78 thoughts on “The Gilded Age (2022) – Recap Episode 1

  1. I turned it off. Beyond the fashion of Bertha, I could already see how it would go: orphaned child arrives in the big city to live with aunts, runs into nasty oldest son of enemy, despite society and family opinion, they fall in love.

  2. Regarding those photos of Carrie Astor in Newport : love the outfit, but what’s up with her parasol? Maybe it’s the angle of the photos, but that parasol looks like it’s small enough for a toddler. :)

        1. Some of those tiny parasols also fold up. The Parasol Industrial Complex was a thing.

    1. Mrs Nouveau Riche had me yelling at the screen – particularly the lack of interest on her hems. It was incredibly uncommon for high fashion dresses not have something going on in the hem department between 1870 and 1890. Ruffles for the 70’s, pleats for the 80’s, more or less. The major exception being skirts with deep pleats in the 80’s, and these were paired with long over skirts to add interest. Plain skirts were for poor people – so what what was with that blue number? The god awful bodice was just the icing.

      I did catch in the “next episode” bit that she might be wearing a replica Worth gown. Hoping it’s a sign she gets some fashion sense. Late 80’s if memory serves. Have been having way to much “spot the extant gown replica” fun.

      1. But hems aren’t the focus of attention in TV & movies, faces are. Why waste time/money/effort on what’s barely going to register on-screen when you’re creating about 5,000 costumes?

  3. I’m guessing they’re doing the hair thing for Gladys as either a) a signifier that her mother infantilizes her (sidestepping Trystan’s point that even younger girls wore their hair more ‘done’ during this time) or b) the tried (though not true) costuming method of trying to make actresses in their 20s look like younger teenagers by giving them little girl hair (see also: Lily James and Florence Pugh’s hideous bangs in War and Peace and Little Women respectively). Also yay for the continued Gummer nepotism hires; lord love them all for trying, but none of them can hold a candle to their mom in terms of acting ability.

  4. So far, the plot’s been a bit boring and predictable, but I’m cautiously optimistic. Downton Abbey was a bit wimpy in the first few episodes too.

    And honestly, I don’t even care much about the plot, because this has some of the best 1880s dresses I’ve seen on-screen. The decade had so many interesting colors and tailoring choices, and it’s rare for a costume designer to actually feature them. Ada’s colorful, high-contrast military dresses are particularly fantastic.

  5. The plot sounds like a great deal of Expository Lump (haven’t seen it yet), but I’m a sucker for lush costuming.

  6. I felt there was a mix of really great in the costuming and like you, I hated that she took off her jacket and was wearing an evening bodice. There was also Corset Whining TM, and she was clearly referring to the outer garment as her corset and I had to grit my teeth. The actor playing Mrs Nouveau Riche also keeps holding onto the point on the front of her bodice in a weird way.

    The bodices worn by the Russells look very structured and stiff, as if there’s been a costuming shortcut of making the outer bodice like that to avoid the need for corsets underneath? IDK.

    My FAVOURITE bit was Mr Russell’s bedroom, all dark panelling and deep red velvet, right out of a Hammer Horror vampire film :D

        1. OH THAT’S SO COOL! But that’s Fellowes for you – at lot of Downton was filmed inside Highclere Castle.

  7. Can we have more Pumpkin? He’s adorable. On the whole clothes are B+ bc I understand why the nr aka Nouveau riche wear what they do. So their families are going to throw both Gladys and Marion at son of nr? Someone going to get hurt. Hopefully, we’ll see more of Peggy and Peggy’s mom.

    1. Yep, just saw that. sigh Only a little annoyed bec. I asked HBO for an interview 2 months ago but couldn’t get thru! They were so nice to work with for Gentleman Jack.

  8. Thank you! This is wonderful to read – and thanks for the confirmation re: Bertha Russell’s outfits. They were definitely jarring. I thought they fit her character (mostly – the feather thing seemed OTT even for her) even if when they were way, way off historically. Gladys’ hair was lamentable to say the least, so here’s hoping the hinted-at coming-out ball changes things for her. Looking forward to the season and your recaps!

    1. Those blue feathers had me itching all over my chest just looking at them! I can’t imagine wearing them and not scratching myself raw. Tremendous respect to the actress for wearing them.

  9. As a wealthy young man Larry would definitely be more socially welcome than his parents. Society couldn’t get enough rich men for their girls to marry.
    Marian, the girl with blue blood but no money, and Gladys, the poor little rich girl with hopeless parents both fit in the setting. Peggy doesn’t.
    Don’t get me wrong, you could write a hell of a series about a young, educated black woman making her way in 19th century New York. Back then urban blacks, some of them well off professional folks, created their own alternate dimension where they could succeed. The problem is that world didn’t overlap with the tinsel world of high society. Shoehorning Peggy into a high society plot does neither the plot nor the character any favors.

    1. Yup, you’re right about Larry being more welcome as a potential moneyed suitor for someones superfluous daughter. Also, men knew each other from university,
      In addition, he looks rather athletic, indicating he might be/have been a moderately succesful sportsman on his college’s team. That could earn some level of admission to “good” society by itself.
      In England, they even had a specific name for the young athlete/ artist/ poet/ officer/ hero of the day. They would be called “lions” and a good hostess should have at least one at her weekend party.

  10. There are some really good gowns. And then there are other gowns…
    And I find dressing the outsider in way-out stuff to be sophomoric. To begin with, why would an aggressive social climber dress outside what society expects? If her clothes are to be different… tasteless or avant-garde… you can design that and be more accurate. You could dress Bertha in Artistic Dress. That would be different, but not her character at all. She could be tacky and gaudy but she doesn’t have to look like she’s from another planet.
    Still, there are some really good gowns in the series. But the Bertha from Mars concept is not doing it for me.

    1. I agree: I get that she’s meant to stick out, but wouldn’t it be more subtle than this if she is specifically trying to curry favor with these people, who are legendarily snobby and whom she would have to know would scrutinize every ruffle and bow for correctness? I’m reminded of a scene in the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes episode “The Illustrious Client,” in which Holmes tells the villain that he should make sure to remove the band from his cigar before lighting it, lest he be taken for a bounder. That’s the level at which people gatekeep, then and now (makes me think of having the Right Jeans in high school in the eighties: Lord knows that was a game of inches). I realize it’s more work to film those subtleties, but this just makes me feel like the creators think we need to be hit over the head or we won’t get it. I think it would actually be more effective if the differences were minute, showing just how narrow-minded the old guard are, rather than “Jeez, she’s so tacky she can be seen from space!”

      1. That’d be a different show — a very closed-up drawing room type film, & I do mean film because it’s not the kind of thing that’s usually sustained over several years of episodes, plus it works well with fewer characters too. The Gilded Age is presenting a broad canvas with lots of characters & storylines, aka a soap opera. There’s room for all.

        1. Good point! I just wish it were shiny fabrics OR low/unusual necklines OR weird floofy bustles, rather than the whole pile (even if that did, technically, happen in fashion), because that’s obviously going to read as super tacky to modern eyes rather than just somewhat “off” and incorrect (though you’re right, a Julian Fellowes TV joint isn’t the place to look for subtlety; also, he’s of course on the side of old money and so probably has no problem making Bertha look a little ridiculous. I just think she’d be smarter than this; it seems like a disservice to her character.). It’s an interesting contrast with Dorothy Scott, who obviously isn’t trying to get into high society but who clearly knows a thing or two about hard-won respectability.

  11. I’m not sure about the show, but I do love Ada and her frocks. For a spinster, the bright colors hint at a bit of rebellion.

    As for the script, Edith Wharton did it better.

  12. I think what bothers me is, as you point out, the fact that there were plenty of ways to look tacky and nouveau riche within early 1880s parameters without resorting to the weird shapes and trims we see here. It seems lazy, even when I know a lot of work and thought went into what we’re seeing. The same goes for the ingenue looks. It almost feels like they’re trying really hard to make the costumes do the acting for them. Though considering most of the performances, it may not be the worst idea…

    1. As another commenter pointed out, compare this show to Bridgerton. I think the costuming choices work for mainstream TV. This is on HBO, Bridgerton was on Netflix. These aren’t indie art house productions for niche audiences. They’re aimed at mainstream viewers. But unlike, say the 2018 Mary Queen of Scots, the costumes aren’t super dumbed-down versions of historical costume. Historical elements are tweaked & twisted, but there isn’t the wholesale “let’s make this RELATABLE” that other productions have done.

  13. Their take on Mrs Russell’s wardrobe reminds me of Lady Featherington’s, another parvenue, in Bridgerton.

  14. I think that black and white striped dress might be a reference to John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Mrs Wilton Phipps

  15. I’m so used to seeing Taissa Farminga in horror films and TV shows. I’ll need to adjust my brain if I watch this.

  16. I loved the article! What did you guys think of the men’s costumes and hairstyles? I was not sure whether Mr. Russel’s beard was accurate for the period or not

  17. Hated Downton Abbey but am weirdly loving this as you say I can see why the costuming choices are being made. The scenery /interiors are amazing and I’m finding the Russells as a couple who support each other and are totally into the others skills/ ambitions super sexy. Really hope the whole maid thing doesn’t happen it’s a cliche.

    1. The Russells are a surprisingly sweet couple. I’m already annoyed that her maid is scheming to sleep w/the mister. He’s a jerk in biz, but he cares about his wife & her ridiculous ambitions.

      1. Making the maid the sexual predator is rather worse than a cliche. Seducing a married man would most likely end with her ruin and any woman of the time would know it. Heck being abused by a married employer, a far more likely scenario, inevitably ended very badly for the girl.
        A good ladies’maid was in high demand by New York society women. Risking a promising career for what? Makes no sense at all.

      1. It doesn’t help that’s she’s waspish and snippy and always bobbing her head and sneering.

  18. In that last photo of Mrs. Astor that you posted, looks like she also is wearing a cardboard stiff corsety-type bodice, like Mrs. Russell’s. I’ve never seen anything like that. ~Val

    1. Yes! I see Bertha’s weird costume choices creeping onto other costumes. And some of the recreated gowns may be period correct, but are they a tacky miss from Mr Worth? Just because it’s real doesn’t mean it’s tasteful.

  19. I love the costumes of Ada, right in between Agnes and Berthe, but I don’t like the Russell Mansion. It’s a bit too tasteful and under furnished

  20. Their is something irresistibly funny about the name Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish. Caroline Astor is of course the reason girls like the Ynzagas, the Jeromes and other new rich took their dollars to London to buy arsisocratic husband’s and social cachet. Mrs. Russell is a pitifully inept climber and Gladys is likely to have a very hard time of it. So far the Van Rijns seem to have hit every single Old Money trope, loss of fortune, bad marriage, sad spinster and ner do well heir. Is it me or is it all very boring and predictable?

      1. Gladys and Marion are sadly passive. Girls of the time were often seriously ambitious and very self directed and active. Heiresses like Jennie Chamberlain and Mary Leitner took the social lead dragging their bewildered but fascinated parents in their wake. Mrs. Leitner seems to have been a real detriment, like Bertha. But Mary was a success in spite of her.

  21. about Larry being invited to the New Port parties, he’s young, male and rich. there is a great difference between inviting a man to make up the numbers and allowing him to court your daughter.
    as for the ladies maid of Mrs. Russell, shame on her. she’s got the experience, it is her responsibility to direct her mistress into what is acceptable and allowed by newcomers into society. the fact that she does not and mocks her to the staff is VERY wrong. using her to seduce the master is also such a lame cliche.

    I figure they’re setting up the Russells to move to the “Old World” in search of acceptance. the empty and ignored invitations to the ball actually happened and the woman in question said “screw you” to NYC society and moved to England, got polish, a noble patroness and made a HUGE splash and successful marriage for her daughter.

    Mrs. Russell needs some help and fast. Sack the ladies maid, get someone who helps you rather than screws you over and dress to win!

    1. Are you thinking of Mrs. Paran Stevens? She had considerably more nous and confidence than Bertha Russell seems to have had and knew all about how to act and dress.

  22. Longtime reader/lurker (love the snark so hard!) and I had to chime in on the jewels. As a lover of antique jewelry and someone who works with it daily, so much of the jewelry was just wrong. I know jewelry isn’t your focus, but I thought of you all when I saw it. This period has both sumptuous jewels for the upper class and mass produced less expensive jewels for the middle and working classes. There is a lot of extant jewelry around to borrow or use for reference. So why didn’t they?

    I shared the same screencap on Instagram of Bertha wearing the lacy shrug and decidedly 1950s looking asymmetrical diamond necklace. Our fellow antique jewelers went crazy in the comments talking about it. Bertha also wears at least one recognizably modern jewelry designer… why?? It immediately took me out. The jewelry on the old money characters was ok, but could be so much better. It drives me crazy when they put thought and research into everything else about the costumes, but the jewelry is at most generic Victorian looking. Curious what you think and if you agree.

    1. Yeah, I thought Bertha’s jewelry looked fairly modern or at least 20th-c. vintage. But that goes with her aesthetic as being “off” in everything.

      I’ll also give the production a bit of a pass on jewelry bec. it’s a HUGE production so it’s better that they do have accessories like jewelry that are close enough. Compare with other TV shows that simply don’t have any! But don’t compare with movies, which only need to have items for one shoot, not for multiple episodes. (But do compare with movies that can’t get that right, hello, 2018 MQoS & the stupid multiple hoop earrings, hah.)

      1. I see what you mean, but there’s so much jewelry from this period out there and easily available. They couldn’t borrow any? If they couldn’t afford diamonds, they could use antique paste. I have a suspicion they made agreements with a few modern designers who make antique-inspired pieces and called it a day. It’s very disappointing, especially since the jewelry on Downton was fabulous! So many beaded sautoirs, I loved it.

        I didn’t even mess the 2018 MQoS, just watched the trailer and read your entries on it! That was enough for me. That triple hoop earring really stuck out as awful.

  23. I am kind of “meh” on this — bad acting abounds, the plot is incredibly predictable so far, and it lacks the charm and likable characters of Downton Abbey. But it surprises me to find the gowns are mostly accurate — they seem gaudy and overdone, and not nearly as beautiful as the ones in The Age of Innocence, which is the gold standard for the period.

  24. Even though I don’t have access to watching this, I really appreciate this overview of the costuming. As usual, GREAT job breaking down the good, the bad, and the just plain WTF?

    But I’ve got to pick at one point concerning Gladys’ hairstyle:

    “Ugh, the hair. The cliche.”

    I realize that there is a ridiculous cliche in movies/TV where “long loose hair = young and innocent/at least unmarried,” no matter what the time, setting, and conventions dictate.

    However, there seems to be enough visual evidence from paintings and photos from the late 19th century that this was perhaps not so far-fetched at this time.

    Renoir painted quite a few girls with long hair only pulled back out of the eyes but otherwise hanging loose, even a little messy at times:


    8-year-old Irène Cahen d’Anvers, 1880


    15- or 16-year-old Julie Manet, 1894

    (Julie Manet was the daughter of painter Berthe Morisot and the niece of Édouard Manet, and seemed to own neither a hairbrush nor a single hairpin, based on images of her from the time.)

    One of Manet’s most famous paintings is this 1873 painting of his most frequent model, Victorine Meurent, 29 at the time and apparently depicted as a young mother:


    And this look turns up in photography from this period, as in this undated photo of a unidentified young woman, which appears to be a carte de visite:


    So while it’s definitely a cliche, it may actually work in some settings, and it might actually have been accurate here.

    1. A cliche is something ‘overused and betrays a lack of original thought’ or a stereotype. Which ‘long hair worn down means a female is young’ absolutely qualifies as. Sure, it was sometimes done historically. You can always find exceptions to rules. But it wasn’t the common or accepted or fashionable thing that was done most often. So using it like this has become a TV/movie trope, & we’re tired of seeing it!

      1. Perhaps this hairstyle is meant to be exagerated: her mother is excessive in the way she dresses, in the way she decorates her house and also in the way she infantilizes her daughter.
        She treats her like an annoying puppy but I also have the feeling she wants to erase any possible competition as «woman of the household » that everone should admire. Hence a hairstyle her daughter should have dropped three or four years earlier (assuming she is 16ish), that is meant to juniorize and « downsize » her vs her mother.

  25. I have yet to watch it (serious lack of time), so I only have screencaps to go on, but…

    Some of Marian’s outfits seem to have a rather late 1880s vibe to me. Specifically the purple one and the crappy blue dog-walking one. Somehow they resemble the very end of the bustle period to me, when the bustle got small and the skirt hung looser. At least looser compared to Natural Form, when it was still sort of pulled tight into the back and around the knees (like her yellow dress). Even though a walking dress would allow for some freedom of movement, of course.
    I don’t like that Worth recreation. Unlike the original design, it lacks cohesion and the contrast is too strong. Particularly the way the black part ends at the top is clunky when compared to the original gown.
    Why is Gladys going around with such low necklines in daytime?
    Am I getting this right? Marian snuck out and went to a party ALONE? A young, unmarried girl turning up to a party unchaperoned? Even if Bertha is nouveau-riche and uncouth, she would have known better and sent her home immediately.
    Also – though I only know the European standards from the period, Americans might have done it a bit differently – she should have spent more time in half-mourning. She went from all-black straight to colourful dresses and parties, except for that one purple outfit, which might have been a coincidence. Mourning after a parent’s death was supposed to be quite long, with longer transition. And if she was still finishing mourning, she should not dance – but I don’t know if it was a ball or just a party.

    1. Yep, Marian as late 1880s becomes more obvious in the next episode. Her aunt Agnes specifically said “no more mourning” when she sent Marian to the dressmaker, so that purple suit is as close as she got.

  26. Why the eyeroll at the maids being sniffy to Peggy, exactly? Sadly, it’s only too believable that people nearly at the bottom of the heap would comfort themselves by having someone they can look down on.

    Personally, it always bugs the heck out of me when the writes of historical shows make interactions between different ‘tribes’ of the oppressed all cosy and brotherhood-of-man heartwarming. Human nature hardly ever works like that.

  27. Disappointed with lack of authenticity in appearance of costumes. Could be the lighting. The costumes reminded me of damask satin curtains from 1930s. Too overly designed, lack of real feel. You may have left out the one that I considered, worst costume, worn by “Marion”?, bright shiny gold satin decorated with ugly blue lace. Also some of the rhinestone necklaces are reminiscent of those from the 40’s- 50’s.
    There are simply too many costumes, must have had quite the budget, my point is that even the wealthy people wore the same dress more than once, hell, even the royals are known to reuse dresses they have worn before in public.
    Best costumes I have seen lately were by Luminita Lungo for the movie “The World to Come”

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