Write to the Point!

A Neighborhood Studios Program at the Mark Twain House

Guilded Age Included Luxury Fashions

By Ashaya Nelson

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

The Gilded Age following the Civil War, is known for women wearing corsets, so they could have the perfect silhouette, with long heavy skirts. Men’s outfits were set off by spiffy bowler hats.

American author and humorist Mark Twain created the term “Gilded Age.” At the start of this time, the country experienced a rapid increase in the population and growth in the economy.

But Gilded Age fashions were for those who could afford it. The upper-class wore these extravagant costumes.

I believe that clothing at this time was valued more than fashion is today. In the eyes of the people, fashion wore was like art. Women wore luxury fabrics, and dresses were detailed and fitted.

According to Patti Philippon, chief curator at the Mark Twain House & Museum, people wore a variety of outfits for different occasions in the Gilded Age, which ended in 1893 because of the bad economy.

Women would have a different costume for going to an opera, visiting or doing work such as washing clothes.

Fashion even mattered in times of grieving. There were stages to the mourning costume. For mourning or funerals, black dresses with pansies were worn, Philippon said, explaining that pansies were flowers that represented thoughts and remembrance.

Teenage girls had to dress as women in long dresses. The younger girls would wear shorter dresses.           Toddlers and babies – both boys and girls – wore embroidered dresses that were very detailed, Philippon said.

Women would either go to their own seamstress or go to a boutique to get new clothes. The Clemens family bought their clothing from Arnold Constable & Co. in New York. They also sometimes had their clothes made for them.

Olivia, Mark Twain’s wife, had a woman in Paris who created her dresses.

The dresses were so big and bulky; they couldn’t fit into a closet. There also weren’t hangers at this time. So they used wardrobes to store their clothing.

Clothes brushes were use for dusting off dresses. Also in this era, washing machines were not yet invented.

During the winter, everyone wore dark clothing, and in summer, they wore light colored clothing.

Upper class men wore dark suits that Mark Twain called “crows,” but in old age, Twain didn’t follow these customs.

He often wore white wool suits out of season, sometimes with colored socks. Twain called it his “don’tcareadamnsuit.”

In February of 1906, he wore the suit because he knew it would attract attention before testifying about copyright before a Congressional committee.

In a Gilded Age exhibit at the museum, a bicycle and clothing are on display.

Bike importer Colonel Albert A. Pop of Boston created the “Drop Frame.”

It was a safer bike for women that was lowered for skirts. The Divided Skirt and Bloomer Costumes were made for women who rode bikes.

The Divided Skirt looks like a flared skirt, but are actually pants. Bloomers were made for women who wanted to engage in activities.

The bloomers are still worn for athletic purposes, and also for fashion. They’re used for toddlers and infants to cover their diapers.

The accessories, just like the clothing, were interesting. The women wore hair combs, hair jewelry, and extensions.

Hair was weaved and made into jewelry and was given to someone else, symbolizing remembrance and mourning.

Some of the unique fashion of the Gilded Age has been revived today. Women still wear hair extensions and combs. Harem pants were inspired by the style of bloomers.

Fashion shows the evolution of history.

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