

My favourite Gibson girl, Evelyn Nesbit, early 1900’s (could not find photo credit for the pictures).

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Gibson girls at the beach, early 1900’s (could not find photo credit for the picture).

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