The Beauty Files

Make Up: A History – The Victorian Era, Gibson Girl Style

The Gibson Girl is widely considered to be the first ‘pin-up girl’. Created by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson in the 1890s, the images encompassed the ideal feminine beauty of the Victorian times. Gibson based his Gibson Girls on a collective observation of thousands of American ladies. The corseted slim-waisted figures sported soft hair, which was piled upon the head in a soft bouffant/chignon style that exuded effortless beauty.

Camille Clifford (pictured below) was deemed the quintessential Gibson Girl. Camille was a stage actress and served as just one of the models for Charles Gibson’s Gibson Girl images. In the early 1900s Camille won a magazine contest which was sponsored by the illustrator, in which he ardently desired to find a living, breathing version of his beloved pen and ink Gibson Girl drawings.


The Victorian era spanned from 1837, until the reigning monarch Queen Victoria’s death in 1901. The Victorian era coincided with the Belle Epoque era of continental Europe, and America’s Gilded Age. The Victorian times were dominated by strict codes of morality and were defined by religious practice. Heavy make up was seen as promiscuous and audacious. For this reason, make up was only really worn by actresses and prostitutes. Subtle, natural beauty was favored over heavy, obvious make up.

Again, alabaster white skin was extremely in vogue during this era. Women shielded their skin from the sun by wearing delicate gloves and using parasols. Pale skin was desired, as it sybolised class and wealth, by showing that you were wealthy enough that didn’t have to work in the sun, like the lower classes. Society women often stayed inside. Women rarely wore make up, except from a little power to keep the face from looking too shiny. Any other cosmetics worn, like eyeshadow and lip colour, were extremely natural and often in nude coloured shades.

Skincare was favoured over cosmetics. In 1846 T.T Pond Company was formed, and went on to produce Pond’s Cold Cream and Pond’s Vanishing Cream. These creams became remarkably popular at the turn of the Century, and are still popular today!

To achieve a modern day Gibson Girl look, follow the steps below!

  1. Start with a pale foundation as a base. Add a little pressed powder to prevent shine.
  2. Add a subtle pink blusher to the apples of the cheeks and blend for a rosy yet faint glow. Benefit Cosmetic’s Hervana is perfect for this look, but any light pink/mauve coloured blusher will work.
  3. Add a nude eyeshadow to the lid, and blend up into the crease. Keep the shadow subtle and understated. I used MAC Royal Assets pallate’s ‘Nobility’.
  4. Add a small amount of mascara. Brown mascara or even clear will work perfectly for this look, as mascara would have rarely been worn.
  5. Keep eyebrows full and filled in. Use an angled brush to softly apply a matte brown eyeshadow (or use eyebrow pencil) to the brows for definition. Remember! Ladies would not have plucked/waxed their eyebrows in those days.
  6. Using your ring finger, dab a plum coloured lipstick onto your lips to create a soft stained look. I used Chanel’s Rouge Hydrabase in shade 36, Lune Rousse. Blot with tissue and keep adding layers softy with your finger to achieve the soft, plum look.


Now get the hairstyle!

  1. This style is easiest to recreate on hair with texture. I wouldn’t recommend doing this on freshly washed hair. Also, a little backcombing may help and add to the look.
  2. Separate your hair into three sections. Go from ear to ear and separate the front section of your hair. Section this off with a clip or hair tie.
  3. Take the horizontal middle section, and twist into a bun. Secure with a hair tie and some hair grips
  4. Leave a horizontally sectioned piece of hair beneath the bun.
  5. Taking small sections (about three inches works best) use your fingers to roll pieces hair backwards towards the bun. Pin the rolls down. Do this with the front section of your hair and the section beneath the bun. Don’t worry about being neat, this look works well with texture.
  6. When all the sections are pinned back, fashion them to look like one big roll.
  7. Pull down some delicate tendrils of hair and curl them. I used a conical styling wand to create loose, spiral curls. Add hairspray and voila! Hello Gibson Girl!


  • Laura Van Put

    Wasn’t the whole idea of a Gibson girl that he thought women shouldn’t exaggerate in trying to look good? He said girls look very pretty and sexy with just their hair up in a loose dot on top of their head. But what you made of it is very pretty indeed.

    • Chloe Campbell

      Hi there! Yes, that was the whole idea. In my first paragraph I say that exactly, “The corseted slim-waisted figures sported soft hair, which was piled upon the head in a soft bouffant/chignon style that exuded effortless beauty” and again in later paragraphs where I explained that make up was kept to the bare minimal. If you are referring to the hairstyle shown in my tutorial, I just thought that it was a really great way for us girls without so much hair (Victorian ladies never kept their hair shorter like we do now) to achieve the style. I wasn’t saying that Victorian ladies would have done their hair like this at all, just that it’s a good modern way to achieve the same look! But thank you for the comment :)

  • Ellen Clifford

    Hmm, I can only wish that I was related to Camille. I have the name and pale skin working. I would need help on the figure part though:)

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