Wadsworth's 'Gothic To Goth' Celebrates

Later in the Gothic era, fashion trends were affected by glorification of natural worlds, as well as fascination for "the natural man," such as Native Americans and Gypsies, and the unspoiled "natural child."

Persone Alexander McQueen, Jean Paul Gaultier, These, Queen Victoria, Thomas Cole, Lynne Zacek Bassett, Wadsworth Atheneum
Luoghi Möre
Organizzazioni Hudson River School, Alleanza Nazionale
Argomenti spettacolo, linguistica, internet, musica

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the early 19th century, lifestyles were changing as a result of the Industrial Revolution. The newly technologized world excited some people and scared others. Those leery of mechanization and the hyper-rationalism that came with it took refuge in Romanticism. The cultural movement emphasized a rustic aesthetic, sentimentality, mystery and reverence for eras before machines took over the world.

An exhibit at Wadsworth Atheneum demonstrates how the era's uneasiness made its mark on fashion. "The Romantic era was a rejection of reason and intellectualism, it was about emotion and nature, a more generous understanding of God and religion," said Lynne Zacek Bassett, curator of "Gothic to Goth: Romantic Era Fashion and Its Legacy." "It was a look back to an earlier period that was more simple and more socially graceful."

The 40 gowns in the show, which focuses on the years 1810 to 1860, are accompanied by works illustrating the contemporary and historical artistic and societal movements that influenced the designs as well as wardrobe accessories including a lovely array of elaborately decorated ladies' fans.

The exhibit opens with a Thomas Cole painting of a medieval jousting match at an imposing manor house, titled simply "The Past." "People then were enamored of the Middle Ages, as an age of chivalry, piety," Bassett said.

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The historicism trend led to fashions adopting medieval- and Elizabethan-era dress features such as neck ruffs, leg o' mutton sleeves with slashing accents and sawtooth-patterned edging called VanDyke points, after the 17th-century artist known for portraits of luxuriously dressed aristocrats. Leaf patterns arose from the Greek revival trend. Puffed and gathered "virago" sleeves were inspired by old portraits from painters such as Titian. Ruffled neckline edging and scarves and hoods that gently framed the face were borrowed directly from historical images.

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The Wadsworth's "Gothic to Goth" exhibit celebrates Romantic-era fashion.

"They took elements here and there and mashed them up with completely new designs," Bassett said. "You can't just snatch. You must pluck carefully. But you could say they kind of overdid it sometimes."

Manufacturing innovations, paradoxically, had one positive effect on fashions that rejected the manufacturing ethos: New, colorful fabrics. "They went kind of crazy with textiles, wallpapers, paints. They were affordable for the first time to the middle classes," Bassett said. "Fancy is the term used for these styles. Fancy is another word for imagination. There were all these embellishments: belts, shawls, aprons, sashes, hair combs."

A later influence in Romantic-era fashion was the Second Great Awakening, an early 19th-century revival of Protestant evangelism. "Women asked themselves, how can I glorify God in my apparel?" Bassett said. "The styles were more sober. Sleeves had gotten as big as they could and there was nothing they could do but slim down. Women were creating a silhouette like a Gothic arch."

Later in the Gothic era, fashion trends were affected by glorification of natural worlds, as well as fascination for "the natural man," such as Native Americans and Gypsies, and the unspoiled "natural child." (This veneration of naturalism — also reflected in the Hudson River School of painters and in transcendentalist writings — occurred at a time when those Native Americans were being slaughtered and driven off their ancestral lands.) More floral and botanical patterns appeared, as well as colors that "look like they're lit by the golden glow of twilight," Bassett said.

This segment of the exhibit is accented by the companion painting to Cole's "The Past": "The Present," which shows that formerly imposing manor house as a gutted ruin, crumbling in that same "golden glow of twilight" and surrounded by mountains and trees.

Heavy emotionalism, as embodied by mothers, brides, modest maidens and mourning widows, affected later decades in fashion. The influence of Queen Victoria can be seen most strongly here. It was she who made white the standard color for bridal gowns. Toward the end of the Romantic era, Victoria went into mourning and never wore anything but black until she died.

Bassett says elements of these early 19th century fashion trends re-emerged every 40 years or so afterward "during periods of economic and social stress." These include the financially disturbing decades the 1890s, the 1930s, the 1970s and the early 21st century.

The exhibit closes with a bay full of modern-day Goth and steampunk fashions by designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen. Steampunk arose out of cosplay, Bassett said, but Goth fashions arose out of darker influences.

"The roots of Goth were in the hippies, all love, peace and flowers. Punk was a reaction to the hippies and Goth came out of punk," she said. "Hippies looked back to the Romantic era as a pastoral, with rose-colored glasses. Goth is more creepy and supernatural, the threatening aspects of Romanticism ... the spiritualism, the creepy part of poetry, Poe, that part of the imagination you can't explain."

 

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