Picture of the Month




Dress of Gros de Naples

Wiener Zeitschrift für Kunst, Literatur, Theater und Mode, 1833

The above fashion plate was published in a Viennese fashion magazine. I have chosen it because it illustrates quite well the height of Biedermeier fashion. The German name of the era is so much more descriptive of the era than the British name tag, "George IV".

According to the caption, the dress and the hat are made of Gros de Naples and the hat also trimmed with gauze. Gros de Naples is a kind of ribbed silk taffeta that was named after its main region of origin. It seems to have been quite popular at the time since two or three other fashion plates from the same magazine and year show dresses made of the same kind of fabric. The hat doesn't really look as though it was made of fabric, but rather from straw. Maybe the top is covered with Gros de Naples.

So, which typical traits of Biedermeier fashion can we see in this plate? Let's start with the hat, since we're at it. The wide brim seems to become narrower towards the back, much like the earlier bonnets. The bouquet of flowers and gauze that rises vertically from the crown takes on the part of the artfully "erected" hairstyles of the era worn for social occasions.

Tiny shoes that would have to be called sandals if there was any less fabric (or leather) to them, the soles so thin that one wouldn't want to walk over gravel in them. A flared skirt that doesn't quite reach the ankle – the shortest skirts so far since the Migration Period –, and huge leg o'mutton sleeves.

The most typical trait, however, is nicely exaggerated in this fashion plate: An almost diamond-shaped torso. The shoulders are much wider and sloping than on any living woman with the exception of modern body-builders. In reality, such a shoulder slope could only be achieved by letting the sleeve seam drop down onto the arm, but then the shoulder line wasn't nearly as smooth. The artist, however, has lengthened the torso from the chest upwards to accommodate the period beauty ideal. The upper part of the sleeves is prevented from flaring (gathered, I guess), thus extending the impossibly long shoulder line even further. The drooping shoulders result in arms that reach so far down the body that the figurine can almost scratch the back of her knees while standing upright. The rhombic torso is further emphasised by the trim running from edge of the shoulders to the waist. A corset, the wide shoulders and huge sleeves all worked together to make the waist appear small, although by no means as small as the artist has made it.

So, apart from being a good illustration of the period beauty and fashion ideal, it is also a nice study in the artistic liberty taken by fashion plate artists throughout the ages. Especially if you compare it to e.g. the overly lengthened figures of the 1920s.

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