Anarchists of Style: The Pre-Raphaelites (Snapshot)

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which formed under the leadership of Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1848, took a notably rebellious stance on contemporary ideas of beauty. They considered la mode—women contorted by tight corsets and voluminous skirts—to be ugly, unnatural. Instead, the Pre-Raphaelites idealized the medieval age, a time when dress celebrated the body’s natural silhouette and was simple, unadorned and allowed the honest grace of the female figure.

Their work elevated the allure of women like Jane Morris (William Morris’ wife and Rossetti’s lover ). Tall, lithe and angular, with thick wavy hair and a strong jaw, Jane’s a look presented a striking contrast to the doll-like beauties currently in fashion.

The style created by the Pre-Raphaelites and embodied by Jane Morris was to provide inspiration for aesthetic dress, which glorified lanky women sporting frizzy hair, form-skimming gowns and sunflowers. As Punch described this ideal in 1879: she had “frizzled flamboyant hair…her cheeks were cavernous, her form was spare.”

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