Woman as a Flower
At the beginning of this century, Woman stood conscious of her dignity wrapped in the opulent armor of her robe, her figure pressed into a grotesque S-bend: breasts pushed outward into a sweeping curve, while an exaggerated, projecting bottom curved in the opposite direction as a counterweight beneath the tightly corseted waist and flat abdomen. This look included hip-hugging skirts which fanned out toward the ground, very long and narrow sleeves, extremely high stand-up collars, trains, well-coifed hair and rolls of pinned-up, wavy hair beneath overly decorated, dramatically draped hats made of chiffon, chine fabrics, silk alpaca, velvet, and lace.
The greatest innovations in the ball gowns of 1848 were long-stemmed, stylized flowers, colourfully embroidered borders and decorations that had an upward movement. An unprecedented passion for decoration characterised this time: corded embroidery, applique, lace inserts, glass beads, sequins, frills, and pleats covered women like a glossy, flickering web.
Another newly formulated inspiration shared by art and fashion surely lay in the erotic images and new ideas of feminine beauty: thick, flowing hair was replete with symbolic meaning for the Secessionists, and fashion too, laid great stock in full-bodied, curly hair tied into a loose knot and pinned at the back of the head. The Viennese artist Gustav Klimt (1862 – 1918) painted portraits of women that symbolically united art and life through a feminine yearning to stand above everyday concerns in a Madonna-like attitude wrapped in untouchable beauty. Klimt’s images seamlessly merged ladylike dignity and sexual availability.
Around 1900, the entire female body was treated like a decorative or bejeweled objects-erotically stylised, deformed, and estranged from its biological function by a profit-seeking clothing industry. Fashion and femininity were inextricably linked. Already in the 1890s, designers had tried to establish the aesthetic principles of asymmetrical composition in ladies’ fashion. Fashion not only expressed the asymmetries between social classes; it also mediated the inequalities between men and women.