Extravagant Gowns on Exhibit Starting Oct 4 at the Darien Historical Society

Gilded age images facebook darien hist socy exhibit

Photo from the Darien Historical Society

One of the dresses

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Fashion from the era that Mark Twain famously dubbed “The Gilded Age” will be the focus of an upcoming exhibition at the Darien Historical Society, showcasing extravagant gowns from an era synonymous with unabashed wealth.

A champagne reception will mark the opening of “How the Industrial Revolution Created the Gilded Age,” on Friday, Oct. 4.

Darien Historical Society dress

One of the dresses in the exhibit

— an announcement from the Darien Historical Society

The reception, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. will be held at the historical society at 45 Old Kings Hwy. North. The exhibit will run through Jan. 22, 2020.

“The many social commitments of the Gilded Age required a whirl of dressing and redressing,” said Babs White, the society’s costume curator, who is overseeing the exhibition. “There were lavish balls, picnics and regattas; and pampered wives and daughters assumed that each activity required an appropriate change of clothes.”

Unprecedented growth in industry and technology during the Industrial Era spawned this tumultuous 30-year period from 1870 to 1900, during which wealthy tycoons amassed extraordinary fortunes.

These families relocated to mansions in New York City and in Newport, Rhode Island, and set new high standards in etiquette and fashion, White said.

Milkmaid gown

Photo from the Darien Historical Society

Milkmaid gown, part of the Gilded Age exhibit at the Darien Historical Society

“With increasing interest in sports and other summer pastimes, the Gilded Age set favored Newport,” she said. “They built “summer cottages” — actually mansions — on Bellevue Avenue and sponsored daily carriage promenades. The arrival of wealthy New Yorkers created a constant party atmosphere.”

The gowns featured in the Society’s upcoming exhibition were once owned by Darien women who lived here during the Gilded Age. In addition to several ball gowns, the display features clothing suited for sports, teas and promenades.

However, it is the lavish ball gowns from the Society’s collection, with velvet bodices, satin skirts and appliqued pearls and flowers, which best reflect the opulence of the era, White said.

Events Associated with the Exhibit

  • Please register for the champagne opening reception online, or call 203.655.9233. Tickets are $50 for members and $60 for non-members.
  • There will be two “Ladies’ Luncheons With The Curator” held at the society, where White will discuss the items on display in detail, followed by a luncheon in the society’s Library.
  • The curator luncheons will start at 11:30 a.m., one on Wednesday, Oct. 23, the other on Thursday, Nov. 7. Tickets are $25 for members, $35 for non-members. Space is limited and reservations are required. To register, please call 203.655.9233, visit our website or email ukremer@darienhistorical.org.

“While we don’t know which ball these women attended, these gowns absolutely define the fashion and spirit of the Gilded Age,” White said.

While their husbands jockeyed for power in the halls of government and industry, several of their wives waged their own — somewhat quieter (but no less competitive) — contests in ballrooms.

Poster Gilded Age Exhibit Darien Historical Society“The costumes were just extraordinary,” White said. “During one costume ball, Mrs. Vanderbilt’s costume, “Spirit of Electricity” included a torch light that was powered by a battery hidden in her skirt.”

This exhibit is free for members of the Darien Historical Society and $5 for non-members.

To become a supporter and member of the Society, please visit our website.

The Darien Historical Society, 45 Old Kings Highway North, tells the story of the town, and with your support we will write the next chapter.

For more information, or to become a member, call 203.655-9233 or visit our website.

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