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Fashion Theory

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Fashion in the Gilded Age: A Profile of Newport’s King Family
The Gilded Age in America lasted from 1870 to 1914. The Gilded Age has typically been defined by the decadent and lavish standard of living enjoyed by America's most wealthy and influential families. The complexities and sartorial transitions of the age can be seen through a lens focused on the King family of Newport. On the surface, David and Ella King were 'Old New York Society' industrialists who spent their summers in the fashionable seaside resort of Newport, Rhode Island and appeared to be the ultimate perpetrators of behavior and spending. The whirl of social activity that David King was involved in suggests that Ella King would have needed an extensive wardrobe in order to be appropriately attired for her diverse social obligations. The wealthy engaged in such social rituals because they understood that their participation was pertinent to maintaining good social standing. In addition, the King’s had established a household in Paris, which was also used as a starting point for their extended travels within Europe. This gave Ella access to a wide variety of couture and custom-made sportswear, which was fashionable during the Gilded Age. The houses of Worth, Doucet, Paquin, Redfern, Felix, Rouff and E. Raudnitz were some of the famous couturiers of the time that dresses Ella. Clothing expenditures at all social levels are driven by the need for a respectable appearance rather than by the more basic need of protection. Gilded Age fashion is often used as a prime example of ‘conspicuous consumption’ because the women of the leisure class wore elaborate clothing in the latest mode to showcase their status and reflect the pecuniary strength of their husbands or families. The impracticality and fragility of many fashionable outfits implied that the wearer had unlimited financial resources to spend on...

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