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Outfit Inspiration: The Gilded Age

Massive bespoke gowns flowed through the marbled hallways.

Fine jewels danced in sunlight reflecting in ornate gold leaf-framed mirrors as women's laughter echoed off the pillars like a swan bevy taking flight. They were talking mad smack regarding the audacity of Mrs. Pettigrue's daughter in a dress that showed far too much shoulder (the pearl-clutching topic of the night). They waived across the room with gloved hands holding champagne bubbling over, smiling through their teeth as their corsets held up their spines. It was February 10th, 1897 and the Bradley-Martin Ball was underway at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. The clock struck midnight as the final arrival of guests trickled in and are announced by the old-fart lackey, "Presenting Mrs. Astor as Mary Queen of Scotts, her son Sir John Jacob Astor as Henry IV, accompanied by his wife dressed as none other than the incredulous, Marie Antoinette".

it was this expensive ass costume party that marked the end of the Gilded Age.


So it goes this particular era of fashion piqued my interest and birthed this blog concept. The above scene is a loose interpretation I envisioned of the infamous royalty costume-themed party known as the Bradley-Martin Ball which is believed to have marked the end of the era. The Gilded Age also recently inspired a new tv show on HBO that I've been binging.

AND the Gilded Age was the theme of the Met Gala last year.

From the New York Times:

"When “Gilded Glamour,” the dress code of the 2022 Met Gala, was announced, it seemed to be either a recipe for extravagant disaster or irony. After all, the current era has often been compared to the late 19th-century Gilded Age, that period between 1870 and 1900 when extreme wealth was concentrated in the hands of the very few, the robber barons came to the fore, and income inequality grew ever greater just beneath the gold veneer on the glittering surface."

This entire post about the Met Gala was pure poetry.

A brief (very brief) bit about the time and for context, the early half of the Gilded Age is part of American history coinciding with Queen Victoria's reign in Great Britain around 1877 so the fashion is quite similar to what we know as "Victorian-era style". It was a time of extreme wealth juxtaposed against extreme poverty. However, wages were increasing as the industrial boom and expansion of cities and railroads began to offer steady income to the middle-class. Yet still, the wealthy became wealthier, hence the name deemed by Mark Twain, "The Gilded Age" in a novel he wrote describing the era of having dire social problems masked in a thin golden lining. I'm no historian, I've just found this piece on American history to be sadly familiar and fascinating.

Onto the fashion

Vogue began publication right in the middle of the Gilded Age in 1892. Often times we neglect the historical significance of fashion. To me, it would make perfect sense for something like Vogue to be around to showcase designers such as Louis Vuitton or Hermes' and seeing the archives myself really put it into perspective.

This sent me scrolling through some late 1800's Vogue magazine archives to find the exact piece I'd pull inspo from and found an illustration of a woman wearing a stunning dress with an oversized collar. I had already been hunting for shirts and dresses with oversized collars and knew when I found this particular sweater that it was perfect for this outfit.

Vogue November 1896. Courtesy of Vogue Public Archives

But where shall I frolick in said outfit themed after this thriftless period in time?

I knew this was no backyard point and shooter under the same tree next to our old fence. Nor was it a standing-in-my-hallway mirror selfie. Nothing at home would suffice. She needed une grande entrée .

I wanted to find a location on theme with this post, so I dug through the archives of the Tacoma Historical Society for structures that existed in Tacoma around the late 1800s.

-And there they of the massive structure infamously known for its Victorian nod, I thought "duh-bitch" to myself. For in black and white detail, the Stadium High Building stared back at me.

Stadium High photographed in 1948 Northwest Room at The Tacoma Public Library, (Richards Studio D32006-7)

Stadium High photographed by me, March 2023

This glorious historical structure was built in 1891 by Hewitt & Hewitt, right before the end of the Gilded Age. Originally deemed to be a luxury hotel, the project was halted when funds were strained. Standing there half done, it caught fire in 1898 and was completely gutted, parts of it being sent off to other states for use in other buildings like an organ donor of wood and iron. In the early 1900s, the city saw an opportunity to make it into a school then in 2005 it got a huge makeover, seismic upgrade, and historical restoration. It now stands today overlooking Puget Sound, with massive ships looking like ants in its background. It's one of the most beautiful functioning high schools in the world, says me. It has tennis courts on the rooftop apparently (or did), a pool in the basement, and was the filming sight for 10 Things I Hate About You.

I felt my outfit translated nicely to the theme, in a white bustled pleated skirt made of what I believe to be neoprene that I thrifted ages ago. To bring it current I tossed on some biker boots. The black floral embroidered sweater with an oversized collar was the real star of the show here, having gone to grab coffee before sauntering over to the shoot location, I received compliments on how "vintage" I looked. I grabbed my latte and macaroons and left feeling like I had accomplished my goal with the approval of all the baristas working at Corina Bakery on Fawcett Ave. Luckily, nobody was around on a Sunday at Stadium, aside from a couple of security guards likely laughing at me with my camera tripod shamelessly "getting the shot" in front of the breathtaking entrance of the brick beauty.

I heard the sound of a soccer ball getting kicked around, so I rounded the corner to feast my eyes on the massive stadium overlooking the water, what a true delight these kids get to take in every day while being able to call this their school.

The building to the left here is actually the Tacoma Historical Society visitor center where I sourced some info for this post and the video I'm editing together to feature this subject. Oh, what? Did I not mention I'm turning this into a vlog as well?

If you'd like to see the making of this blog, you can watch that video.

But finish reading this first, geez.

Now...for hair and makeup

For my hair and makeup, I wanted to plan ahead with a workable updo. So the night before, I put in soft foam curlers, tied them up in a satin scarf, and slept with them in. Once I took the curlers out the next day I had the most lovely Orphan Annie vibe going on, that simply had to be tamed. I clipped up all the sides for one of those epic vintage curly chignon hairstyles.

The real inspiration behind this entire thing was all from this little powder puff container. Designed with the intention to look vintage, this Anna Sui powder holder would be the flint to light this blog post-fire.

It comes empty, for you to fill with whatever your little heart desires. I chose to go with a translucent powder meant for the face. Down the road, if I want I can change it up I can make it a body powder holder too, which I actually might do because this really gets everywhere and the poof is huge.

I filled the Anna Sui powder holder with Beauty Bakerie setting powder, I'm also wearing Gucci lipstick in rosewood, and Too Faced highlighter in the most iconic gold diamond box. I thought I'd take a picture of the beauty goods I used with the macaroons I scored at the corner coffee shop today. Cute ain't they?

I really enjoyed this styling themed by the Gilded Age and I sure hope you enjoyed hearing about the inspiration behind it. Now go watch the video which essentially, is a behind-the-scenes making of this post, visiting the school, and so forth. It's cool and it's free to you just like this blog! Hoorah!

Til next time, toodle-oo

Xoxo, Seanna

*Some links are affiliated


Tacoma Historic Society

Tacoma Public Library

Vogue archives

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