Making Dante's Dream come true.

11 Nov 2011

Lizzie Siddal, Artistic Dress, research and doubts.

One of the projects I bear in mind is making a dress Lizzie Siddal could have worn. I want the dress to be extremely historically acurate and shoot some versions of those 'drawers full of Guggums'. I've been doing some research lately and I've come across a big problem. If someone with more knowledge than me in this topic (which isn't very difficult) wants to help, just leave a comment or whatever.

Ok, so, I've read Lucinda Hawksley's Lizzie's biography, and the writer (and many other sources) state that she rarely wore a corset and had a particular dressing style. She probably didn't wear a crinoline either, as in drawings where she's lying or sitting painting, the skirt isn't so voluminous as with a crinoline underneath. I deduced she rejected 1850's Victorian puffed style + tight corset, so she opted for a more natural dress with a real woman's silhouette. That's fine.

The problem starts when I read she had a different and particular dressing style (apart from not wearing corset nor crinoline). Some sources suggest she slightly started the Artistic Dress Movement, which is historically probable, as Rossetti had an obsession with uncommon fabrics and dresses (he did extensive research to paint and checked medieval resources to reproduce that time's style). So, with Lizzie's style, plus her skill in sewing, her work possing for Pre-Raphaelites and Rossetti's influence, it could have happened that she had some gowns substantially different from conventional fashion in the 1850's. But, and here's my main worry, when I check Rossetti's Guggums: I cannot see any of this. I rely mostly in Rossetti's sketches because they show Lizzie in a familiar context, doing daily activities and with the clothes she probably wore everyday. In paintings, of course, she's depicted in more dressing styles, but that was just because of the painting, so I'll leave paitings apart.

This is Lizzie, apparently without crinoline nor corset, but, what about her style? Does anyone see Ranaissance sleeves or any other thing related to Artistic Dress? Isn't this dress very similiar, for example, to this other one?

And what about these other two?

A part from the volume, I can't see any huge diffirence between them.

Artistic Dress is supposed  to be like this:

It's looser and baggier, more natural, with natural colours and textures, reminiscent of Medieval and Renaissance times, more comfortable for women etc. That painting is dated the same year Lizzie died. So, should I believe she initiated the movement altogether with Rossetti, and, by the time she was dead, this fashion started to develop and  became more popular? Why I cannot see any Artistic Dress item in her pictures although sources say she had a different dressing style? That totally determines the way I'll start with the dress. Of course I'll choose a natural coloured fabric, but, I don't really know how to start my patterns.

This is really bothering me :( I'll look up some books to clarify this question if I cannot solve it through internet.


  1. I love the russet coloured dress, it's the kind of thing I imagine Lizzie wearing. Keep going, I can't wait to see the dress! Kx

  2. I'll try to do my best, thanks! ^^

  3. I'm just embarking on the same project (I think we touched on this over on Tumblr, where I'm notophelia), and will definitely be watching with interest! :-)

    I agree that it's a stretch to place Lizzie at the roots of the Artistic Dress movement, except to the extent that she didn't wear corsets. I wonder if it isn't more because of the costumes from some of the pictures she sat for?

    I do think she may have started the ball rolling by going uncorseted and choosing the simplest, most comfortable lines from among the fashions of the time. All the "domestic" images of her give me this impression. Notably the one I'm calling the "dove dress," the one from the 1854 sketches that we're both focusing on, which clearly is a fan-front (the standard name for the bodice type in the russet dress above). In a fabric with a soft hand -- assuming DGR is accurately rendering the way it drapes, and he's generally pretty precise about such things -- and worn without stays or crinoline (though possibly with a single petticoat, corded or not -- I'm going to experiment once I have a prototype dress), it gives a much softer and more comfortable impression than you would typically see in even a relatively casual day dress:

    tl;dr: I think of Lizzie as sort of proto-Artistic-Dress? She really has more in common with the Rational or Reformed Dress movement (which it appears you've already been exploring), though it's hard to say whether she was aware of it as such or developed her dress habits on her own. It's one of the things I'm investigating in the course of writing Unvarnished.

  4. Hi, Valerie! Yes, it's me who left that comment on the dress on Tumblr some days ago. First of all, I want to thank you for posting and sharing your opinion which is lovely and helpful. I reached the same conclusion you write here. Lizzie looks like wearing the casual fashion like those dresses that apparently have nothing underneath. I mean the dressed ladies look much more voluminous. I'm reading that book on dress reform I posted in the other post... if you want me to send you some scans, just ask. I'll be delighted to help in what I can. I don't have much time I'll leave the 'material' start of the project to 2012 xD If you start yours and want to share some pics it'll be fantastic. Thanks a lot for writing!

  5. I'm going to get the book too -- thank you for alerting me to an essential addition to my library!

    Right at the moment I'm resigning myself to the likelihood that I'm finally going to have to learn to do cartridge pleating. :-)

  6. Oh, you're welcome! If I found something useful or interesting I'll share it with you :) Do you mean that pleating in the skirts? Sounds difficult... hahaha :P