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Gilded Age Fashion: What to Know About It

One of the many ways to recognize a particular time in the past is how people dressed. Every era has a peculiar fashion taste that most times return to the present and future in better-imagined forms. The gilded age fashion is one.

Illustration by G. Greene for Vogue’s December 31, 1896 Issue 

Illustration by G. Greene for Vogue’s December 31, 1896 Issue 

And like every fashion trend, we’ve seen fads from the gilded age resurface in today’s world. For instance, it was the inspiration behind Met Gala 2022’s Gilded Glamour theme. And certain components of gilded age outfits have birthed mindblowing 2020’s ready-to-wear and haute couture looks.

In this article, we’ll give you a glance into all you should know about gilded age fashion, including how to pull it off in the post-pandemic era.

What is Gilded Age Fashion?

An illustration showing women wearing dresses with bustles (Library of Congress)

An illustration showing women wearing dresses with bustles from the Library of Congress

The Gilded Age is a period in American history that spans the last three decades of the 19th century up until the early years of the 20th century. That is, from 1870 to the 1890s down to the early 1900s.

This period featured men and women who wore different layers of clothing in one outfit. While men wore different versions of suits and tuxedos and women wore big hats with feathers, bustles, and floor-length gowns with corsets that defined their waists and achieved their desired shapes. The era also featured silhouettes such as oversized leg-of-mutton sleeves and flared skirts. 

A scene from the gilded age series

Furthermore, women’s gilded dresses were made of textiles fabrics satin, silk, velvet, fringe, etc., and adorned with complementary over-the-top details like lace, bows, frills, and ruffles. 

And as the 20th century approached, the trend switched from elaborately tailored pieces to simpler, one-piece dresses featuring a shorter, loose, unstructured fit with lightweight fabrics. 

Furthermore, during this time, both men and women were expected to change their clothes as many times per day so long as their social status allowed it. As such, the rich had different gilded age fashion items for the morning, afternoon, and evening. And since these outfits were weighty, people believed that anyone who changed their ensemble more often in a day was wealthy.

Why is it Called the Gilded Age?

men and women rocking gilded age fashion

As written in Brittanica, the gilded age was a period of gross materialism and blatant political corruption in U.S. history. The period takes its name from Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner’s 1873 novel, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today.

Mark Twain coined the sobriquet “The Gilded Age.” He used it to describe the era’s layer of embellished splendor (mostly gold) and the rapid industrialization and massive economic growth that was predominant at that time.

Are Gilded Age and Regency Core Era the Same?

Men and women dressed in gilded age fashion

No, both eras aren’t the same. The Regency happened in London from 1811 to 1820 and it featured its signature elegance in architecture, art, and fashion. Whereas the gilded era spanned from 1870 to 1890s.

In addition, these eras inspired two different films. While the Regency core era inspired the Bridgerton series, the Gilded Age inspired HBO’s The Gilded Age series.

How to Incorporate Gilded Age Fashion in Contemporary Times

A scene from the series "The Gilded Age"

The best way to do this is by infusing gold colors into your outfits or other specific details that reigned in this era. No, you don’t have to wear elaborate dresses and outdated tuxes. But you can fuse them with contemporary fashion to create dashing looks for any type of event.

Some gilded fashion details worthy of recreating in modern womenswear are:

  • The leg-of-a-mutton sleeves
  • Bulky skirts
  • Corsets
  • Bows
  • Lace
  • Frills
  • Metallic embroideries of silk cords and gold, silver, steel, jet, and crystal beads.
  • Puffy sleeves

And for men:

pictures showing womenswear as gilded age fashion

Need some inspiration? Let’s throw it back to how your favorite celebrities turned up at the 2022 Met Gala oozing some gilded glamor:

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Victoria B. Willie

Writing has always been a part of me. From writing stories as a young child to studying Communication Arts in the university, it has always been more than a medium of expression to me.

And then one day, I found myself toeing the path of an entrepreneur and becoming a fashion enthusiast. This made me develop an interest in content marketing and copywriting which I've been chasing alongside my fashion career.

That aside, when I'm not sharing style articles, selling with stories, or sketching fashion-forward pieces for Ria Kosher, you'll find me telling wild stories that always come with a twist.

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