Dressed for the Ball – NY Gilded Age

By Nicosia Smith

New York City today is known for its excesses.

A glimpse of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal will attest to this.

New York’s grand lifestyles are by no means recent.

Since, for centuries those with wealth have flaunted it. Whether in Europe, Asia, Africa or the Middle East.

But whenever you are confronted with these over the top lifestyles, it has a shock value.

Remember New York’s Gilded Age. Or should I say, have you heard about the Gilded Age.

The Museum of the City of  New York has decided to jug our memories.

Exhibiting objects from the mid 1870’s to the early 20th Century of New York’s rich.

It was the perfect way to open the museum’s Tiffany and Co. Foundation Gallery. That is, what better inaugural show, for a gallery sponsored by Tiffany, right.

The Gilded Age, was a time of excesses so grand, that even publications frown on it.

This was so, I imagine, because as wealthy families flirted and splurged at grand balls, New York struggled with a large poor population.

This exhibit is a bold display of costumes, jewelry, portraits, decorative plates, vases and fine china.

Immaculate clothing with sapphires, platinum, turquoise, ruby and fine silk. And painted silk feathers, mother-of-pearl folding fans.

A bejewelled breath freshener case and perfume bottles engraved with gold are also among the trinkets.

And the love of jewellery is seen in the self portraits of the rich.

Like the exhibit at the New York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, Beauty’s Legacy: Gilded Age Portraits in America, vouches to this.

In addition – a slide show outside the Tiffany gallery, shows images from extravagant parties. Like the Alva and William K. Vanderbilt Ball of 1883 at their 5th Avenue Mansion, Bradley Martin Ball of 1897 and others.

They dressed as kings and queens from Europe and as an Egyptian princess or Indian chief. Posing for photos in courtyards and gardens, fashioned after Versailles. These exhibits are a great way to learn about this era, in person. And there is still time.

While the New York Historical Society exhibit ends March 9, this City Museum exhibit goes until November.

So go, take a look.

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