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Capturing Modern Life

Learning Femininity

Guys also captured the essence of his period by demonstrating the social implications of femininity in terms of dress. In the nineteenth century social gender divisions were demarcated by the growing sobriety of male dress and the frivolous, impractical and overtly feminine undulations of female dress. The cumbersome curve of the crinoline, the frivolous bonnets trimmed with feathers and the increasing artifice of hairstyles and use of cosmetics became defining characteristics of femininity in the modernity represented by Guys.

Baudelaire showed the gulf between feminine fashion and practical dress in a definition of woman's public role within society: "Woman [....] is even accomplishing a kind of duty when she devotes herself to appearing magical and supernatural [....] as an idol she is obliged to adorn herself to be adored." These gender differences are illustrated in a drawing entitled Lady in a Cloak and a Gentleman. The plain dark clothes of the male figure demonstrate the gravity of male dress, and the vertical elements of his top hat and walking cane provide a contrast with the curves of the woman's crinoline and feathered bonnet which dominate the drawing.

A second drawing of a man, woman and child enables the viewer to explore the socialisation of these differences in terms of dress. The female child wears a bonnet trimmed with feathers in imitation of the woman's bonnet and the shallow curved neckline and narrow waistline of her short dress conform to fashionable adult female dress. Only her pantalettes differentiate the dress of the female child from that of the adult woman. The drawing shows the absorption of gender roles into social consciousness: the dress of the small girl demonstrates an awareness of learning the female social role: to communicate gender difference through dress.

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