Pre-Raphaelite women – fashion inspirations

The women of the Pre-Raphaelites have been used many times as inspiration in fashion campaigns and within celebrity culture. Find out more about the movement and why people are still fascinated with them today.

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 Beginning as a fashion movement between 1850 and 1900, Artistic Dress was an iconic fashion movement that rejected the previously austere and heavily structured Victorian trends to favour more beautiful materials, colours and simpler designs. This was a movement that was highly influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite artistic circle. Rather ironically, taking into account how globally recognised and popular Pre-Raphaelite art is today, the movement was originally created to go against the standard art establishment of the day. They dressed their models in long fluid gowns, championing flowing fabrics and unconventionally loose waistlines – often in muted colours with long puffed sleeves. This was an extreme contrast to the tight corsets, hoop skirts, bright synthetic dyes and extravagant adornments seen in the mainstream fashion of the period.

A Pre-Raphaelite looking visitor stands next to a Pre-Raphaelite painting in the Walker Art Gallery

A visitor notices a resemblance in 'Dante's Dream' at the Walker Art Gallery.

Throughout the 1860s Artistic Dress became increasingly popular within artistic circles for its more natural approach to beauty. Yet more importantly, the unconventional nature of the style, which so easily cast aside Victorian austerity, started to become associated with progressive values and women’s rights. The clothes now stood for more than style, but they were a symbol of freedom. The lasting legacy of Artistic Dress and the Pre-Raphaelites in fashion is incredible. The Pre-Raphaelites were a theme and inspiration for one of Valentino’s Haute Couture shows, with Alexander McQueen and Oscar de la Renta frequently referencing the period. The visibility in modern culture of 19th century beauty is still extremely noticeable today, with actresses and singers like Florence Welch, Karen Elson and Lily Cole all championing a reincarnation of Pre-Raph fashion and 19th century beauty.

Take a look at our own Pre-Raphaelite collection to get some fashion inspiration, or head down to the Walker Art Gallery, Lady Lever Art Gallery or Sudley House to see some of the world's finest Pre-Raphaelite paintings.