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.
As I said at the end of episode 3’s recap, I would be out of town and had to miss three eps of The Gilded Age (2022-), so I’m cramming them in all together here. Sorry if it’s a bit light in areas!
First up in episode 4, Marian wants to pop in at Bloomingdales and doesn’t realize what a supremely white space that is for Peggy, who’s eyed suspiciously by the store dudes. Same shit, different century. Costume-wise, they’re both wearing nice bustle gowns with a solid 1880s feel and all the appropriate accessories. Marian is in another pale yellow, while Peggy has striking brown stripe with mustard yellow. At the store is where Marian chats with the notorious Mrs. Chamberlain.
Aunt Ada’s dog gets loose, which you’d think leads to a plot point but it doesn’t really, just some annoying hysterics. Ada wore this military-inspired outfit in episode one, but here’s a better photo. Agnes also wore this burgundy gown in ep 1, but it was hardly visible.
Glady’s governess gets fired for letting her charge talk to a boy. Gladys has a cute 1882 natural-form gown — love the peek of printed fabric underskirt. Bertha’s 1880-ish gown is more of an evening gown style (AGAIN) with that neckline and the lace sleeves. But what really bugs me is the bodice looks a smidge too long and it points rather unattractively at her crotch, making it look like all the pleats are emanating from her nether regions.
Mrs. Chamberlain’s delivers a gift to Marian, which she obviously can’t accept or even talk about, so it’s a weak bit of plot to get her over to Chamberlain’s house and deliver more exposition on that character. Meh. Let’s talk about this blue and gold dress of Marian’s — on the one hand, I hate it. Mostly it’s not to my tastes but also colored lace (I’ll say it again) looks modern, not that it didn’t exist in the period but it’s certainly being overused here. And I’m not convinced satin was the best choice either; yes, it’s an attempt to look expensive, but it shows every wrinkle and pucker, and 1880s is a puffy, ruffly era prone to wrinkling and puckering. On the other hand, this design is the kind of hideously Victorian thing you find all over fashion plates. Have at in the comments!
Details of this questionable gown from Eric Winterling on Instagram:
Over at the Russells house, they have dinner and talk about something I can’t remember but there are new clothes, so let’s talk about that!
Leave it to Bertha to trot out another whack-a-doodle dinner dress! I’m more annoyed that we only see it this little bit of it — I want the whole thing because I’m sure it’s even more ridiculous!
The blue-ish suit Marian wears to visit Mrs. Chamberlain is another of her ho-hum looks that might be improved by a petticoat.
After hearing Mrs. Chamberlain’s side of the story, Marian gets the gossipy side from Oscar, interrupted by Agnes (mother and son get in a bit of obligatory sparring, thanks, I love it). I hope we’ll see more of this purple and green gown on Agnes, it has a very Evil Queen vibe that I dig.
This is the closest to a clear promo shot we’re getting of Ada’s teal gown with yellow pleats. Also, side view of Marian’s new dark blue gown. The style looks decent, like she’s getting more of an 1882-ish silhouette this episode instead of the 1889-ish shape previously.
Details of Marian’s dress from Eric Winterling on Instagram:
Mrs. Fane tries to make nice with Mrs. Russell, and does a little better than Mrs. Morris did. The result is Bertha’s invitation to the academy of music later in this ep.
Peggy visits home for her mom’s birthday. For some stupid reason, Marian shows up and makes an ass of herself. It’s a good moment of TV and lays out explicitly what’s been hinted at so far (fine, complain that it wouldn’t have happened that way, but whatever, I think it works in the context of this show’s POV on history and it needed to be said).
However, I don’t love Peggy’s outfit here. I think it’s the satins, again, they read wrinkly onscreen quite easily, and the red / purple combo is a little jarring. I also don’t like the skinny belt tie; it distracts from the pleasantly period line of the V front.
Peggy’s mom looks perfectly proper though, and she continues the show’s theme of matriarchs coordinating with their homes. Earth tones going with the rich woodwork in her fine Brooklyn house.
The real standout costume in episode 4 is Bertha’s red gown and evening cape for the academy of music. This is a STATEMENT dress! It’s gorgeous, and it’s true to a tradition of red bustle gowns for dinner and evening.
Compare with various historical examples:
But also, I’ve mentioned before that Bertha’s style seems to take a strong influence from 1950s couturier Charles James, and you can see it in this red dress. Compare:
Then there’s the equally amazing embroidered cape, which ups the Victorian flair.
There are lots of embroidered and beaded velvet evening capes extant in museums, especially those designed by Emile Pingat, which remind me of Bertha’s. But I’m also reminded of this purple one that I’ve admired at the V&A many times. Not identical, but similar in concept.
Episode 5 begins with Gladys trying to sneak out of the house, wearing a very adult (for her) silvery green bustle gown. But her mom catches her.
Details of Marian’s dress from Eric Winterling on Instagram:
Across the street, Marian is making the soon-to-be Red Cross her cause. Aunt Ada tells her to use Peggy as a lady’s companion, again, and Marian tries to make friends with Peggy after being disastrously, pointlessly white savior-y. To add to this awkwardness, Mrs. Scott comes to visit Peggy and runs into Marian, they chat weirdly.
Marian and Mrs. Fane talk about the charity stuff, but also race in the 1880s version of ‘we’re supposedly progressive white ladies.’
Bertha gets a lunch invite with Ward McAllister, and she’s all a-flutter. He’s the gate-keeper of “The 400,” so this is a big deal. Bertha’s finally wearing that weird. way too much satin dress from the series promos. It looks like a ballgown, and she’s wearing it around the house during the day to take care of random little business. That’s her thing, not knowing what’s appropriate to wear at what time of day in an era when upper-crust ladies changed clothes multiple times a day.
I found a clear image of Bertha’s hair. As I said before, it’s not terrible for the period but it’s not great either. An attempt was made.
The luncheon has so many repeated gowns, except for Bertha in silver. Also, check out Mrs. Fane’s floral gown — same one she wore last ep to chat with Bertha, where you can see the front bodice lacing up. But here, you can see that it also has a back closure! This is the same as Kendra’s problem with back-lacing dresses in the 18th-century; it makes no sense to have a garment’s closure on both the front and back.
Bertha is at her most restrained fashion-wise, trying to make a good impression with Nathan Lane (as McAllister), who’s pulling a broad Southern accent. Glittering in silver but monochrome and covered up with an elegant hat.
After the successful lunch, the ladies go to another Clara Barton event, where Bertha donates more money, and Mrs. Morris, in mourning, manages to be both super bitchy and racist.
Marian’s just along for the do-gooder ride. This is quite a striking dress for her. The colors are fresh and different from her usual mousey pastels, and the velvet adds a touch of luxury.
More views of Marian’s dress from Eric Winterling on Instagram:
Peggy is reporting on the event. I like the concept of this velvet jacket more than the execution. The fit is a little off, and the hat is a smidge too tall in the crown.
The Russells have Gladys’ boyfriend, Mr. Baldwin, over for dinner. It doesn’t go very well for the little lovebirds, of course.
Episode 6 starts with a train wreck, literally, as one of George Russell’s trains has crashed, so he can conveniently give more to the Red Cross.
The aunts read all about it.
Marian goes to another Red Cross meeting. Clara Barton calls out Mrs. Morris and everyone else about being snotty to Mrs. Russell.
This red and black outfit reminds me of the 1880s dress by Fromont, Paris, worn by Maria Feodorovna and now at the Hermitage.
At the Scotts’ house in Brooklyn, Mom is playing piano when Peggy comes home.
Mrs. Scott is wearing another 1880s polonaise gown, a typical style that’s easy to recreated today with patterns like this:
Marian tells the aunts she’s having lunch with the Russells and Ward McAllister.
Larry Russell gets invited to a “doll’s tea party” by Mrs. Fish and convinces his parents to let Gladys join him.
Carrie and Gladys bond over their terrible mothers.
Mrs. Russell pays the van Rhijn house’s butler to set stuff up for her fancy lunch with Ward McAllister. This has no costume impact, but will be an interesting plot point.
Marian meets with Mrs. Chamberlain about the Red Cross.
Carrie Astor visits Gladys at home.
Details of Carrie’s dress from Eric Winterling on Instagram:
Agnes’ maid gets all racist against Peggy while dressing her lady, and Agnes gives her the put down.
The big lunch with McAllister seems to be a success.
OK, I freakin’ love the little gifts Bertha tucks into each lunch guests’ napkin. The fans for the ladies look like antiques, and the men’s cases are lovely.
Those aren’t the only surprises, however.
Whew! Had to cram a lot in there. What did you think of these three episodes?
I definitely feel like the costumes are improving. It’s almost like they heard feedback and have been making changes.
Well it was all filmed & done a while ago ;) But the costume designs definitely settled into a more historical groove after the first few episodes. Prob. a case of ‘let’s throw all these crazy ideas out in the start to show what we can do & what these characters all “mean”!” And then, whew, OK, now let’s just let the characters live their lives.
Peggy wears a bad dress! Ever Homer nods. Mrs. Scott however is impeccable.
Peggy should be getting side eyes and nasty whispers everywhere she goes. It’s 1880- something! Racism is open and vicious and socially accepted. To be seen around town with a black woman as a companion should be causing all kinds of gossip against Marian and the Van Rijns. I’m not saying nobody in the 1880s would do it but treating a black woman as a social equal, or close to it, would be a massive social political statement and cause all kinds of fallout including the possibility of physical attack on Peggy and Marian when they’re out together. One would have to be deeply committed to black rights to make such a statement and take such risks. And Peggy would have to be deeply committed too for her risk is even higher. The point is not that nobody would do this but that they’d be very conscious of the risks they were taking and discuss and debate them.
Getting back to fashion:
Love, love, love Bertha’s red cape. The dress isn’t bad either. Ditto the silver suit and the brown dress. It seems Bertha can dress in conventional good taste, she just prefers not to. Maybe she finds it boring?
I wonder why arch-snob Ward McAllister is looking the Russells over? Probably the children a rich young man and well dowered sister would be considered social assets however detrimental the parents.
In defense of Mrse. Astor, her weak spot was her children. She accepted Ava Vanderbilt entirely so Carrie could go to the famous Vanderbilt Ball, and eventually let Carrie marry an arriviste she, Mrs. Astor, despised only for the sake of Carrie’s happiness. So Carrie complaining about mum is a bit much!
I like Marian’s blue and gold dress, but then I’m a sucker for that color combination. Otherwise she remains clinically boring.
I also like Marian’s blue suit, because I love the tailored look, and the pale yellow walking dress isn’t to bad.
Your thoughts on Peggy are not necessarily true. Yes, racism was prevalent and very open in the 1880s, much like it is today. But it doesn’t mean that societies were completely segregated either. Peggy is not acting in the capacity of an “equal” to Marian or Agnes. A ladies companion or secretary were both genteel professions, but it was still paid work. She is hired help in their home. Further, I believe the writers have drawn inspiration for Peggy’s character from Mary Church Terrell’s life. She was a wealthy Black woman who came of age during this time period, was highly educated (one of the first two Black women to earn a master’s degree), and became an activist and writer. She moved in both Black and white elite circles intermittently, as she fought for both civil rights and women’s rights. I can see them modeling much of Peggy’s story on Mrs. Terrell’s fascinating life.
Is there an available biography of Ms Terrell?
Mrs. Terrell, at least according to Wikipedia, didn’t waste her time and energy playing ladiy’s companion or secretary to society women. My real complaint is Peggy is too good for this crap. Why is she wasting her time?
Cathy Hay is recreating the Marshall and Snelgrove purple velvet evening coat on her YouTube channel
The last outfit that Carrie Astor wears – I’m not sure about all that lace, but the color is AMAZING. :)
I want to see more Carrie bc she looks like she would be out in society an not still playing with dolls like Gladys. Grow up Gladys, put your hair up. I still sort of wonder if they’re trying to turn Peggy into a Bella da Costa Green. More of Peggy’s mom. Still need to see it.
I’m seeing lot of crinkling and some rather prominent, downright shar-pei’ish, wrinkling around the upper bust/armscye area. Wasn’t that area usually filled in with padding to smooth out those lines?
Yep & it’s also a common problem to not fill that in, since it’s can be a final fitting kind of thing.
Anyone else watch that scene at Peggy’s home and wish Audra MacDonald and Denee Benton would just sing?
Costumes all over the place, and many hiding Carrie Coon’s pregnancy.
I agree that the satin bodices are very wrinkly. Why are there so few wool dresses? Most people wore wool in the 19th century. Even Mrs. Russell would have worn wool dresses.
Wool may be a bit of a light-sink on camera. I’m thinking of all the wool in Outlander & how dark & dreary that show can look because of it. Satin has the opposite problem in that it picks up too much light & needs to be sparingly used unless it’s perfectly made.
So, i learned from this week’s Gilded Age podcast that 1) the series was shot out of order, and 2) Carrie Coon, who plays Bertha, was pregnant during filming, and was 8 months along specifically when they wrapped, which meant there had to be a LOT of alterations for her costumes over the months of shooting. They were already planning on making Bertha’s look more modern to show her as being out-of-step with the upper crusts of established society, but I guess the pregnancy must have had more of an impact on that as well.
Peggy continues to be the MVP of this whole series, and I seriously wish we could give all of Marian’s screentime to her because Marian is BORING.
I don’t quite see the point of Marian.
This may be a frock flick, but this is for modern audiences. New York City was way more diverse than this show portrays. I want scenes and subplots with more Black characters, Chinese, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, etc, etc. This being a Julian Fellowes show, it’s a minor miracle we get Peggy and her mom, but still.
This is a 1880s society flick. There wasn’t a lot of diversity in New York high society. A show about the various ethnic communities that made up New York is a fine idea but a completely different genre.
Personally I’d love to see a show centering on Peggy and her community and how she worked for equal rights like Mrs. Terrell. But that’s not what Fellowes’ is writing.
Bertha’s capes, and some dresses, while gorgeous, are about 10 years forward in time. They look decidedly Art Nouveau. Same goes for Agnes’ beautiful dress.
Way too many ladies are wearing strangely low-cut dresses in daytime. I could maybe buy this on Bertha (actually no, I really wouldn’t, this was such a basic idea she would know about it too), but there seem to be quite plenty of characters dressed like that.
Marian’s gold and blue dress does remind me of some more garish models of the times. But at the same time it is wrong, they liked to combine contrasting fabrics but not quite that way. And the skirt is nowhere near structured enough and ornate enough. On the other hand, that pale yellow walking suit, though boring, seems perfectly appropriate for a young lady of the period. The bright blue gown seems really nice, but wrong year. The hat is just wrong, looks like it came from a cheap costume shop.
Bertha’s orange-skirted dress looks like random fabrics just pinned around her.
I don’t like the widow. Unless I’m calculating this wrongly (still haven’t watched it, I just read the recaps), her husband died quite recently. She should be in much deeper mourning. Her dress seems too ornamented for deepest mourning (lace, patterned fabric AND whatever that is at her neck), and she’s severely lacking a veil.
After reading the recent review about The Gilded Age at The Onion’s A.V. Club – one of the commenter’s pointed out that on YouTube, there now exists dozens of speed corrected film coverage from 1888 – 1930’s and more of people all around the world! (Including horses, dogs, carriages, cars, etc.)
How amazing to see people acting naturally in their elegant every day to formal occasion wear. Beware the delightful rabbit hole! What a way to compare and contrast historical t.v. & film against the genuine article.
That red evening gown is gorgeous and the only costume I have liked from this show — everything else is hideous and/or gaudy in my mind.
I quit after episode three. It bores me so much.
I don’t know if you knew this but the actress playing Bertha Russell was pregnant during filming, which probably explains some of the wardrobe adjustment decisions
The gold case with the M – that is Marie Antoinettes signet – extravagant gift, indeed