The Gilded Age of American Civilization

The ways in which society may amuse itself around, in any country and at any time, an exceptional opportunity for the display of wealth and the assertion of social importance. Thorstein Veblen has graphically demonstrated this conscious or unconscious motivation in many forms of recreation.

It is clearly evident throughout American social history. The worthy citizens of eighteenth-century Philadelphia vied with each other in the magnificence of their banquets, loading their tables with massive silver plate and serving such a choice selection of imported wines that the visiting John Adams stood amazed at the “sinful feasts.”

The planters of Virginia rode to hounds in close imitation of the English country squires whose social status they sought to emulate in every possible way. Merchants of New York and Boston were already aspiring to yachts in the 1850’s, their sons to membership in the exclusive boating clubs, while all the fashionable world sought out Saratoga or Newport as a step upward on the social ladder.

It was in the latter half of the 19th century, however, the Gilded Age of American civilization, that society most flagrantly bent its pleasures to display. The newly rich born of industry’s great advance since the Civil War-owners of railways, coppermines, textile-mills, steel-plants, packing-houses, and cattle ranches.

A little band of idle rich held the final redoubt in the fashionable world of the 1880’s and 1890’s, and the families of the new plutocracy felt it essential to prove beyond shadow of doubt that they too were idle and rich. It was not in the American tradition, which esteemed riches and abhorred idleness, but urban society was running after strange gods. And, in any event, the new plutocrats generally supplied the riches and left it to willing wives and a younger generation to demonstrate the idleness.

Concert singing, visits by foreign musicians, and orchestral playing also revealed a growing taste among the sophisticated for more serious music. Jenny Lind had paved the way for the tours of European artists in the middle of the century, and Ole Bull had made two memorable visits. In the 1890’s Ysaye, Paderewski, Fritz Kreisler, Adelina Patti, Melba, Calvéé, and Madame Schumann-Heink were all on tour. Symphonic music had had its start with the organization of the New York Philharmonic as early as 1842, but it was not until 1878 that this orchestra had any real rival. In that year the New York Symphony Orchestra was established, to be followed in another three years by the Boston Symphony, and in 1891 by the Chicago Orchestra. Walter Damrosch and Theodore Thomas were adding a new interest to the musical scene.

Grand opera also had become firmly established. It had long been a distinctive feature of the social life of New Orleans, and there had been various attempts to introduce it in New York and other cities. Troupes of Italian singers had come and gone; elaborate opera houses had been opened-usually to fail after one or two seasons. “Will this splendid and refined amusement be supported in New York?” we find Philip Hone asking in 1833. “I am doubtful.” And for almost half a century his doubts were largely justified. It was in 1883 that the Metropolitan Opera House, costing nearly $2,000,000, provided grand opera with its first really permanent home in America.

With the first post-war boom in the 1860’s, observers began to note that New York society was becoming entirely based upon wealth, social prestige being won by those who had the most splendid carriages, drawing-rooms, and opera boxes. George Makepeace Towle has described the balls and assemblies-ladies in sparkling tiaras, suppers of oysters and champagne, fountains gushing wine or sprays of perfume. He was somewhat horrified by “so unceasing a round of glittering gaiety and dissipation.”

The advance of the new millionaires was picturesquely described as “the Gold Rush” by representatives of older social traditions. “From an unofficial oligarchy of aristocrats,” Mrs. John King Van Rensselaer sadly wrote, “society was transformed into an extravagant body that set increasing store by fashion and display.”

Nor was New York alone in this competitive rage for showy display. A sycophant press might boast that its ornate fancy-dress balls and ten-thousand-dollar dinner parties were the most expensive ever known, but the world of fashion throughout the land was closely following its lead. There was an epidemic of gaudy magnificence in the amusements of what went for society. One Chicago magnate brought an entire theatrical company from New York to entertain a group of his friends, and a wealthy woman in another city engaged a large orchestra to serenade her new-born child. San Francisco was notorious for its “terribly fast so-called society set, engrossed by the emptiest and most trivial pleasures.” A fortunate miner who had struck it rich in Virginia City drove a coach and four with silver harness; another had champagne running from the taps at his wedding party.

Popular Culture: Evolution of Fashion Styles

Popular Culture: Evolution of Fashion Styles

Fashion is how we express our identitites. Fashion not only highlights the social history and the needs of women, but also the overall cultural aesthetic of the various periods. The evolution of fashion dates back to several hundred years and as our attitude and culture change, fashion comes along with it.

In the 1950s reconstruction in Europe and the boom brought about by the Korean war boosted the fashion industries of the capitalist world. There exists a great evolution through the fashion of the 40s to the 50s, and it involves different ideologies, dress trends, shoes and hairstyles.

Cheap, mass-produced clothes that closely followed prevailing fashions were more widely available than ever before. For the first time in this early postwar period all classes had access to clothes in up-to-date styles. Until the 1930s the poor and the old had tended to wear clothes in styles long out of fashion, either from choice or by necessity, but now even they were incorporated into the language of style.

The 50s were the shirtwaist era, when the rock and roll causes a change in the fashion. This era was represented perfectly at Grease movie, when we can see the different fashions between the social groups. The women used crinolines and shirtwaists. Men used jackets and blue jeans, with grease in their hair. And women used the hair over the shoulders.

The huge success of the New Look, and the stringent attempts of Dior and his contemporaries to lirnit the pirating of their fashion designs and take advantage of worldwide licensed copying and the adaptation of their creations for the mass market, led to an awareness of the news value of fashion. The evolution of styles was now dramatized so that each season was to have its own “look” or “line”. it had been possible to present the New Look as a revolution because of the hiatus of the war; henceforward dress designers sought to repeat this miracle in the molding of popular taste.

In the 1950s every season’s new line was frontpage news and most newsworthy of all was the length of the hemline. The height of the hemline was alýnost bound to be an easily changed variant of fashion when neither full-Iength skirts nor trousers were a serious option. Couturiers emphasized variations in eut and length and sought to encourage the association of fashion with exelusivity.

Parisian fashion in particular was promoted on the basis that it sold to the French aristocracy, to international royalty (women such as Queen Soraya of Iran) and pseudo-royalty Jackie Kennedy was a great fan of Pierre Cardin and Chanel). These clients were even more prestigious than internationally famous actresses and film stars, though they too used to publicize their favored couturiers- Audrey Hepburn, for example, whose sIender figure and waif-like face fixed the gamine look for the decade, was often dressed by Givenchy. Her appearance in his clothes in popular movies such as Funny Face (1957) gave them even more powerful publicity than they received from Vogue and other magazines.

The 60s were the time of a revolution. The hippie clothes, psychedelic ones, and groovy elements were fashionable. The hippies used a natural or ethnic style, love-ins, flowers, and free-flowing hairstyles.

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Fashion and Hollywood Glamor

Fashion and Hollywood Glamor

Significant historical changes in the status of movie stars have paralleled decisive technological, economic, and social changes that have affected the American film industry as a whole, such as the coming of sound, the Great Depression, and the rise and fall of movie attendance. The contractual terms and salaries for movie stars have also been affected by the same factors.

In the highly competitive and expanding market that existed between 1910 and 1920, the most popular silent-movie stars eventually obtained contractual terms that equalled and possibly exceeded their individual contributions to box-office success, and some of them also became involved in film production themselves, although the development of sound and its demand for experienced stage and radio performers ended the careers of many silent film stars.

Those working during the early 1930s, when movie attendance declined and industry power was concentrated in the hands of a few studios, were placed in a poor bargaining position, and studios began exercising near autocratic control over the star system.

The fashion image most associated with the 1930s – a decade of Depression, unemployment, fascism and the approach of war – is probably the glamorous Hollywood pale satin evening gown, a bias-cut creation slithering to the floor, lowbacked and clinging to the thighs.

This ambiguous garment did not look very different from a nightdress, and managed to appear both sultry and languid – chic and upper-class in the pages of Vogue or trampishly sexual when worn by Jean Harlow.

The revolution wrought by sound had given rise to a new galaxy of stars and introduced new types of pictures. Many of the familiar figures of the movie world continued in the talkies their success in silent films; a few staged remarkable come-backs after a period of eclipse while they adapted themselves to an unfamiliar technique. Actors and actresses of the legitimate stage, who had often scorned the pantomime of the silent film, made their hopeful way to California in droves, and a good many of them remained. Singers and dancers, for whom the talkies represented an entirely new opportunity, were suddenly in great demand. In a whirl of expanding energy, Hollywood exploited all the means at its disposal to reach the still broader market for popular entertainment now opening up.

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