Created By: HawktureShorts155 on August 17, 2010

Still The (Gay) Nineties

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As the word in parentheses suggests, this trope doesn't refer to the decade of Starbuck's, Seinfeld or Timothy Mc Veigh (or, for that matter, Ellen Degeneres or "Don't ask, don't tell," either).

No, this trope covers anachronistic depictions of the 1890s - the realm of Oscar Wilde, William Jennings Bryan, and the Gibson Girl.

Historically, the 1890s was one of the more iconic periods of American history, leaving an impression every bit as indelible as The Fifties still does today. As a result, long after the actual decade had faded from memory (sometimes quite long after it faded), many of its tropes and stereotypes remained common fodder for depictions in the popular arts. This wasn't usually done without at least a bit of irony (usually only in satirical or Cloudcuckoolander works), but writers and artists returned to the Gay Nineties well so often that its conventions became even more stereotypical.

Most of the time when this occurs, it is not so much the social expectations and attitudes of the Gay Nineties that will be incorporated (which would seem especially out of place), but certain cherry-picked aesthetic touches (usually related in some way to clothing). Characters will still drive cars, fly on airplanes, or watch television, but the way many of them personally look, dress, and behave may be wildly anachronistic.

Prominent examples include: civic leaders (mayors, for the most part) sporting huge guts and sideburns and wearing top hats and tuxedoes; aristocrats and the wealthy sporting monocles and acting in even more outdated fashion than the other anachronistic characters (and being accompanied by overdressed maids and butlers); police officers still dressed like the "Bobbies" of the nineteenth century; political campaigners decked out in wide-striped suits and boater hats (although, to be sure, this continues to be Truth in Television); women still attired in white gloves and tricked-out hats and carrying parasols even when it isn't raining; little boys pairing suit coats with short pants (think Richie Rich or Angus Young of AC/DC); little girls with either pigtails or bows in their hair; "ethnic" whites (that is, anyone not at least 50 percent Anglo-Saxon) still speaking in their "just-off-the-boat" accents; nonwhites (the Chinese, in particular) barely able to speak English at all; and circus performers (strong men, particularly) with elaborate handlebar moustaches.

The Walt Disney comic books used to be (and, occasionally, still are) extremely guilty of abusing this trope, often to the point where it stopped being funny or charming and crossed the line into annoying. In fact, some of their characters (Scrooge Mc Duck comes to mind!) never got over it.

As was suggested earlier, The Fifties eventually replaced the 1890s as the nostalgic period of choice, with the result that that decade's tropes largely replaced the ones mentioned above (resulting in Still The Fifties, perhaps)? However, kooky Gay Nineties stuff still pops up occasionally - most often in works directed at preteen children, or in surreal comedy series such as The Simpsons or Family Guy.

Nor is this trope exclusively American. If anything, the British seem to make a fetish out of it even more.
Community Feedback Replies: 24
  • August 17, 2010
    berr
    I hate to say it because you did so much work on the trope description, but I'm pretty sure we have this one and it's called (checks...) The Gay Nineties.
  • August 17, 2010
    Tannhaeuser
    I think the trope is supposed to suggest that The Gay Nineties stereotypes are being used in post-1890s contexts. I'm not sure, though, but that some of the examples are just examples of things that actually did survive. My own mother was wearing gloves and fancy hats for Sundays into the late 1960s, and I still see Sunday hats being sold in stores down here in Georgia/South Carolina, though I think they are mainly sold to African American ladies, who tend to be much sharper dressers. I believe John F. Kennedy wore top hat and cutaway for his inauguration in 1960 -- Reagan wanted to in 1980, but was told he would appear too "elitist."
  • August 17, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    This would seem to be an era-specific subtrope of Retro Universe.
  • August 17, 2010
    HawktureShorts155
    Yes, I was referring to long-surviving Gay Nineties stereotypes. However, the model I was using was "Duckburg" from the Disney comics, which I'm pretty sure was supposed to be a "basic" Eastern or Midwestern American city.
  • August 17, 2010
    Tannhaeuser
    Another example could be the Rankin Bass Productions Christmas Specials. In Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town Sombertown, which should be medieval, at least, features people dressed in 1890s styles -- and when we see more modern Sombertown, the people are still wearing the same things, along with 1970s clothing. 1890s and 1960s styles co-exist in Frosty The Snowman as well. The Year Without A Santa Claus seems turn of the century, as well, but more 1910s than 1890s -- and it's difficult to tell when that one is supposed to be set, anyway.
  • January 10, 2011
    EdnaWalker
    Bump?
  • March 7, 2011
    EdnaWalker
    Bump?
  • March 7, 2011
    Frank75
    Parasols are against the sun, because having a tan wasn't in fashion at that time, on the contrary, since it indicated that this person would have to do field work or so.
  • March 7, 2011
    randomsurfer
    The film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang takes place in The Edwardian Era. The European country of Vulgaria, however, where much of the story takes place, was firmly stuck in the 1890s.
  • September 27, 2011
    EdnaWalker
    Film - Animated

    Western Animation

  • September 27, 2011
    Lavalyte
    Penny farthings, as well.
  • September 27, 2011
    JonnyB
    Steampunk is when this crosses paths with science fiction.
  • September 27, 2011
    Jordan
    I think The Gay Nineties is a trope.
  • September 27, 2011
    jate88
    Gaslamp Fantasy is when this crosses paths with fantasy.
  • September 27, 2011
    JonnyB
    Jordan's right, we already have this.
  • September 28, 2011
    iTroper
    No, you're looking at it wrong. He's not talking about a work set in The Gay Nineties, but a work set after said decade is over yet the customs and styles of the 1890s are in use.

    The Gay Nineties = 1890-1899

    Still The (Gay) Nineties = 1920-present but using 1890s tropes/fashions/etc. that realistically should not be present.
  • September 28, 2011
    randomsurfer
  • August 7, 2012
    arromdee
    Bumpoing this old thread because I found we have Steam Never Dies which seems to be a subtrope.
  • August 7, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Bump. I love this. It's definitely tropeable.
  • August 7, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    So is this Up For Grabs?

    Some tropes need to be potholed in the description. "carrying parasols" with Parasol Of Prettiness, "little girls with either pigtails or bows in their hair" with first Girlish Pigtails and then Hair Decorations.
  • August 8, 2012
    TonyG
    Pops from Regular Show, with his outdated mannerisms and Antiquated Linguistics played for laughs.
  • August 8, 2012
    arromdee
    I don't believe that Gaslamp Fantasy or Steampunk are versions of this. Those are about works set in (an alternate version of) the 1890's. This is about works not set in the 1890's that use motifs from the 1890's.
  • August 8, 2012
    DaibhidC
    I've not read it myself, but there's a review of The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned by Anne Rice which says that Rice's view of 1921 London is firmly located in the pre-war era.
  • August 8, 2012
    nielas
    I think this is true for any period specific tropes. Works set in 2012 can still have tropes that are more appropriate to The Eighties or The Seventies.
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