Sunday, April 22, 2012

Those Bumless Beauties, 1788

Sunday, April 22, 2012
Isabella/Susan* reporting:

This is one of my favorite satirical prints of the late 18th c, and what's not to love? It's pure fashion foolishness at its best. Of course in 1788, when this print was published, Englishwomen didn't suddenly lose their booties.

But fashion was changing: the big hoops and false-rumps of the earlier 18th c had fallen from fashion, and the narrower, high-waisted gowns of the Regency era are just around the corner. The shoes with curving high heels that had been in style for over a century have been replaced by flat slippers. Balancing out the new, narrower lower half are oversized hats, kerchief-draped bosoms, that enormous fur muff, and full, frizzled hair.

Yes, it's doubtful even the most dedicated Georgian fashionista was dressed to this extreme. Portraits and surviving clothes from this period are actually quite pretty and feminine, even to our modern eyes. But satirical artists made their living by exaggeration, and in an era that loved women of physical substance, an artist couldn't go wrong ridiculing a too-slender figure in a tight skirt, or accusing women of deception in dress, either.

The caption:
   Both bums and rumps are now no more.
   With merry thoughts the fair are blest.
   Their beauties now you may explore.
   All bare and therefore all express't.

Although this print has been attributed to James Sayers, scholars now believe it's the work of one of the best caricaturists of all time, Thomas Rowlandson (who incidentally died on this day in 1827.) Given the many - and often erotic - drawings Rowlandson made of robustly endowed women, he clearly wasn't enamored of the new fashions. Don't you wish he could be miraculously transported to modern times to draw Kim Kardashian?

Above: The Bumless Beauties by James Sayers/Thomas Rowlandson, published by S.W.Fores, London, 1788. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

*Why two names? Here's the answer.


Julia said...

Isn't it amazing how the female silhouette expands and shrinks over the decades? Jane Austen's empire dresses which the caricaturists seem to be gleefully happy to draw as very, very bottom-heavy, but with rather simple hair-dos and caps. Then suddenly that huge behind disappears (rather like a slim-fast animation) and instead the upper body sprouts these huge puffs of fabrics (maybe the bum was pawned off to pay for all that?) and the hair and caps explode along with it. And now the Victorian fashion is looming ahead, with (you wish) tiny waists and the skirts spreading out more and more. And more. (But the hair is shrinking back into neat, dark, smooth arrangements.) Then the whole below-the-waist bulk shifts again end of the 19th century and absolutely disappears with the golden twenties, and then even more when Twiggy comes along. In the fifties we get another sudden expansion of the skirts (maybe those huge Victorian things were hiding somewhere all the time?) and then come the eighties and suddenly the hitherto more or less modest breasts swell out like whoa.

I love to think what some alien life form, seeing all these fashion pictures, would make of it. Maybe evolution works much faster for the female species, so it can adapt to changing environments by padding different parts of it's body, depending on whether stumbling and falling on your behind or being hit by falling fashion-magazines (so that's what a fashion victim is!) is more likely?

Or maybe it's a very slow life-cycle, and those huge skirts of the 1860ies was were the young of the species were kept till the hatched, and then at first they were very skinny until in the 1950ies they started to mature and grow large skirts of their own?

Do the females have the strange ability of shifting 50% of their bodies around?

What a very curious species.

textilehistorIE said...

Great comment Julie.

The abandoning of hoops that you mention makes me think of 1850s hoops, ie that they didn't stay away that long. That and the fact that I'm eating up my North and South box set at the moment.

Would love to see a graph charting skirt widths in the last 300 years.

Julia said...

hi textilehistorIE,

oh dear, now you started an idea with me. I mean, making the pictures wouldn't be hard... that's what I love and fear this blog for: it gives me wonderful inspirations and terribly time-consuming ideas.

Anonymous said...

What is that huge thing falling in the front of the woman to the right? At first glance, I thought it was her drooping breasts, but a closer look makes me think it is some kind of mitts!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

King Hal - Believe it or not, it's a giant fur muff - very much in fashion at the time. The skirts and bums may have disappeared, but hats, kerchiefs, and muffs went berzerk.

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