Ugly and Covered Up? The First Live Fashion Models

10 Aug

The first models of the nineteenth century were unattractive since ‘as a guarantee of the respectability of the establishment the director could be relied upon to choose only the plainest of girls to show off his creations.’ Lucile, who was ‘the first Englishwoman to become internationally famous as a dress designer’ employed live mannequins upon which to display her garments. Live models were used in Paris, yet since they were for the sole purpose of exhibiting the clothes, rather than their own bodies, they were enclosed ‘in a garment of rigid black satin, reaching from chin to feet’. This prevented the model showing ‘the glow of youthful flesh, or the curves of young ankles’ that may distract attention away from their attire. Lucile’s mannequins were tall, heavy women and ‘[n]one of them weighed much under eleven stone and the six-footers considerably more. It was an era when “big girls” with “fine figures” were the ideal of beauty’. In 1893, Beauty and Hygiene for Women and Girls describes three models of female beauty, ‘the beauty of Juno, of Venus and of Psyche’, to which the majority of women’s bodies conform:

[t]he daughters of Juno are “full” bodied women on the whole well-formed…Their hips are wide almost to massiveness the bust being full and inclining even to embarrassing opulence. “Fine” women is the term which best describes them.

 

Copyright © 2011 Victoria Fairclough


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