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modern romance

Everyone loves a little romance, but the Romantic movement wasn’t actually about knights in shining armour and swooning heroines. Reaching its peak in the early 1800s, this artistic, literary and intellectual movement was born out of a reaction to major world events.

In England, the Industrial Revolution heralded in new ways of manufacturing: skilled craftsmen were out, factories and machines were in – and everyone was left in a state of confusion. In America and France, meanwhile, political revolutions had taken place that transformed entire nations and which turned society on its head.

Out of this mess emerged the Romantics: poets, writers, artists and musicians with a yearning to strike out on their own and create something straightforward, beautiful and personal in reaction to the complex, prissy art which had gone before. Poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were arguably responsible for the birth of English Romanticism and the publication of their Lyrical Ballads collection in 1798 changed the course of literature forever. They used plain language, designed to be understood by everyone, and covered everyday topics, with a particular emphasis on nature, imagination and feelings. If you’ve ever dreamt of wistfully strolling along a windswept beach, these are the people to thank.

Hot on their heels came William Blake, Byron, Shelley and Keats – all poets with an emphasis on individuality and a desire to break free from the rules and make art their own way. To quote Wordsworth, the Romantic movement was well and truly all about a ‘spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings’. These artists firmly believed that innermost emotions should be expressed, creativity should please the senses and crucially, that imagination was more important than reason.

These wistful lovers and dreamers changed the face of literature, and their defiant expression of feelings also influenced art. Painters of the era - like JMW Turner, John Constable and Caspar David Friedrich - produced powerful and symbolic landscapes, designed to remind viewers of the grandeur of nature and evoke a sense of nostalgia.

Fashions of the era reflected this fascination with the past and simpler times. Skirts were full and flounced with petticoats, waists were nipped and bonnets covered with flowers and bows topped things off. Women’s hair was elaborate and - for the most fashionable - worn in an Apollo Knot; a high bun, surrounded with curls and often dressed with combs and other accessories. The Madonna was another suitably pretty option, with hair centre parted and worn in ringlets on either side of the face.

Curly hairstyles fast became associated with fashionable Romantic styles and, in 1872, Marcel Grateau gifted the world with the first mainstream heated styling tool; the curling iron. Placed in coals to heat up, this metal rod allowed any woman to sport stylish ringlets and wavy hairstyles, no matter her natural hair texture. He was convinced that curls were associated with femininity, stating: “Fashions may come and go, but every woman in her heart yearns for wavy hair.”

While the original Romantics didn’t set out to be associated with love and romance as we understand it, their fiery passions and open approach to emotions mean it’s something that they’ve inevitably been linked with ever since. Over the years, passion has moved from something to be kept under wraps into a full-throttle industry: from romantic movies and novels to love songs and heart-eye emojis.

Although Jane Austen had laid the groundwork for romance novels with the publication of Pride and Prejudice in 1813, romantic fiction really took off after World War I – perhaps down to the sudden, tragic shortage of men (almost three quarters of a million men aged 25-34 were killed, resulting in a huge generation of women who couldn’t find anyone to marry – the so-called ‘surplus women’.)

Meanwhile love was in the air in 1921, when seriously passionate silent film The Sheik was released and Rudolph Valentino became the first romantic celebrity lead. He broke hearts everywhere when he died prematurely early, just five years later.

In the 1930s, Mills and Boons started publishing their first romantic novels for women. Priced cheap and published regularly, they set hearts racing and sent fantasies soaring in an era when there wasn’t much else to be happy about. The Second World War was the first major conflict to take place since popular music became widely commercially available and it’s no surprise that the overriding themes were of love and longing: wearing your heart on your sleeve had never been so popular, just like the original Romantics would have wanted.

In the 1980s, New Romantics were born. A pop culture movement based around London clubs like The Blitz, their name had more to do with their appropriation of Romantic style than anything else. Bands like Adam and the Ants, Spandau Ballet and Culture Club wore flamboyant historical frilly shirts, bold makeup and hair in elaborately crimped styles. Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McClaren’s 1981 Pirates collection was pivotal to the genre and was entirely inspired by historical dress from the Romantic era, as studied by Vivienne in the paintings of London’s Wallace Collection.

"She’s super-feminine but still cool, found rummaging through flea markets for charms to add to her bracelets and flowers to wear in her hair."

Also looking to the Romantic past in the 80s was Laura Ashley, whose frills, flounces and florals came from the eponymous designer’s passion for the era and desire to make every woman feel like a romantic heroine.

While designers have (perhaps sensibly) avoided the flamboyance of the 80s in more recent years, it’s easy to see the influence of the Romantics in modern fashion. Chloé’s ultra-cool, but always-floaty gowns offer a pared-down, super-modern take on romance, while Gucci is currently all about lashings of lace and bows, but brought bang up to date to feel painfully cool, rather than chintzy. Frilly ankle socks have transformed from fairytale to fashion staple, while London’s girl of the moment, Molly Goddard has made tulle feel more modern than ever.

Throughout all of this, curls have almost always been associated with wild, passionate, carefree style; whether worn neat, tousled or piled into curly hair updos. There’s just something about that texture that resonates with the idea of a romantic soul. There’s nothing wistful and fantastical about pin-straight hair, or sharp angular cuts. For better or for worse, this is one trend that’s all about movement.

Looking to the future, this trend will continue to be all about all things pretty and feminine, with plaits and braided hairstyles providing added interest to curly hair. As Instagram accounts like HairRomance continue to grow at full-throttle speed, women across the world have inspiration at their fingertips and are keener and more clued-up than ever on how to get curly hair. Expect to see more and more complex and craft-inspired braided hair as well as maximum volume curls, as women turn on that Snapchat beauty filter and create social media-worthy styles.

For this look, it’s about echoing the innocence of those early Romantics, with rippling curls forming a defined shape from root to tip. A playful flip at the ends adds a flirtatious edge – this is more passionate than pageant queen. There’s an innocent, ethereal quality too, especially when hair is pinned and piled up off the face into a braided updo. She’s super-feminine but still cool, found rummaging through flea markets for charms to add to her bracelets and flowers to wear in her hair.




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