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 😆). 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. 😆 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!

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