Baigneuses, Paul Tillier c. 1890s

I had higher hopes for Tell Me, Pretty Maiden: The Victorian and Edwardian Nude, because if we’ve learned nothing so far we have at least learned that male artists love to put two naked women together in pictures and call it art.  Sometimes they even pretend that it’s classical mythology and call it Jupiter and Callisto.

Alas, Tell Me, Pretty Maiden is pretty much devoid of any interesting old images.  The only one coming close is this Baigneuses by Paul Tiller.  The book dates it to the 1890s, but I’m not so sure about that.  If any fellow costume historians are reading this, feel free to suggest an alternate date.

I have mixed feelings about classing images of women bathing together as homoerotic.  On the one hand- women used to bathe together all the time, often out of necessity, and certainly innocently before Krafft-Ebing got to them.  On the other hand, the women in many of these images look like they’ve been having more fun than just splashing around in the water.

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Cross-dressing in the Orchard

Naturally.  What do you do in the orchard?

This is another adorable photograph from Women in Pants.  It is dated c. 1910.

"Couple posed in a relaxed embrace, c. 1910"

Dapper

The bouncer at Cubbyhole last night had a hand-made badge reading “Dapper not butch.”  I think that the lesbian community (specifically the non-femme) is in the process of co-opting the word dapper.  For example.

I’m using this post to highlight one of my favorite books, Women in Pants by Catherine Smith and Cynthia Greig.  It’s chock full of fascinating, beautiful, and downright sexy photographs of “manly maidens, cowgirls, and other renegades.”

This woman is dapper, don’t you think?

Group of women having a smoke, gelatin silver print, c. 1896

I like that she is in full masculine garb  but retained her soft poufed hair.

Pockets and Lesbians

Cabinet Card c. 1890, collection of Catharine Smith

In “Idle Hands and Empty Pockets,” published in Volume 35 of Dress,  historian Hannah Carlson discusses the gender-bending power of hands in the pockets.  In the eighteenth century, for example, a man with his hands in his pockets projected a certain air of effeminacy to his contemporaries.  Conversely, when women cross-dressed (as in the photo above), they stuck their hands deep into their trouser pockets to signify masculinity.  This makes sense when we remember that women didn’t really have pockets in which they could rest their hands until the mid-20th century.

I just want to note that the women in the photograph above were probably not lesbians.  Female cross-dressing was largely separate from Victorian ideas about sexuality.

I think we still read pocketed hands as masculine, even though women have been wearing pants for over fifty years now.  Interesting, huh?

Romantic friendship, 1873

I just came across this engraving from the digital collections of the New York Public Library.  Women in 1873 would have seen this as simply a charming image of close friends, but from the vantage point of 2009 I see it as having a real romantic undertone.  If I imagine a man in the exact position of the darker woman, the picture would clearly be an image of courtship.  Perhaps the artist had in mind a schoolgirl wooing; a practice which was tolerated, if not actually encouraged, in Victorian culture.

"Toinette"

"Toinette"