Monday, March 19, 2007

And what about the ladies?

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After all this discussion about man titty, clinch covers and what sells a book, I started looking through my collection of Ackermann fashion plates. It occurred to me that most of the ladies portrayed were very young and rather thin for their time, rather like the models in our current fashion magazines.

We know from many of the contemporary portraits that the ideal for Regency women was definitely plumper, rounder and softer. In complete contrast to today, being chubby meant you were wealthy enough to eat well and that was seen as beautiful. It's also interesting that most society painters tended to paint variations on the same round face, be-curled hair and rosebud mouth on their sitters, so it's still difficult to tell whether these portraits were simply meant to flatter or are a true representation of how people really were. Not everyone wanted to be remembered 'warts and all' like Oliver Cromwell.

Back to my picture. This one is simply entitled "Evening Dress' 1820 but it's so much more. A real touch of subliminal advertising. Yes, the dress is beautiful but look at what she is holding in her hand and the coy, considering expression on her face. To me, this fashion plate is saying 'buy this dress and you'll be having a secret assignation straight after the ball!' Or is she simply reading over her shopping list for Safeway the next day? Somehow I doubt it. I wish I knew more about the language of fans because I'm sure the way she holds her fan under her chin has something to add to the puzzle. All I know is that she's anticipating a good night! What do you think?


Robin L. Rotham said...

The first thing I think when I see that picture is, if her arms are anything to go by, her corset was mighty tight. And I think you called it on her expression; she doesn't look like she was truly into the coy thing. She's just posing this way because it's expected and she's really anticipating her next bout with the studly nude in Jane's portrait.

Celia May Hart said...

I've heard that the fan positions thing was done as a satire, which, if true, is not something to fuss over -- however, it had to be satirizing *something* right?

I love Ackermann prints, btw.

Anonymous said...

That's a great picture. It does make me want to know what she was reading. It reminds me of a line from a song I heard today. Amazing how such little details can be so inspirational.

Kate Pearce said...

Robin, the body shapes are all out of proportion on these fashion plates. Most of the women have necks like giraffes, teeny tiny bodices and arms like balloons! (wow sounds like me)

Celia I'm sure I read a novel using the language of fans recently-I'll have to go and check it out.

Mina-what amazes me is that something that is almost 200 years old can still resonate with a modern audience. Isn't it amazing?

Pam Rosenthal said...

A related piece of writing is Professor Sharon Marcus's Reflections on Victorian Fashion Plates, in which she finds a wealth of interesting erotic subtexts.

Marcus is a brilliant, gutsy academic, whom I know a little because she's one of my son's professors. Her writing is dense and academic, but full of verve and the excitement of discovery. You need a Project Muse ID to get to it online, but the fall 2003 issue of "differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies" is probably pretty easy to come by in libraries.

Jane Lockwood said...

One of the things I find fascinating about Regency gowns is how they seem to eroticize the nape of the neck. I say "seem to" because I'm not sure whether this is my torrid imagination and I've never come across anything on it. But the cut of the gowns, and often the angle of the neck in portraiture are very reminiscent of the traditional geisha's kimono (in a culture where the nape is highly eroticized).
Celia, I expect it's a laundry list a la Northanger Abbey.