Seasick in my studio

Athabasca Glacier, oil on linen, by Carol L. Douglas

We bought this house during a fierce February a few years ago. It hasn’t snowed like that since. Yesterday’s storm was the first blizzard I’ve worked through in this studio. It has glass on three sides. The rolling, boiling, rocketing snow was more than my stomach could take.

That’s the first time in my life I’ve ever been seasick. Tea and crackers sorted it out soon enough, though.
I visitedthe Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Icefield in the Canadian Rockies at the end of September. It was approximately the same weather as yesterday in Maine—bitterly cold, with wind that roared like a freight train. This is why I painted it from a photo.
I freeze my palette between uses. It was a bit of work finding it in the middle of that storm.
There is no way to get a sense of scale from this vantage point, but that small footpath leading up to the toe of the glacier is about 6/10ths of a mile long and rises precipitously. It is marked with signs noting the farthest reach of the glacier at points over the last century. One seldom sees the effect of time on the landscape so graphically. Short of including a ghost glacier, however, I can’t include that information in this painting.
In a sense, this painting is a transcription, because it’s an accurate rendering of the only vantage point most tourists will ever see. The painting I started next is the opposite. It is based not on a real spot, but on a moment in time.
Underpainting of wildfire, by Carol L. Douglas
The northern Rockies are pockmarked by wildfires; they’re a natural part of that area’s life cycle. There’s something very ominous and beautiful about those still, dead forests. I painted a small portrait of one along the Alaska Highway. We passed through other, monumental ones, on the Top of the World Highway and in the Banff-Jasper park complex. These fire zones are often posted with the dates of the fires. Some forests regenerate achingly slowly. Others seem to sprout back almost overnight.
Mary and I found ourselves winding up a steep mountain grade within a very large burn area. The sky was milky in the angry way it is during a blizzard, or downwind of a forest fire. There was no sun, just a hazy light indicating where it might be.
My palette returns to the cold at the end of the day. That drift is close to my height.
What I’ve started here is based on that experience of winding and twisting in a dead forest. For the most part painting doesn’t concern itself with time or motion—we leave that to filmmakers and musicians. But both are, of course, part of the natural world. 

Why paint from life? For one thing, you can’t wander through a photograph

This is the site from which I did Friday’s painting of the Chugach Range. Which is more “realistic”? My painting, of course. The mountains in Anchorage are an everpresent force, not a nice little outline in the background.
“Why should a painter work from life rather than photos?” a reader asked me. “I can see that work painted from photos can lack a certain depth, but I don’t understand why.”
First, let me be clear: almost all painters work from photos at times, if only to clarify something they didn’t understand out in the field. On a morning like today, when Mother Nature is creating a ruckus, there’s no way I’m going to be anywhere but in my studio, with slippers on. And that means working from photos.
But that should be the lesser part of the experience, not the greater.
I mentioned last week that neither the human eye, nor the camera, nor my monitor are objectively correct about the color of distant mountains. If I had used photos to paint my trip across Canada, the mountains would have been large cutouts in blue-violet shapes because that’s what my camera recorded. In real life, they had dimension, shadows, and rocky ridges—all things that disappeared in the photographic record. A better camera would have given me a better image, but no camera can equal my own eyes, as old as they are.
Chugach range from Anchorage, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas. The colors in my painting are warmer, and the mountain is more important and detailed.
“Digital adds lots of cyan to an image, usually about 30% in the lighter and mid-tones. And RGB color space doesn’t ‘see’ as many colors as a human’s eye/brain perceives,” responded Victoria Brzustowicz, who, in addition to being a painter is a graphic designer.
The human eye is a dynamic sensor. The resolution in the center of our eyes is far higher than at the edges, so we create images by shifting our focus very, very fast—so fast, in fact, that we’re not aware of it. We do a similar thing with darks and lights—although our eyes have less dynamic range than cameras, we just record the full range of impressions in our memories, stitching them seamlessly into an image we think we see.
Put away the camera and draw, draw, draw. You can draw anywhere, and in this climate, you can bring your own still life with you.
We don’t see in rectangles, either, but in a cone shape that somehow takes in lots of information at the periphery. That’s the big reason I don’t like my students using viewfinders in class. Viewfinders reduce what is possible to what can be contained inside a rectangle. Often, what’s actually there in life includes something amorphous and looming that gives character to the whole scene. Yes, it’s harder to capture that, but that’s the difference between an artist and a scribe.
Cameras also distort our sense of space. There is no one lens that exactly duplicates our range of vision. We humans see in neither telephoto nor wide-angle. The photographed view is, sadly, a choice somewhere between the two. That doesn’t match human perception.
My hiking poles, along with my tam (left) and mittens (above) went to church with me on Sunday. I’m listening to every word, but I’m also keeping my hands busy.

Years ago I took an anatomy-of-drawing class from the late Nicki Orbach. I had the shape of the shoulders wrong. “Get up and look at him from the other side,” she suggested. It was only then that I could see how I’d ignored the pull of the trapezius muscles, which control the neck but are mainly visible from the back. You can’t get up and wander through a photo to collect more information, and it’s something I do surprisingly often.

I’m my own restorer!

Mount Rundle, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas

While the storm raged outside my studio yesterday, I retouched paintings from my Canada trip. I’m nearly done with this task.

I’m working on paintings whose emulsion was damaged by being stacked before they were completely dry. There isn’t much thinking involved, since I did all that on site. I just mix the proper color, fill in scratches and smears, and restore the original appearance.
A typical smear.
How did they get banged up in the first place? I had wet-storage for about a dozen paintings. Generally, after that, work is dry enough to be wrapped and binned with wax paper liners. It may have been the constant cold, but for some reason, they weren’t setting up very fast. I was constantly shuffling paintings to keep the wettest ones to the top.
No Northern Lights tonight, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas
In addition, the roads were jaw-breakingly bad in many places. Part of our daily routine was to check the tailpipe and repack the back of the truck. All that bouncing meant that some things were inevitably going to be damaged.
Muncho Lake, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas
In only one of these paintings did I make a material change. That was to add reflections on Muncho Lake. I knew they were there at the time, and they were important for the composition. However, Mary was sick, sleeping in a motel room at Toad River. I’d been gone all day and that was long enough.
Avalanche Country, oil on canvas by Carol L. Douglas
I don’t have much need for reference pictures at this stage. Since I didn’t take many, that’s a good thing. In comparing my trip photos with my paintings, I notice how blue all my photos look, and how vague the structures of the mountains are. It seems to me that my little pocket Panasonic camera perceives atmospheric haze more than my aging eyes do.
Chugach range from Anchorage, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas
My eyes, my camera, and my monitor are all subjective observers, so none of them can be called objectively “true” at the expense of the others. It’s just another caution about painting from photographs, and another thing to ponder in regards to Truthiness.
I also started my second studio painting from the trip, of the Athabasca Glacier. That day, there was a ferocious, ripping wind. Even with an airtight hood, my ears rang. My easel spun helplessly on its tripod. There was no way to paint on site, so I settled for a hike and some photographs.
Underpainting of Athabasca Glacier, by Carol L. Douglas
This underpainting is not an abstraction, just a vast simplification. It reminds me a little of Rockwell Kent. Having no real desire to go down that road, I sigh and tell myself this is probably the high point of the painting.
Before anything more can happen in my studio, however, I have a driveway to shovel out. The morning dawned clear, still and cold, as if denying that it had ever stormed yesterday. “Liar!” I shout up at the sky, but to no avail.
Shovel I must. I’m having lunch with a student visiting from Tennessee. Later, a friend from Alabama is stopping by to teach me how to make biscuits. Maine is an out-of-the-way place to be the Crossroads of America, but a lot of the time it feels that way.

Is it fair to use housing subsidies to build live-work spaces for artists?

My working-poor friend couldn’t get into the Projects, so she’s rented this house instead.

One of my friends was homeless this past Christmas. She was on a waiting list for an apartment in the Projects. Evidently openings are scarce in her hometown of Braddock PA, where 2/3s of the residents are African-American and the median household income is $18,473. She ended up renting part of a house instead.

While most public housing is intended for people like my friend, there’s a subset of units being built in historic neighborhoods as mixed-use spaces for artists. In 2016, the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity (IMO) examined four such projects. They noted:
“They are often visually spectacular, offering superior amenities – underground parking, yoga and exercise studios, rooftop clubrooms – and soaring architecture. Very often, these white-segregated subsidized projects are created by converting historic buildings into housing, with the help of federal low-income housing tax credits, historic tax credits, and other sources of public funding. Frequently, these places are designated artist housing, and – using a special exemption obtained from Congress by Minnesota developers in 2008 – screen applicants on the basis of their artistic portfolio or commitment to an artistic craft.”
Although such units are built with public funding, they’re far too expensive for my friend Helen. In fact, they end up furthering segregation. White artists’ income may be low compared to their social peers, but are high compared to wages for the black working poor.
The foyer of the A-Mill Artist Lofts, a publicly-subsidized live-work space in Minneapolis. From their own website.
“Unlike typical subsidized housing, however, the residents of these buildings are primarily white – in many instances, at a higher percentage than even the surrounding neighborhood. These buildings thus reinforce white residential enclaves within the urban landscape, and intensify segregation even further,” IMO reported.
These units are not being occupied by impoverished millennials coming up with the next Great Idea. This study found that most of the artists inhabiting subsidized live-work housing were middle-aged. This surveyechoed that. In other words, these artists should be in their prime earning years.
We can’t even count on these units continuing to be live-work spaces. “There is a demonstrated tendency for live-work space to revert to purely residential use, regardless of how it was permitted or represented,” wrotearchitect Thomas Dolan.
The gym at the A-Mill Artist Lofts, a publicly-subsidized live-work space in Minneapolis. From their own website.
Who really benefits from these schemes? Developers, of course. “Look at every opportunity to finance projects by evaluating their eligibility for tax credit financing through the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) and Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) Programs, which are designed to support investment in communities and meet the housing needs of residents,” advises accounting firm Baker Tilly. In 2014, almost a quarter of all apartment new-builds were being done with Low Income Housing Credits.
My friend lived in a motel on Route 30 outside Braddock while she was homeless. One room, three people, but at least she had heat and a bed. 
Cities, too, are desperate for some way to repurpose their abandoned industrial real estate. We all know the stories of how development followed artists into Soho or the Village and drove property prices sky-high. But that was in land-locked Manhattan, where anything habitable is worth millions. Whether that same phenomenon will play in Peoria, or Buffalo, or Milwaukee, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, billions of dollars in subsidies are being redirected away from people like my friend. 
Want to learn more? See here and here.

Bamboozled by lobster traps

Detail from my current unfinished painting.
When I go silent about my own work, that means I’m involved in a big mess. My process, as it were, is that I show up in my studio every day at the same time expecting a miracle. More often than not, they happen. But at times nothing works. My painting looks and feels mechanical and rusty. 
This is not to say that I don’t know what I’m doing—I haven’t forgotten how to paint. But between the technical and the transcendent, there is slippage that nobody can define. That’s not unique to painting; it’s true of music and (I suspect) a host of other creative endeavors. We sometimes call these things ‘happy accidents,’ but they are more than that. They’re as if the whole universe suddenly slides into place, right there in that tiny rectangle in front of you.
Occasionally, the opposite happens. Nothing comes together. I tap, tap, tap on the frozen parts while nothing moves and I get more aggravated. Those are the weeks I wish I’d taken up something fun, like dentistry.
Monhegan lobster traps, waiting to trip up the unwary painter.
What’s got me flummoxed this week is an old nemesis: the lobster trap.  A modern lobster trap looks like a plastic-coated Havahart (®) trap, for you inland dwellers. It operates on the same principle: a lobster unthinkingly (because that’s how lobsters do) crawls up a funnel and gets stuck in the main room. I know how big lobster traps are, what colors they come in, what’s inside them, and how they reflect light. But I don’t seem to be able to paint them convincingly. What’s heartening is that I don’t much like how anyone else paints them, either.
If only Maine lobstermen would use creel-style pots like they do in Scotland! These are rounded, more solid and poetical. But I’m an American, and my paintings ought to be grounded in what is real for my time and place. Darn it.
I never finished this sketch of lobster traps at Port Clyde, but it’s on my schedule.
When I’m stuck on something, I revert to first principles. Get closer, look more carefully, and draw, draw, draw. I’ve asked for the loan of a trap, and I’m going to set it up in my studio and study it. (I’d rather not do that in the blowing snow, thanks.) I hope that I have some sort of epiphany that informs my work going into next summer.
This is the lad who really owned that lobster boat, but I never took a photo of him while I was painting him.
I’m finishing a painting I started years ago, of Eastport’s lobster fleet. I worked on this for days on the public landing, but it wasn’t finished before I had to leave. The tooth on the canvas is much rougher than I use today. It’s kind of nice, but the adjustment is hard.
Because I took very few photos, I’m forced to make a lot of stuff up. Part of me is certain that a someone will look at this painting and say, “that boat would never have that standing shelter!”
Sadly, I had to lose the figure of the young man who owned the closest boat. He was just too large in my plein air rendering. Since I had no photos of him on his boat, he’s been replaced by a Gloucester fisherman. I’m not sure if that should even be legal.

Meanwhile, I’ll be back tomorrow to tap, tap, tap some more. Eventually it will all fall together. It always does.

Why are there so many Opera Houses in Maine?

Bangor, ME, picture postcard, undated.
The other day, my husband forwarded me the above lovely postcard of historic Bangor, Me, with a note: “Why is there an Opera House in every city and village in Maine?” It’s quite remarkable. I’ve traveled extensively in small-town America, and no place I’ve been has the number of preserved Opera Houses as are found here.
From the Civil War until the advent of the Talkies in the late 1920s, the Opera House was a fixture of American small town life. These community meeting houses had little, if anything, to do with actual opera; they were simply the local theater and town meeting hall. “Opera” was just a more respectable term than “theater.”
Stonington Opera House, By Choess – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

A quick search of the National Register of Historic Placesshows five Opera Houses in Maine, a vast underrepresentation of the selection at hand. Stonington’s is perhaps the most prominent, an uncompromising block of a building set on an equal block of granite above the town pier. It was built in 1912, and still has an asbestos-lined projection booth, from the days when nitrate-based film regularly caught fire. The asbestos was appropriate; the first Opera House had burned to the ground in 1910.
The Island Falls Opera House was built in 1894, on land whose deed prohibited the sale of alcohol. That didn’t stop it from becoming a major entertainment space. How could tiny Island Falls support an Opera House? Its population in 1920 was exactly twice what it is today. The hall is now vacant.
Pythian Opera House, Boothbay, By Magicpiano – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Bangor’s Opera House was built in 1920. It was in the very trendy Egyptian Revival craze that followed the discovery of Tutankhamun‘s tomb by Howard Carter. Although it’s not on the National Register, it continues in use as a theater, most notably as the home of the Penobscot Theatre Company.
At the turn of the century, some Opera Houses were being built as part of multi-purpose facilities, combining town offices and meeting rooms. Camden’s was constructed on this model after a large fire swept through downtown in the late autumn of 1892. Among the destroyed buildings were the town hall, fraternal order meeting rooms and the original opera house. Why not roll them into one unit? Waterville’s Opera House, which was started in 1898, was built along the same lines, as was the Pythian Opera House, built in 1894 in Boothbay Harbor.
Camden Opera House, By Doug Kerr from Albany, NY, United States – Camden, Maine
Uploaded by Magicpiano, CC BY-SA 2.0,

That brings me to the one around the corner from me, the Rockport Opera House. Built in 1892 and originally called the Town Hall, it too was designed as a multipurpose building. After a varied and colorful career as a library, bowling alley, basketball court, roller skating rink, YMCA, public theater and town hall, it was rescued by the Rockport Garden Club in the 1970s. A second renovation project in the 1990s brought it up to its current condition.
Why have all these Opera Houses survived? Maine has not been overrun by suburban development as have most other states. That means that much of its history remains writ large along the roadsides. And Mainers really arethrifty.
Part of this, also, is based on what historians once called the “New England Conscience.”
“Other sections of the country and other cultures of the world exhibit, I have no doubt, scores of conscientious men and women; only in New England is there a Conscience so standardized that it must be capitalized. As John Quincy Adams succinctly put it, ‘New England was the colony of Conscience,’” wrote historian Perry Miller.

That’s been dissipated in the modern age, but New Englanders are still more inclined to sit still and be talked at than most people. An Opera House is a fine place in which to do so.

Forgotten sculptor of the Art Deco

Mowgli, by Raymond Delamarre, 1927, patinated plaster.
Those of us who were introduced to The Jungle Bookthrough Disney think of Mowglias a boy, but he was in fact a young man in Rudyard Kipling’s tales. In fact, when I first saw Raymond Delamarre’s bas relief of Mowgli, above, I took the figure for Adam. He is as perfectly-formed and self-possessed as his ursine and feline companions.  “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” asks the Psalmist, and the question resonates in this work.
Delamarre first met The Jungle Book in 1894. It was a lifelong love. He sculpted many versions of Mowgli in stone and bronze. 
Delamarre’s preparatory sketch for Mowgli, above.
Delamarre’s life spanned nearly a century of artistic and social upheaval (1890 to 1986). In his time, he was an important Art Deco artist with many commissions. 
Reliefs, Brest war memorial, Raymond Delamarre.
He is remembered for the sensitivity of his memorials. He earned this understanding the hard way. He began his studies at the age of sixteen, but they were interrupted by war. His general conscription at age 21 was followed by the outbreak of hostilities in 1914. Soon after the General Mobilization, Delamarre was taken prisoner. After two years in an enemy camp, he was released in a widespread exchange and returned to the Front.
It was not until the end of the war that he was able to resume his studies. At age 28, he won a Prix de Rome and headed to Italy.
L’Intelligence Sereine and La Force Sévère, from the Suez Canal memorial, Raymond Delamarre
In 1925 Delamarre and architect Michel Roux-Spitz won a competition to build a memorial to the defense of the Suez Canal in 1915 by British, Egyptian, French and Italian troops. Delamarre’s figures represent Serene Intelligence and Severe Force. They are the epitome of Art Deco styling.
Detail from the Suez Canal Memorial, by Raymond Delamarre
From 1961 to 1973, Delamarre managed the business end of the Ateliers d’Art Sacré in Paris. This group was formed by Maurice Denis and Georges Desvallières in an attempt to breathe new life into sacred art. Surprisingly, all three of these avant-garde artists were devoutly religious. The Ateliers were founded to train artists and craftsmen and to create art for churches, particularly those damaged in the Great War. They sought a 20th century language for faith, with emotional response triumphing over conventional symbolism. Perhaps Mowgli-as-Adam isn’t just a trick of my imagination after all.

In 1963 Delamarre created the last of his great monuments, twelve bas-reliefs in stone for a hospital designed by his old friend Michel Roux-Spitz. He continued to work on smaller projects—busts, medals, statues and plaques—right up to his death in 1986.

A scientific artist supports our old friend, the smelt

(Photo courtesy Karen Talbot Art Gallery)
Ah, Candlemas!My husband likes to observe it by reminding me that the annual Columbia Falls Smelt Fry is just around the corner. We know smelts from growing up along the (freshwater) Great Lakes, but they were also once an important food fish here on (saltwater) Penobscot Bay. The Pleasant River supports the last viable commercial smelt fishery on the coast. They have been netting smelt here since before the American Revolution.
I myself observed Candlemas by going to see Native Sea-Run Fishes of Maine at the Karen Talbot Art Gallery. I first met Karen at the opening of her gallery in 2013, after her move to Rockport from Laguna Beach, CA. Her fish paintings are meticulously researched and crafted, and very collectable. 
Talbot is a meticulous illustrator. Here are some of her research notes for the project.(Photo courtesy Karen Talbot Art Gallery)
Native Sea-Run Fishes of Maine features original paintings she created for the 2017 Maine Sea Grant Calendar. This calendar is produced every two years by the Maine Sea Grant College Program at the University of Maine, in partnership with  NOAA Fisheries Service and the Nature Conservancy in Maine.
Coincidentally, February’s Calendar Girl is our old pal, the Rainbow Smelt.
I’ve always wondered at the ability of smelts, salmon and alewives to survive happily in both the ocean and freshwater lakes. It turns out that they’re diadromous, meaning that in the natural way of things they spend part of their lives in fresh water and part in salt water. (Those species hanging out full-time in the Great Lakes got there through human intervention.)
Historically, these diadromous fishes were essential to feeding the people of the North Atlantic. Today many of them are in trouble, because their river and estuary habitats have been so manipulated by human beings. We may lament the loss of Maine paper mills, but their dams contributed greatly to the decline of these fish.
Pages from the calendar. (Photo courtesy Karen Talbot Art Gallery)
Native Sea-Run Fishes of Maine consists of paintings of twelve of these species: sea lamprey, shortnose sturgeon, Atlantic sturgeon, alewife, Atlantic salmon, brook trout, rainbow smelt, American eel, Atlantic tomcod, striped bass, blueback herring, and American shad. The paintings hang together as a reminder that to preserve them, we must treat them as a group, since species-by-species intervention hasn’t worked.
Not only do humans like to eat diadromous fish, so do cod. Cod was once an important resource for Penobscot Bay fishermen. While we all know stories of intrepid fishermen going to the Grand Banksfor their haul, most cod was taken within 30 miles from shore. As development affected the populations of diadromous fishes, cod moved further offshore in search of food. By the 1870s naturalist Spencer Baird had already noted the relationship between the decline of diadromous fish and the loss of cod in the nearshore area. It’s nearly 150 years later and we haven’t solved the problem.
On that note, a portion of the proceeds from Talbot’s original paintings and prints go to the Nature Conservancy in Maine to benefit habitat restoration efforts in the Penobscot River and Bay watershed.
For more information about Native Sea-Run Fishes of Maine, contact Karen Talbot here.

It’s not that I can’t do it, it’s that I don’t always want to.

The Wreck of the SS Ethie, by Carol L. Douglas.
You all know the Facebook game where artists are asked to post a painting every day for a week and tag another artist each day, right? (The one where, on the fourth day, you forget and never finish.) I love that game. I’m insatiably curious about other artists and their work.
Recently, my friend Elissa Gore played. She posted work from across her career, which has spanned four decades. Her early work was more detailed than her current paintings. That’s no surprise, since almost all of us are taught to paint literally before we learn to paint emotively.
Sometimes people who don’t paint make the error of thinking that non-realistic painting is somehow easier than strictly representational painting, that photorealism is the apotheosis of painting. “That looks just like a photo!” is not, in most cases, a compliment. Art is not about duplicating reality, but learning to step past reality and take your viewers with you.
The multi-colored shingle at Martin’s Point in Gros Morne National Park.
The problem with a subject like The Wreck of the SS Ethie is that it is already playing games with your head. The shingle on this lonely coast in Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland is wildly-colored. What’s left of the boat is not an elegant wooden corpse subsiding into the surf, but its steel guts scattered down the shore. Simplifying or abstracting in my usual frenetic style would just confuse the viewer.
I love geology almost as much as I do painting. Each year when I do my workshop, I point out the basalt inclusions in Acadia and how they now shape the erosion of the granite bedrock. Sand might be easier on the feet, but rocks are exciting.
At times, rocks can be conveyed as rough, slashing brush strokes, but that only works for ‘normal’ scenes, where your mind can fill in the gaps. For the out-of-the-ordinary, more information is needed. The rocks at Gros Morne have been ground in the surf so hard, they look like they’ve been through a rock tumbler. Many are striped. That requires time and patient attention to detail.

Weathered parts of the Ethie are thrown everywhere.

While I wouldn’t want to paint like that every day, it felt good.

You can read about the wreck of the Ethie and the brave Newfoundland dog who saved her passengers here. I wrote about the abstraction that was the basis for this painting here. And you can read an ode to the wee pup himself here.

Wondering what tomorrow will bring?

Marguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington, 1822, Sir Thomas Lawrence. Shortly after this was painted, the female form would be locked back down in corsets for another century.
Strapless gowns continue to be a popular silhouette for young American women on their wedding days. Their mothers preferred something with lots of fabric, either in the style of Princess Diana’s gown or hippie-like Gunne Sax. That change continues a long pattern. For more than a hundred years, fashion has trended toward less coverage, more stretch and less tailoring. We seem to be at the logical end of this trend, when even celebrity nudity ceases to shock.
A satirical cartoon from the July 11th 1857 issue of Harper’s Weekly.
What comes next? More coverage seems unlikely, since we Moderns have no experience living through a conservative reversal. Yet there is one precedent, in the 19th century shift from the Mode à la Grecque to Victorian sensibility.
Parisian Ladies in their Full Winter Dress for 1800, 1799 caricature print by Isaac Cruikshank.
Mode à la Grecque itself was a radical departure from what came before. During the 1790s, women’s fashion underwent a dramatic transformation from periwigs, powder and panniers to natural hair and light, unrestricted clothing. This was a smart move during the Age of Revolution. The absurd and expensive clothing of the Ancien-Regimewas not just out of style, it was dangerously reactionary.
The new neo-classical style was both more democratic and more revealing. “The girdle of the dress was no longer bound to the hips, but under the breast; the powder was gradually abolished, the chopsticks were laid down, the whole clothing approached more to nature, and actually to the Greek taste, in which sense one went further and further in the following years, to scarcity in clothing, which scarcely left a fold, so that the most accurate description of the body shape underneath it seemed to be the actual purpose and fame of this fashion,” wrote contemporary Austrian novelist Caroline Pichler.
Madame Moitessier, 1856, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. She may be showing décolletage, but she is carefully laced into a steel-stayed corset. 
That freedom from stricture was, sadly, short-lived. By 1830, when waistlines had dropped back to the natural waist, corsets returned with a vengeance, culminating in the diabolical swan-bill corset of the early twentieth century. These 19th century corsets were actually tighter and more restrictive than what had come before the Mode à la Grecque, thanks to modern steel stays. The steel-stay corset did not disappear from general use until World War I.
Why did women ever let themselves be caught back up in the restrictive clothing that was the hallmark of the Victorian era? There were women who lamented the return to stays and a few outliers like Amelia Bloomer who pushed for healthier, more rational clothing. Most, however, just acquiesced. 
Mrs. Cecil Wade, 1886, John Singer Sargent, is already showing the effects of the fashionable S-curve of the swan-bill corset. She can’t sit normally.
We live in tumultuous times. What seems inconceivable today may be reality in just a few short years. Heck, girls might even start wearing sleeves again at their weddings.
Fashion is just a reflection of history, after all, and history never runs in a straight line.