BELLE ÉPOQUE BRIDES | KENT STATE UNIVERSITY MUSEUM | Kent State University

BELLE ÉPOQUE BRIDES

January 24, 2008 - January 4, 2009

Higbee Gallery | Jean L. Druesedow, Director

The period between 1875 and 1914 was tumultuous in both Europe and the United States. At the time, no one thought of it as a specific era, but in hindsight it has been called the "Gilded Age." In France it has been known rather nostalgically as La Belle Époque, the "Beautiful Time."

During the last years of the nineteenth century, there was an increasing divide between rich and poor. Thorstein Veblen (1857-1921) published his Theory of the Leisure Class in 1899, which gave the world the term "conspicuous consumption." There was expanding imperialism by Western European nations, with Queen Victoria declared Empress of India in 1877, and the Berlin conference of 1884 convened to attempt to settle rival claims to parts of Africa. The United States participated in this tendency, gaining Puerto Rico and the Philippines as a result of the Spanish-American War of 1898. At the same time the art world saw upheaval with the advent of Impressionism and subsequent modern movements. New forms of musical composition and dance were equally controversial. The audience rioted in 1913 at the first performance by the Ballets Russes of Stravinsky's ballet, Le Sacre du printemps, The Rite of Spring.

Fashion was most influenced by French styles, and the silhouettes changed several times within each decade beginning with a high, full bustle in the 1870s, narrowing to a tight, slim silhouette with a long train around 1880, and back again to a bustle in the mid 1880s that critics likened to a "tea table," and cartoonists depicted as garments worn by women with four legs. The 1890s were characterized by trumpet shaped skirts narrow at the waist and wide at the hem, and changing sleeve and bodice silhouettes. The sleeves grew until reaching the full blown "leg-o'-mutton" in the mid-1890s, and then collapsed into the bishop sleeve of the early twentieth century. Bodice shapes were defined by corsets that forced the body into an "S" shape by 1900. A new version of the neo-Classical silhouette appeared around 1907 when the fashionable shape straightened and narrowed with the waist placement rising. Bridal fashions followed these trends, adding a romantic flourish or an historic reference dictated by the whim of the bride and the sense of what was considered to be appropriate wedding apparel.

The explosion of World War I in Europe in 1914 has been identified as the defining moment when La Belle Époque ended. The devastation the war wreaked on Europe, the extraordinary loss of a generation of young men, the economic consequences, and the end of long established empires, all signaled the end of the era.