The Gilded Age – Our Take, Part 1

The recently released HBO series The Gilded Age has become a center of focus amongst the historical costume community and not a day goes by when someone asks us what our take is…all right, let’s being by saying that costuming the show has been a major feat and the sheer scale and magnitude is simply amazing. That said, we also note that the overall quality has been very uneven: one the one hand, many of the costumes are simply exquisite and it’s evident that a lot of effort has gone into recreating early 1880s fashions (the show opens in the year 1883). However, at the same time, there are some costumes that leave us a bit quizzical and have us scratching our heads.

Mrs. Van Rhijn Approves…

However, unlike some other commentators, we’re not going to dwell on the rightness or wrongness of the costume designs, but rather offer some commentary on specific items that interest us the most and not really dwell on some of the less optimal designs (well, mostly, anyway ๐Ÿ˜†). So, just to get things started, here’s an exquisite opera cape that caught our eye:

We really wish we had a close-up of this…the passmentarie and other trim against a ruby/claret silk velvet base is exquisite. The steel gray lining, along with the passmentarie, further complements the ruby/claret color in the velvet. Our only complaint is that it’s too long- a cape wouldn’t have dragged along the floor- but otherwise, we’ll take it. ๐Ÿ˜†ย Now, just for comparison, here’s a couple original capes by Pingat from the 1880s:

Evening Cape, Emile Pingat, c. 1885 – 1889; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.140)

Opera Cape, Emile Pingat, c. 1882; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.60.42.13)

Going out to social events, especially evening social events, was major means of making oneself “seen” in society and every piece of clothing was selected with that in mind. Items such as opera capes were meant to grab people’s attention and they often brilliantly succeeded- Pingat built a whole fashion empire around this.

In the end, the Gilded Age tells a fictional story (albeit rooted in historical reality) so liberties are going to be taken. If you want to take a deep dive into historical 1880s fashion, there are plenty of reference sources and in future posts, we’ll discuss this more. Stay tuned for more in the near future!

Pingat-1880s Style

Today we take a look at one of Pingat’s earlier works, in this case an evening cloak/coat from the later part of the 1880s (circa 1885-1889). Compared to previous examples we’ve posted from the 1890s, this cloak takes a completely different silhouette characteristic of late 1880s style. Here are a few views:

Pingat, Evening Cloak, c. 1885-1889; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.484)

This cloak is constructed from an floral-patterned ivory silk jacquard combined with a peach velvet with dark peach/gold appliques that creates a two-tone effect. In terms of silhouette, this cloak is somewhat of a hybrid in that it combines the upper body and sleeve styles characteristic of mantles with a long coat style on the bottom. The cloak shape closely follows the classic late 1880s dress style, allowing ample room for the bustled train.

One can get a fairly good view of the peach-colored fashion fabric that’s on the front , back, and lower sleeves. It appears to be a close-napped velvet but of course, this is speculation given the lack of any specific details on the museum website or a close physical examination. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Three-Quarter Back View

Close-up of back detail.

From this close-up of the back, one can get a good look at the contrasting silk brocade floral fabric versus the deeper peach velvet fabric and it’s applique decorative design. Cloaks and mantles provided a large canvas for the designer to utilize all manner of decorative effects and Pingat was definitely one to use this to maximum extent; this particular example not only sees a combination of different design styles but does so in a harmonious way. Victorian Era outerwear has always been a source of fascination for us in that it combines the practical and utilitarian with the artistic and while each designer had their own take on this, Pingat’s was especially unique. We’ll be hunting for more interesting examples to post here so stay tuned. ๐Ÿ™‚