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.
This penultimate episode of The Gilded Age (2022-) heads to Newport, so we get a bunch of new costumes, and, as usual, they’re all over the place. The first scene is of Bertha planning Gladys’ debut, and the ballroom is all a-flutter.
Oscar’s boyfriend wants to come to Newport to party. Oscar is worried that the guy’s gonna blow his cover with Gladys. Marian watches Oscar go off to Newport with Larry Russell. Aurora visits the aunts before she goes to Newport too. Agnes hates it, she hates everything.
Mr. Raikes sends a letter to Peggy, which the evil maid delivers (and reads first). Marian tells Peggy she wants to elope with Mr. Raikes (blah).
At the Russells’ ballroom, the kids are practicing their quadrille. THIS is how you dress someone of Gladys’ age to make her look “young” without being ridiculously infantile or out of period. The tiny print, the light colors, the light fabrics, a bit of ruffle, those are all historically accurate things that a sheltered 18-year-old lady would wear.
Even Carrie Astor is dressed “young” and appropriately, though not quite as young as Gladys. Because she’s not as sheltered or as actually young.
Not sure what’s up with Bertha’s outfit though. I mean, +1 for being daytime-appropriate for a change! But it’s an odd design, and I especially wonder about that spot just below the hip (see the arrow). Is it a fold? Is it a seam? Either way, it’s concerning.
Marian and Peggy talk about the letter. Peggy thinks the evil maid read it. Ada overhears and says she’s never liked that maid.
Yeah, I complained about the puffed sleeve on Agnes’ last dress, but I like the one here on Ada. First, it’s more substantial, not just a tiny, twee puff. Second, it’s a puffed-and-slashed Renaissance revival sleeve, which is both a personal fave and something done in the period. Third, and most importantly, Ada is a less serious character so a touch of whimsy in her wardrobe isn’t as surprising.
Similar sleeve here:
Marian heads to Mr. Raikes’ office to tell him yes, let’s elope. WHY??? She’s dumb. They are the least interesting “young lovers” on screen ever.
And all the cool kids are at Newport.
And she gets a repro dress!
Back in the city, Marian and Ada are shopping. A lady leaves her purse behind (wut?), and Marion recognizes her as George Russell’s stenographer who’d previously dropped off some papers at the house. So she does her good deed and takes the purse back to the Russell house, saying it was for “Miss Dixon,” since that’s who the charge account at Bloomingdales was under. This ridiculously coincidental plot device will be important. And yet, for as silly as it is, it’s straight out of a Victorian novel where everything turns on coincidence — read yourself some George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, and Charles Dickens for equally nonsense plot devices!
Since everyone suspects that the evil maid has read her letter, Peggy spills her real story to Marian. Who then says she has to tell Agnes.
At Newport, tennis is the game of champions and gay would-be heiress hunters. Mrs. Fish pokes at Bertha about George’s hearing. And Oscar’s boyfriend, Mr. John Adams, interrupts everything and gets himself invited to the party.
Everyone is looking rather sporty, or the bustled equivalent, in blues and white with lots of stripes. Bertha’s outfit actually fits in for a change!
Maybe because her ensemble is inspired by this fashion plate:
Gladys’s outfit is typical of tennis ensembles of the times — such as these ladies:
Palest of them all, like a wallflower, is Mrs. Fane in eggshell and mint. Details of Aurora’s dress from Eric Winterling on Instagram:
Even Mrs. Fish has a relatively toned-down (for her) outfit. Specifically, it’s a lighter version of a rather dark extant gown.
Compare with this — and take note, everyone who says the TV show’s costumes are too bright and gaudy because actual period clothing was too!
The neckline is where you can really see the inspiration, though the skirt is pretty similar.
At George’s hearing about the train wreck, Miss Ainsley, the stenographer, is called to testify. She’s asked if she’s familiar with Mr. Dixon and spills that she used his charge account at Bloomingdales and then that she was in cahoots with him. Thus, Dixon is to blame, Russell is free of guilt in this.
Oh, and now George will be putting Ainsley on the shit-list with every possible employer in the city so she can’t get a decent job again (if she’s not in prison) because he’s just that kind of guy. Yay, capitalism?
Mrs. Fish holds a fancy Newport dinner party where Oscar and his boyfriend both try to flirt with Gladys. This won’t end well.
All we can see of Bertha’s dinner gown is the neckline, but the trim is reminiscent of period styles seen in fashion plates. She’s really toning it down here in Newport, clothing-wise anyway!
There’s a few extant black lace over yellow silk gowns from this period that Mrs. Fish’s dinner gown might be inspired by.
Aurora Fane is wearing a champagne satin gown she wore in a previous episode but now with a beaded capelet. Gladys re-wears the lavender gown she wore in the very first episode.
Carrie Astor tries to talk her mom into hanging out with Mrs. Russell, but no dice.
Peggy tells Agnes and Ada her full story. The evil maid is directed to come in later, so Agnes hears both stories, and while the evil maid gets all the judgement, Peggy’s still the one to leave.
When I first saw this dress, I thought WTFrock?!? Why would you ever put a giant pocket on the front of a gown?!? That’s big enough for a smartphone (obvs way before they were invented). It’s so weird. But …
Never underestimate the weirdness of historical fashion! Just as bizarre as modern fashion! Humans have strange ideas about what to wear! Though I still wonder why they chose to put Ada in a gown with elephants on it — that’s odd for the period and out of character, even if the colors suit her. Maybe someone got a deal or lost a bet.
Then there’s Agnes in this floral (painted / printed silk?) gown again.
It’s a departure for Agnes, being so colorful and rather relaxed in style. Looks like a tea gown to me. Such as…
With this kind of decoration (this extant gown is embroidered). So plausible, just a bit of a departure for Agnes. Though in this scene, she’s shown as uncharacteristically open-minded for a woman of her time and place, so maybe that’s the link.
Marian’s wearing a new yellow dress that’s a lot like her other yellow dresses but slightly more evening than daytime, I guess.
Details of this dress from Eric Winterling on Instagram:
Back in Newport, they’re talking about how much houses cost, because Bertha is crass like that. Mr. McAllister says he can take Bertha to visit the Astor’s house before the owner arrives, because he knows the butler. WE CAN TELL THIS WILL TURN OUT BAD.
Glady’s sweet, fluffy ensemble is her Tissot gown, IMO. Compare with this classic painting:
Peggy goes home and tells her mom she’s going to keep writing. You go, girl. While it makes sense for her to finally get out of that rich white lady’s house, I do wonder what bizarre plot machinations will occur to keep her story still in the show. As much as y’all want a TV series about the Black elite of Brooklyn in the 1880s, The Gilded Age is not that. This one’s about the rich white folks on the Upper East Side, so Peggy’s unlikely meeting with Marian and employment by Agnes was how the showrunners tried to get a glimpse of these Black characters within the main storyline.
Finally can see Peggy’s plaid skirt here. I wonder if the outfit was inspired by this fashion plate:
The Astors house, Beechwood, suspiciously looks like Chateau-sur-Mer, but whatever. OF COURSE, Mrs. Astor and Carrie arrive early. DUH. So the butler ignominiously hustles Bertha out through the back way.
Next one is the last for this season! What are you looking forward to?