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?