Julian Fellowes has written an American version of Downton Abbey for HBO, so we’re recapping this first season of The Gilded Age! Starting in 1882, the story promises to be a juicy soap opera of new money vs. old with lots of bustle gowns. Check here on Tuesdays for our recap of the previous week’s episode.
For everyone who complained that not much happened in the plot of episode 2 of The Gilded Age (2022-), here ya go, episode 3 has got some action! But as I’ve said, I’m not really recapping for plot, there are other bloggers for that. I’m here for the costumes and historical references therein. Let’s get to things.
Let’s start at the Van Rijn house, where the aunties are mostly wearing repeated costumes, and Marian has a new outfit that’s just as boring as everything she’s worn so far.
They get some notice that Clara Barton (real historical person) is speaking and apparently trying to raise money for this crazy notion of the American Red Cross (spoiler: she does!).
Window-peeper Ada sees Miss Russell going out somewhere, thus a new outfit for Gladys.
Over at the Russell place, Bertha has a real legit 1880s bustle gown, I think!
Clara Barton gives her little talk, looking horribly modest and bland in comparison to the old-money crowd she’s trying drum up support from.
Mrs. Astor asks some dumb questions. No, I didn’t intend get a goofy screencap of her, but this encapsulates why and how much I hate screencapping (see also: behind the scenes).
Mrs. Fane is running the show and wearing her, by now, standard style, though in a new dress. Astor, Fane, and Morris haven’t really repeated costumes in these three eps, but then, the don’t get much screentime either.
Mrs. Morris is in her, by now, standard stripes and reminds Marian not to talk about icky new-money folks who could actually give money to this cause.
Ada wore this orange military-inspired gown in a brief carriage scene in episode one, but this is a better view. Marion is wearing the new outfit that was being made at the dressmaker last episode.
Ada meets old flame, Mr. Eckhard. She seem excited, but folks, don’t bother, nothing is coming of this.
Back with the Russells, Gladys is back in Bo Peep cosplay to talk to daddy about inviting a BOY to dinner.
The aunties give some more backstory about Ada and Mr. Eckhard. Their outfits are repeats, but Ada’s is that green and yellow gown she wore almost completely in the dark last episode. Oh, and Larry pops in to announce he’s going to dinner at the Russells, which annoys his mom. Their bickering is the best bickering.
Time for that dinner at the Russells and let’s all hate on Bertha’s dress. Yeah, acid green is a possible color for the period (note: I said “possible”), but those giant black appliques are so freakin’ modern. I’ve seen them on AliExpress. Also, the neckline and faux-corset styling are just weaksauce.
Gladys is again wearing her pink floral dress, but here’s a slightly better view.
At the Van Rijn house, Marian’s received a letter from Mr. Raikes — now he has a job in New York, all the better to stalk her with. Everyone’s wearing repeated costumes but some better views.
Ada’s dress looks to be inspired by this one at Augusta Auctions — same colors, style, collar, cuffs, only Ada’s gown has a bit of lace added. You can see more views on the auction site.
After dinner, Bertha and George Russell discuss Gladys’ interest in boys and boys interest in her. They also chat about some business dealings that seem precarious, but Bertha tells George twice up to now ‘we can make and spend another fortune if necessary.’ They may be assholes as people, but they have a wonderfully supportive and loving marriage to each other.
Meanwhile, Oscar and his boyfriend, John, are in bed discuss Oscar getting his obligatory marriage done with Gladys. Nothing of costume note, but I’m always here for queer representation.
George does business stuff, and I do want to point out this nice plaid bustle on his secretary, Miss Ainsley. It’s a good look on a larger lady.
Marian and Peggy, both in new gowns, visit Mr. Raikes. He’s pushy with Marian — inviting her to lunch, coffee, and finally to Liberty’s Hand in the park. Geez, he’s desperate. He apparently has business with Peggy (and we’ll get a better view of her spiffy new outfit later).
Mr. Fane and Mr. Morris has been conspiring with to ruin Russell, but Fane is in too deep financially himself. Oscar finds out about the plan to wipe out Russell and believes it.
The exclusive bitches, plus Mr. Eckhard for some reason, are having lunch at Mrs. Fanes’ house. Marian’s still wearing that ugly pale blue thing, and Ada’s wearing a repeat, so here’s the old guard’s new gowns.
Costumer Eric Winterling posted more views of the gown he created from Kasia Walicka-Maimone’s designs for this scene:
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Mrs. Astor finally approves of this American Red Cross thing.
So it’s safe for Mrs. Morris, et. al., to get on board too.
Peggy gets a letter from the Christian Advocate offering to publish her stories. Then she her estranged father visits. He wants her to come home for her mom’s birthday, and she reluctantly agrees after he’s dismissive of her dream of being a writer.
Ada tells Marian that Mr. and Mrs. Chamberlain fucked before marriage, so that’s why she’s a pariah.
Mr. Fane tells his wife that they’ll also lose everything by trying to ruin Russell, oh and her and Mrs. Morris humiliating Mrs. Russell didn’t help matters. She’s unconvinced of any problem.
The Russell servants are totally nasty, while the Van Rijn servants are just boring. But here’s a shot of the Van Rijn maid and random-boy-in-service out at the magic lantern theater in their civvies. She doesn’t want him getting handsy.
Mr. Morris has the same convo with his wife as Mr. Fane had with his, to the same affect.
Oscar cries to his boyfriend that Gladys won’t be an heiress if Russell loses everything.
Peggy goes to the publisher’s office, where the assistant is an asshole and makes her wait all fucking day because she’s Black. Then the publisher questions that she really wrote them. When he finally agrees to use her stories, he’ll only do so if he can remove all references to race in the stories and conceal that the writer is Black, because Southern readers would unsubscribe from the magazine.
Well Mrs. Morris did get the message from her hubby — she goes to Mrs. Russell to plead for mercy.
While this is kind of Morris’ standard stripe, it also feels inspired by this gown:
However, Bertha is stone cold, seeing as Anne has been a total bitch to her all along. Last recap, someone asked about Bertha’s hair, so let’s consider.
Bertha’s hair is simple and rather plain for the period, but not totally inaccurate. Hair could be styled up in a simple twist. The first thing I was reminded of was this:
Even fashion plates do show some simple styles. The most elaborate styles with braids piled high and curls in the back were typical of the first bustle period in the 1870s (which Agnes is clinging to a little bit; she doesn’t have the most ’70s version though). The frizzed curly bangs that Ada wears were common from the 1870s through the 1880s. Mrs. Fane and Morris actually have hair closer to Mrs. Russell with smooth twists (Fane has a few wispy curls).
Walking to the park, Peggy (who is a part-time lady’s companion now) tells Marian she turned the publisher down and is pissed that her father was right about systemic racism. Hey, hate on the messenger.
Eric Winterling also made Marian’s yellow gown.
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They go to see the Statue of Liberty’s hand, where Marian and Mr. Raikes take a turn. He proposes marriage, and she doesn’t give him any kind of real answer. Um, whatever, girl.
Mr. Eckhard visits Ada, but Agatha tells him off, and they’re all wearing repeated costumes.
The business men try to talk down Russell, Mr. Morris even begs on his knees, but nah, Russell DGAF after what the Morrises did to him and his wife. Mr. Morris goes home to commit suicide.
Bertha greets George at home for cocktails in a new, weird dress.
Btw, HBO just announced that The Gilded Age is renewed for a second season, so watch for cliffhangers aplenty.
Warning, folks: I will be missing the next three episodes due to travel! So I’ll be back with a combined recap of episodes 4, 5, and 6 on Tuesday, March 8. Talk amongst yourselves in the meantime :D
Marian’s costumes are irritating me so much. Just so vapid! But then, so is her character. I wonder if she’s going to go rogue at some point, and show up in a non-pastel gown which has a semblance of personality…
Marian’s costumes really are a snooze-fest. Is this supposed to be a character point? Gladys is wonderfully pretty-pretty in those soft prints. Well dressed Peggy is totally wasting her time as a lady companion in white society. Like I said back in those days well off black people had their own alternate universe. I bet there were some black owned magazines who’d publish her. Why is her dad against his daughter having a career as a writer? BTW what does he do? And who is paying for Peggy’s smart clothes?
Episode 4 finally gets into more of Peggy’s story! But recaps will have to wait, alas. Knowing that there will be a season 2, I hope they really expand her plot because they’re slowly dropping hints.
I worry about what Fellows is going to do with Peggy. She’s got no business playing lady’s companion, it will do nothing to further her authorial ambitions. She belongs in her own part of town in the center of her own story not playing supporting role to a bland Marian.
But there has to be some connection between the two worlds, since this is The Gilded Age, not actually a show about the Black elite in Brooklyn c. 1880s. The later would be fantastic! But Fellows isn’t writing that & HBO isn’t funding that, unfortunately. Shonda Rhimes is already doing Bridgerton at Netflix, I guess she can’t do everything, alas.
Peggy’s smart new outfit is quite good. I really like the two fabrics together and the colors. The skirt treatment is fantastic. But I think the scoop on the bodice hits in a funny place. It makes the plaid fill in look big and clunky…and plain. I know it echos the diagonal strips on the skirt but I wish they had done something with it… or brought the scoop up or something…. I dunno. The placement bothers me. And I dunno about the black lace scarf thingy. Just nitpicking. It’s subjective. And it is good outfit. She looks good in it. She has some of the best costumes in the show.
She definitely does.
I’m wondering if the lace scarf is a family memento that we’ll learn more about later, since she wears it so often.
Peggy is the best dressed and Marian the worst. Marian should have hired Peggy as her stylist not her companion.
Thanks for your focus on Bertha’s hairstyle! 🙏
Safe travels and have a great time!
Carrie Coon (Bertha) was pregnant …. so possibly influenced some design issues? In Episode 4 she hides behind a fan ….Peggy has the best costumes in the show!
Your recaps are more fun than aspects of the show …. unless one is playing ‘Spot the Broadway actor…”
Love playing “spot the broadway actor”! There’s so many of them in this show, and I think they’re doing a better job than most of the others at making the period mannerisms and accent seem natural and unforced.
Your’re absolutely right! Theater actors, especially those classically trained (like many of the best cast members), often learn the transatlantic accent, or dictation methods inspired by it, because of its clarity on stage. The others, mainly the young crowd (barring Peggy) and good lord that hateful lady’s maid, clearly lack the same amount of practice. I believe Carrie Coon is purposefully playing it up to imply that Bertha leared as an adult, which would be more effective if Taissa Farminga had a better handle on the accent (luv her tho) bc It’s safe to assume Bertha would have put Gladys through finishing school. Celia Keenan-Bolger and Michael Cerveris have really stood out to me so far in terms of naturalness, and Denee Benson in terms of precision.
Side Note: does anyone have a guess as to why the IMDb page on the actor for Mr. Morris has him credited to 9 episodes?
Maybe to prevent spoilers? They don’t seem to do flashbacks in this show.
I love that they thought to include a watch on Mrs. Ainsley, George’s secretary. But they weren’t wearing little watches & pins like that until mid-late 90s, and they would be up above their bust. They were worn on long chains, and tucked into a pocket. ~Val
Small women’s watch brooches date to at least the 1850s – you see them in Civil War era photos, for example. And here’s some very fancy ones – https://americanhistory.si.edu/ontime/mechanizing/machine.html
As for where they were worn, photos often show them up around the chest, but there’s always individual variation. Wearing it lower makes sense in an office to me :)
Marian just continues not to work for me as a character–I’m sure her complete lack of understanding of the social rules around her is supposed to come off as relatable to the audience and also unconventionally bold (boring choice for a period heroine, but whatever), but she just seems weirdly ignorant for someone who’s grown up at least somewhat adjacent to all this (I think this is also an area where casting an actress about ten years older than the character backfires. The visual of an approximately 30-year-old woman being shocked to learn about her era’s social hierarchies and sexual mores makes her seem less principled and different than strangely immature).
I will say I’ve been enjoying all the interior details in the old money New York houses, so there’s that! No idea how accurate those are, though. And I always love a send-up of rich people philanthropizing more for their own social clout than for any kind of greater good, so that’s been a fun throughline in this season so far.
Also on a costuming note, it’s interesting to me that they put Aunt Ada in military-inspired costumes pretty often when she’s clearly positioned as the sweet, unworldly aunt!
I guess they’re going for ‘country bumpkin’ on Marian in some way, because Doyletown, PA, is ‘country’ compared to NYC? Yeah, it doesn’t work.
Ada looks impressive and mad as you know what is the full view of the dinner gown. And Peggy should continue to be so fabulously dressed, and continue to write. Octavia, Alice, Maya and Toni never gave up and they’ve created some of the best fiction written. Maybe Oliver can turn into say one of the offspring of Andrew Carnegie, Morgan or Vanderbilt and rescue George from ruin.
Also have fun in LA Belle France maybe? Stay safe.
I LIVE for these recaps, and can’t WAIT until next weeks!!! The snark will be exquisite!
Queer representation is good. It would be nice if they weren’t always nasty pieces of work. I get Oscar needs a beard but must he pick an innocent young girl?
I keep wondering if they are planning for Gladys to have a Consuelo Vanderbilt story line. The way her mother controls her etc..
The costumes seemed themed for each character, with Ada is orange and occasionally green, Agnes in purple and dark blue, Marian in lighter blues and yellow, Peggy often in plaid, the one woman always in stripes, and Bertha in supposed European couture.
That obviously rhinestone choker on Bertha, gag!! The jewelry continues to be ridiculously wrong for the period, especially on the very wealthy characters.
The Gilded Rich wore huge amounts of jewelry at the slightest opportunity according to contemporary sources, including historic pieces that had belonged to assorted queens and princesses.
Shall there be any more recaps? I thirst for MORE!