The Gilded Age, a period in American history spanning from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, was characterized by unprecedented economic growth, industrialization and immense wealth accumulation.
During this era, the upper class reveled in opulence, extravagance and their fashion choices reflected their luxurious lifestyles. Gilded Age fashion was defined by its grandeur, intricate details and a marked departure from the simplicity of previous eras.
Here, we will go into the fascinating world of Gilded Age fashion, exploring its key elements, notable trends, and the influences that shaped this glittering era.
The Rise of the Gilded Age
The term “Gilded Age” was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their novel “The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today” published in 1873.
The Gilded Age was characterized by immense wealth and material excesses, primarily concentrated in the hands of industrialists, financiers and the upper class. The era saw a massive expansion of industries, including steel, railroads, oil & finance, leading to a concentration of power and wealth among a select few.
Gilded Age In Terms of Fashion
In terms of fashion, the Gilded Age was marked by opulence, luxury and a desire to showcase one’s social status through clothing. The upper class, particularly the wealthy industrialists & social elites, embraced extravagant and lavish styles that emphasized their affluence.
This era saw the emergence of fashion houses and couturiers who catered to the elite, creating elaborate and highly detailed garments.
In Terms of Women Fashion
In terms of women fashion, the fashionable silhouette of the Gilded Age featured an hourglass figure with a tiny waist, accentuated bust, and a full, bell-shaped skirt. Corsets were commonly worn to achieve the desired hourglass shape.
The popular dress styles included the bustle dress, which featured a pronounced rear extension and the tea gown, a loose-fitting garment worn at home.
In Terms of Men Fashion
Men’s fashion during the Gilded Age was also influenced by opulence and ostentation. Men wore tailored suits made from high-quality fabrics such as wool or tweed. The suits featured frock coats or tailcoats with matching trousers, waistcoats and crisp shirts.
Accessories like top hats, gloves, and walking sticks were popular among men of the upper class.
Key Elements of Gilded Age Fashion
Gilded Age fashion was characterized by its lavishness, elegance, and meticulous attention to detail. Here are some key elements of Gilded Age fashion:
- Elaborate Fabrics: Luxurious fabrics such as silk, satin, velvet and brocade were favored during this period. These rich fabrics were often adorned with intricate embroidery, lace, beading & appliqué work, adding depth and opulence to the garments.
- Hourglass Silhouette: The ideal female silhouette during the Gilded Age was the hourglass shape, emphasizing a small waist and a full bust + hips. Women wore corsets to achieve this desired figure, often laced tightly to create a slim waistline.
- High Necks and Puffed Sleeves: Women’s dresses featured high collars, reaching the chin or even higher. Puffed sleeves were also a prominent feature, adding a touch of femininity to the overall look.
- Trains and Bustles: Dresses were often designed with long trains and bustles, which created a dramatic effect and added volume to the garments. The bustle, a pad or framework worn under the skirt, accentuated the hips and derriere, creating a distinct silhouette.
- Extravagant Accessories: To complete their ensembles, women adorned themselves with extravagant accessories. Large brimmed hats decorated with feathers, ribbons & flowers were popular. Gloves, parasols, and hand fans were also common accessories.
- Tailored Suits for Men: Men’s fashion in the Gilded Age focused on tailored suits. Three-piece suits with high collars, waistcoats and matching trousers were standard attire for the elite. Accessories such as top hats, pocket watches & walking canes were commonly carried by gentlemen.
- Opulent Jewelry: Jewelry played a significant role in Gilded Age fashion, symbolizing wealth and social standing. Women wore elaborate necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and rings adorned with precious gemstones such as diamonds, rubies, and sapphires.
Gilded Age Fashion Trends
Women’s dresses with elaborate bustles at the back were a hallmark of Gilded Age fashion. These bustles added volume to the lower half of the dress and created a fashionable silhouette.
Tailored Riding Habits
Women’s riding habits, inspired by equestrian attire, gained popularity during the Gilded Age. These tailored suits featured a fitted jacket, a long skirt and a matching hat, combining fashion with functionality.
Men wore waistcoats as an essential part of their formal attire. These waistcoats, often made of richly patterned fabrics, added a touch of elegance and sophistication to men’s suits.
What were the Popular Fabrics in the Gilded Age?
During the Gilded Age (late 19th century), several fabrics were popular among the upper class and the fashionable elite. Here are some of the popular fabrics of that time:
Silk was highly sought after during the Gilded Age due to its luxurious and delicate nature. It was used for a wide range of clothing items, including dresses, gowns, blouses, and accessories.
Silk was often adorned with intricate embroidery, lace, and bead-work.
Velvet was another favored fabric during this period, known for its rich texture and plush feel. It was commonly used for evening gowns, jackets and accessories like hats and handbags.
Velvet came in various colors and was often paired with other luxurious materials.
Satin, with its smooth and glossy surface, was a popular choice for formal attire. It was used for dresses, skirts, waistcoats and lining fabrics.
Satin garments were often decorated with lace or ribbon trims to enhance their elegance.
Wool was widely used for everyday wear and outerwear during the Gilded Age. It provided warmth and durability and was commonly used for suits, coats, skirts, and trousers.
Wool fabrics varied in thickness and quality, with finer wools like merino being used for more refined garments.
While cotton was more affordable compared to silk and velvet, it was still used in fashionable clothing during this era.
Cotton fabrics were used for day dresses, blouses, and undergarments. Fine, lightweight cotton was preferred for summer wear.
Lace was extensively used as a decorative fabric during the Gilded Age. Delicate and intricate lacework adorned collars, cuffs, and bodices of dresses and blouses. Lace was also used to trim other fabrics, adding a touch of femininity to garments.
Brocade, a woven fabric with raised patterns, was popular for formal occasions. It featured intricate designs, often incorporating metallic threads and floral motifs.
Brocade was used for evening gowns, waistcoats, and other luxurious garments.
Taffeta, a crisp and smooth fabric, was utilized for formal wear and structured garments. It was commonly used for skirts, bodices, and trimmings.
Taffeta’s distinctive rustling sound made it easily recognizable.
These fabrics were favored during the Gilded Age, reflecting the opulence and fashion trends of the era.
What were the Colors of the Gilded Age?
The color palette of the Gilded Age was influenced by the prevailing fashion trends and societal preferences of the time. Here are some of the popular colors during that era:
Rich, vibrant jewel tones were highly favored during the Gilded Age. Deep shades of emerald green, sapphire blue, ruby red and amethyst purple were commonly seen in clothing and interior design.
These colors were associated with opulence and were often used in luxurious fabrics like silk and velvet.
Soft pastel hues also had their place in Gilded Age fashion, particularly for daytime and summer wear. Pale shades of pink, lavender, mint green and baby blue were popular choices for dresses, blouses, and accessories.
Pastels conveyed a delicate and feminine aesthetic.
Earthy colors, inspired by nature, were used for both clothing & interior design. Shades such as olive green, rust brown, mustard yellow and deep terracotta were commonly seen in fabrics like wool and cotton.
These colors reflected a connection to the natural world and were often associated with a more rustic or outdoorsy style.
Neutrals, particularly shades of beige, cream, and ivory, were used as a backdrop for other colors during the Gilded Age. These colors were often seen in laces, linens and undergarments.
Neutrals provided a sense of elegance and were frequently paired with more vibrant tones.
Black & White
The classic combination of black and white was prevalent during the Gilded Age. Black was associated with formality and was commonly worn for evening events, while white represented purity and was popular for daytime dresses.
The contrast between black & white created a striking visual effect.
It’s important to note that these color trends were primarily popular among the upper class and the fashionable elite. The availability and use of colors varied depending on social status, region and individual taste.
Final Words on Gilded Age Fashion
Overall, Gilded Age fashion reflected the excesses of the era, with a focus on luxury, intricate details and a clear distinction between social classes. It was a time when clothing became a powerful symbol of wealth and status.
Gilded Age fashion drew influences from Parisian haute couture, historical revivals and advancements in textile production, creating a distinctive style that defined the era.
This era of excess and splendor left an indelible mark on the fashion world, shaping future trends and inspiring designers for generations to come.