Inside history of Gilded Age fashion as it inspires the Met Gala

Corsets, cleavage, and ruffles, oh my! Inside the history of the Gilded Age’s iconic fashions – as this year’s Met Gala takes inspiration from historic styles made famous by the Age of Innocence

  • The 2022 Met Gala will be held on Monday evening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and the theme is ‘In America: An Anthology of Fashion’
  • The dress code for the star-studded event is ‘gilded glamour’ and white tie  
  • Blake Lively, Ryan Reynolds, Regina King, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are hosting this year’s fundraising benefit 
  • Guests are expected to be channeling Edith Wharton’s ‘Age of Innocence’ and ‘The House of Mirth’ in honor of the Gilded Age-inspired theme  
  • The Gilded Age was a tumultuous period in American history after the Civil War that extended from roughly 1870 to 1900  
  • During this period, wealthy women wore tulle dresses that exposed the décolletage, fur-lined cloaks, and elbow-length gloves to formal events
  • Men sported top hats and tuxedos, which arrived in the U.S. in the 1880s
  • Ornate headpieces were also popular during this opulent era 

The A-listers who will be attending the 2022 Met Gala on Monday are expected to be channeling Edith Wharton’s ‘Age of Innocence’ as part of this year’s Gilded Age-inspired theme, but how they will interpret the dress code is anyone’s guess. 

The annual benefit, which has been dubbed the Oscars of fashion, has returned to the first Monday in May for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 event was canceled while the 2021 Met Gala was postponed until September. 

Just eight months after last year’s fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, the world’s most famous stars are getting ready to hit the red carpet once again. 

The 2022 Met Gala’s theme is ‘In America: An Anthology of Fashion.’ Guest are expected to channel Edith Wharton’s ‘The Age of Innocence.’ Michelle Pfeiffer, Geraldine Chaplin, and Winona Ryder are pictured in the 1993 film 

The Gilded Age was a tumultuous period in American history after the Civil War that extended from roughly 1870 to 1900. The dress code is ‘gilded glamour’ and white tie 

Blake Lively and her husband Ryan Reynolds will be hosting the 2022 Met Gala along with Regina King and Lin-Manuel Miranda. 

The theme—’In America: An Anthology of Fashion’—coincides with the Costume Institute’s new exhibition of the same name. It’s a continuation of last year’s theme, ‘In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.’

The stars who were lucky enough to score invites to the exclusive benefit have been told the dress code is ‘gilded glamour’ and white tie, which is worn for only the most formal occasions. However, guests have been known to go rogue in the name of fashion.

‘Dust off Edith Wharton’s “Age of Innocence” and “The House of Mirth.” The 2022 Met Gala will ask its attendees to embody the grandeur—and perhaps the dichotomy—of Gilded Age New York,’ Vogue proclaimed last month. 

The Gilded Age was a tumultuous period in American history after the Civil War that extended from roughly 1870 to 1900. 

It was a time of rapid industrialization and minimal government regulation that allowed the upper classes to accumulate great wealth while most of the working class lived in poverty. 

John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Leland Stanford, and J.P. Morgan were among the ‘captain of industries’ who grew their immense wealth through the monopolies they created in their chosen industries.

The rich hosted decadent balls and attended the opera in ornate gowns and tuxedos while millions of immigrants came to the country through Ellis Island to find work.   

The period takes its name from Mark Twain’s 1893 novel ‘The Gilded Age,’ a satire about greed and political corruption in post-Civil War America that he wrote in collaboration with Charles Dudley Warner. 

The HBO series the Gilded Age is an homage to fashion during this time period 

Corsets were still popular in the late 1800s, and the elite always wore hats, often adorned with feathers, when stepping out of their homes

The first issue of Vogue was launched in 1892 during the Gilded Age 

Fashion also changed with the times as the invention of electric and steam-powered looms made fabric cheaper and faster to produce while synthetic dyes offered more color choices.  

Women’s dresses often featured a combination of textiles and adornments such as lace, bows, and ruffles as a result, according to Vogue. Jewel tones were favored, as light colors were impractical on the streets of New York. 

Corsets were still popular in the late 1800s, and the elite always wore hats, often adorned with feathers, when stepping out of their homes. 

For women of the era, formal occasions called for tulle dresses that exposed the décolletage, fur-lined cloaks, and elbow-length gloves. Men wore top hats and tuxedos, which arrived in the U.S. in the 1880s. 

It was undeniably a time of excess for the upper echelon in New York, who embraced extravagant and sometimes bizarre styles while attending parties and other formal events. 

Some of this year’s Met Gala attendees may have taken inspiration from looks that were seen at William and Alva Vanderbilt’s extravagant costume ball that was hosted in their Fifth Avenue mansion in 1883. 

Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt enlisted haute couture designer Charles Frederick Worth to create a gown that was an homage to electricity for the Vanderbilt Ball in 1883 

Kate Feering Strong went as far as wearing a taxidermied cat on her head and a collar that had ‘PUSS’ printed on it while attending the costume party hosted by William and Alva Vanderbilt

Actress Lillian Russell is pictured wearing a feathered hat in 1898

Inspired by the invention of the lightbulb, which Thomas Edison had patented the year before, Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt enlisted haute couture designer Charles Frederick Worth to create a gown that was an homage to electricity, Slate reported.

She attended her sister-in-law’s party wearing an ornate blue velvet that featured a gold satin overlay. The gilded gown was adorned with metallic beads, tassels, and diamonds that were stitched into lightning bolts and starbursts. 

Claypoole Vanderbilt was actually able to illuminate her outfit thanks to a hidden battery, and she topped off the look with a diamond-covered headdress. 

Meanwhile, Kate Feering Strong went as far as wearing a taxidermied cat on her head and a collar that had ‘PUSS’—her nickname—printed on it. 

This year’s Met Gala guests will likely interpret gilded glamour in a myriad of ways, ranging from elegant to over-the-top. The definition for gilded is literally covered with gold, so many celebrities will likely opt for shimmery ensembles.

Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds are co-hosting the Met Gala this year 

Fittingly, Lively’s Gossip Girl character, Serena van der Woodsen, was a part of a high school production of ‘The Age of Innocence’ during the show’s second season 


Regina King (left) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (right) are also co-hosting the benefit 

Celebrity stylist Mickey Freeman told InStyle has predicted that there will be plenty of stand-out accessories on the red carpet as well. 

‘One thing that is synonymous with the Gilded Age is ornately designed headpieces á la Philip Treacy. I also expect to see many whimsical accessories, such as very demure umbrellas and ostentatiously embroidered shoes,’ he said. 

‘There is a certainty in my mind that the red carpet will be rife with pearlescent and metallic gowns that reveal a bit less skin, with an exception of the occasional plunging neckline.’ 

Lively already knows what it’s like to dress for the Gilded Age. In a season two episode of Gossip Girl, her character, Serena van der Woodsen, was a part of a high school production of ‘The Age of Innocence.’ However, she will likely be donning something far more ornate than the feathered costume she wore on the show. 

Kim Kardashian is rumored to be wearing the exact same dress that Marilyn Monroe wore to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to then-President John F. Kennedy at his birthday party in 1961. 

Kardashian opened up about her Met Gala look during an interview with Access Hollywood last month, saying she won’t be going if her outfit doesn’t fit. 

The definition for gilded is literally covered with gold, so many celebrities will likely opt for shimmery ensembles. Iman is pictured at the Met Gala in 2021 

The last time the Met Gala was white tie was back in 2014, when the theme was ‘Charles James: Beyond Fashion.’ Benedict Cumberbatch is pictured at the Met Gala that year 

‘It really depends if I fit into my dress, so I hope I’m going,’ she explained, without sharing what she was wearing. ‘I think it will be up to the last minute because it can’t be tailored, so I have to fit into it like exactly.’

Guests are also expected to be in white tie, the most formal of the dress codes. White tie attire is typically floor-length gowns for women and a tailcoat and matching trousers for me. 

The last time the Met Gala was white tie was back in 2014, when the theme was ‘Charles James: Beyond Fashion.’ 

Anna Wintour has been running the Met Gala since 1995. The Vogue editor-in-chief chooses the exhibit theme and the pieces displayed with Andrew Bolton, the head curator of the Museum of Modern Art’s Costume Institute. 

Wintour, 72, is so hands-on that she also curates the guest list and advises guests on what to wear to the high-profile event.  

Tickets for the glitzy benefit can reportedly cost up to $35,000 apiece, while prices for a table range from $200,000 to $300,000. Last year’s bash raked in a whopping $16.4 million for the Met’s Costume Institute. 

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