Gilded Age Gorgeousness

April 8, 2010 at 11:21 am Leave a comment

Silk brocade evening gown by Worth, Paris, c. 1890. Worn by Ella King of Kingscote

Ever wonder what America’s most stylish women wore during the Gilded Age? Now is your chance to find out. Newport Undressed: Crafting the

Gilded Age Wardrobe, is on exhibit this season at Rosecliff, one of the famed Newport Mansions, featuring the most fashionable frocks of the late 19th/early 20th century donned by the who’s who of Newport’s social circuit. While ladies of the day had their choice of prêt-à-porter garments from department stores and boutiques, or commissioned pieces from private seamstresses, the wealthiest fashionistas, like today, sought one-of-a-kind custom creations from Parisian haute couture houses. Sourcing the finest fabrics from across the globe and staffed

Silk satin evening gown by Worth, Paris, c. 1901. Worn by Mrs. Alfred G. Vanderbilt

with expert fitters, each piece sported enviable craftsmanship and distinctive details including delicate hand-beading, impeccable draping, or flawless embroidery.

Many of the pieces are by acclaimed English-born designer Charles Frederick Worth, credited with being the father of the couture industry and “the first couturier.” Jessica Urick, textile conservator for the Preservation Society of Newport County and the exhibit’s curator, explains, “Upon opening his Parisian dressmaking business in 1858, he established himself as an outspoken arbiter of taste – rather than adhering to a customer’s preferences, he designed dresses based on his own personal vision. Worth became a trendsetter, and the role of dressmaker shifted from mere seamstress to creative visionary.” Highlights of the exhibition include gowns worn by Ella King of Kingscote and Ellen French, the first wife of Alfred Vanderbilt of The Breakers. At

Beaded silk opera cloak by Worth, Paris, c, 1890s

the time, these masterpieces could range anywhere from from $100 to $500 (which in today’s market would translate to approximately $3,000 to $13,000).

Newport Undressed: Crafting the Gilded Age Wardrobe, will be on display at Rosecliff through October 31. For more information, visit www.NewportMansions.org. Learn more about the art of haute couture in the Gilded Age and the exhibit at a lecture scheduled for Thursday, May 20, 2010

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