Femininity in 1850 and 2005
[Originally posted on the Judgment of Paris Forum on November 7th, 2004, in response to a post from Emily about an MFA fashion exhibition celebrating feminine apparel, such as hoop skirts, flounce, trims, and fringe.]
The dress in that image is truly lovely. It's wonderful to see an example of the sort of attire worn by 19th-century beauties such as Lillian Russell, but with all of its vibrant colour on display, rather than in a vintage black-and-white photograph.
The article refers to the "opulence" and the "lavish trimmings, and ornate accessories" of pre-1900s attire, and indeed--as we have often suggested--those elaborate, lush elements are tailor-made for setting off the charms of a plus-size figure, because they originated at a time when luxuriant womanly proportions were celebrated as the ideal of beauty, and when designers were predominantly interested in adorning curvaceous bodies rather than walking skeletons.
In a longer .pdf document, which also appears on the MFA Web site, the curators enthuse about the "opulent and luxurious fabric, including frothy tulles and gauzes" of the dresses in this exhibit. We are pleased to note that such details also distinguished the finest creations of the "New Femininity" in fashion, which made such an impact in the 2004 spring/summer season.
The MFA documents reveal that 19th-century designers also embraced another principle of plus-size fashion, the "body-as-fashion-accessory" concept. The show's documentation notes that "Evening wear for women was distinguished from day wear by short sleeves and very low necklines." Ergo, then as now, curve-friendly designers realized that full, shapely arms and generous decolletage comprise part of a goddess's irresistible allure.
All of this would be merely an interesting historical footnote, except that today's designers appear to be paying very close attention to exhibitions such as these. A recent article (November 2) in FWD was titled "LA Spring Trend Report: Frilly, Flirty and Feminine." And if that title alone isn't enough to get you excited about the coming season, here is what the article forecasts for fashion in spring/summer 2005:
Girls, get ready to ruffle!
The descriptions of the styles in both the MFA documentation about the 1850s exhibit, and in this article about next year's trends, sounds almost identical. The "aesthetic restoration" in fashion is well under way.
It is truly encouraging to see designers increasingly stepping away from their old practice of simply recycling the anti-plus trends of the 20th century, and instead drawing inspiration from pre-1900s fashion, which was far more favourable towards naturally-proportioned women.
What a shame, however, that last season (with the notable exception of Torrid), very few plus-size retailers embraced the New Femininity, in all of its frilly fascination.
Let us hope that the Spring 2005 season will be different, and that the plus-size industry as a whole will offer its customers the kinds of ultra-feminine designs that--after all--were created precisely with their beauty in mind.
Lindsey Garbelman modelling 2005 promwear--at SydneysCloset.com:
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