Gilded Age Fashion

The Frick Pittsburgh

This exhibition brings together highlights from the costume collection at The Frick Pittsburgh.

Numbering over 2,000 objects, including gowns, children’s clothing, sporting attire, and fashion accessories, this collection illuminates the story of the Frick family and their sophisticated lifestyle in late 19th-and early 20th-century Pittsburgh.

1880s

In what was described as, "one of the most notable weddings of the season," Adelaide Childs and Henry Clay Frick of Pittsburgh were married in New York on December 15, 1881.

We believe this spectacular silk brocade and chenille fringe cape was worn over Adelaide's wedding ensemble.

A number of dresses in the collection-- including this maroon and ivory silk dinner or reception dress, embellished with lace, ruching and a large ruffled train-- date to the early 1880s. They were probably worn by Adelaide Frick during the whirl of social occasions that followed her engagement and marriage to Henry Clay Frick.

Another surviving example from the early 1880s, this two-piece dinner or evening dress by London dressmaker Lewis and Allenby features intricate and fanciful beading and embroidery.

Fashion at the Frick is not limited to our costume collection--great examples of dress are also documented in works of art. This watercolor shows a fashionable woman dressed in a c. 1880 tea gown.

Henry Clay Frick purchased this watercolor in March 1881. In a 1956 interview Helen Clay Frick remarked that her father had told her he purchased it because it reminded him of his wife, whom he was courting at the time.

Intended to be worn for informal occasions, and with loosened corset stays, tea gowns and dressing gowns were an important inclusion in a Gilded Age woman's wardrobe. Adelaide Frick had several that remain in the collection at The Frick Pittsburgh.

A key piece for a Gilded Age woman of status, this dolman style mantle or visite was designed to allow for easy movement in and out of carriages, and could be left on during short social visits.

More than just functional, the bold paisley pattern and Asian styling, maroon velvet collar, and ornate fringe decoration create a dramatic fashion statement.

This velvet hat trimmed with feathers, lace, and satin ribbon dates to 1887 and was purchased for Martha Frick. It was made by the Parisian firm of Mme. Beer, “Habillements Complets pour Enfants et Fillettes/ 35 Rue Boissy d’Anglas 35” (Complete Outfitting for Children and Little Girls).

1890s

In this 1890 painting, the artist's wife, Grace, is adjusting her gloves as she prepares to take the nearby horse and carriage out for a drive. Her hat, with scarf swirling in the breeze, gloves, and matching leather shoe peeking out from under her dress create a document of proper dress for an afternoon drive.

This wool, velvet and satin coat dating to the 1890s, belonged to one of the Fricks' two daughters, Martha or Helen. The coat bears no label, but we know that the Fricks bought clothing for their children in Pittsburgh and New York. There are a number of similar dresses and coats, many also with detachable collars, in the collection. The empire (high) waist was common in clothing for little girls in this period.

Carriage boots were worn to protect ladies' feet and delicate satin slippers from cold and snow on a winter evening out.

Like this pair, they were often trimmed in fur and featured a wide slit with ribbon-tie closure that allowed them to go on easily.

For a Gilded Age woman, getting dressed was an elaborate process, requiring layers of undergarments. The corset was a standard garment, critical to achieving the small-waisted look popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Corsets were made from plain cotton or from silk, lace, and other decorative but strong fabrics, with stays made of whalebone or steel stitched between the layers. No woman would dress for an evening out—or for leaving the house at any time—without a tightly laced corset such as this one that belonged to Adelaide Frick.

This hat is made of faille (a semi-shiny, closely woven silk) and georgette (a sheer crepe woven to produce a dull, pebbly look) and features an elegant black stripe on the cream silk at the back.

The hat's most notable element is its decoration of a bird's head and wings.

Bird feathers have a long history of use in clothing, headwear, and jewelry, and in the Gilded Age, feathers, wings, and even entire stuffed birds were popularly used to trim women's hats. The mass slaughter of birds for the millinery trade was a key factor in the creation of the Audubon Society in 1895.


The small size of Gilded Age evening bags did not allow for carrying large accessories for a night out. This lovely scent bottle by Tiffany & Co. was the perfect size for slipping into a bag or pocket.

Mounted with silver and inset cabochon (rounded) amethysts, this bottle was a stylish and luxurious way for a lady to carry perfume to enhance her own person or environment.

1900s

A bag the size of this Japanese pouch was perfect for tucking away the Tiffany & Co. scent bottle also included in this exhibition. Designed to be tobacco pouches, bags like this became stylish purses for Gilded Age women, following the fashion for Asian furnishings and accessories popularized by the display of Japanese objects at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

Kimonos were popular as robes or loungewear, in contrast to tightly-laced, restrictive clothing. This gold silk example belonged to Adelaide Frick and probably dates to the early 1900s.

Just as people were interested in buying Asian-influenced furnishings for their homes, they were also purchasing Asian style clothing. The iris motif appears in several items in the collection.

According to notes from Helen Clay Frick, her mother Adelaide Frick wore this ensemble from French designer Gustave Beer to a reception given at the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Dating to 1905, its “S-curve” or "monobosom" silhouette was the height of fashion at the time. The combination of luxurious gold and copper trimmings with rich ivory velvet were hallmarks of the designer.

This portrait shows Helen Clay Frick, founder of The Frick Pittsburgh, at about 16. The artist had become friends with the Fricks when they visited France in the 1890s and commissioned several portraits from him.

Chartran’s bright colors and fluid brushwork are well suited to his teen subject, yet in this idealized image of Gilded Age femininity-- frilly lace dress, rose-studded hat, and parasol adorned in pink ribbon-- we see no hint of the serious young woman Helen was known to be.

This cream-colored silk parasol is among more than a dozen in the collection.

Parasols, originally primarily practical protection from the sun’s rays, became increasingly ornamented after 1850, and often were designed as part of a lady’s fashion ensemble.

Featuring a delicately carved wooden handle, it appears to be the same one that Helen holds in the 1905 portrait by Théobald Chartran.

Adelaide Frick wore this gown to her daughter Helen's 1908 debut party. Traditionally, the debutante dressed in white, and the mother’s dress was expected to be both dignified and beautiful, appropriately reflecting her role in society.

This gown is one of eight evening dresses by Lichtenstein Cie Modes that remain in the collection at The Frick Pittsburgh.

Although the design house is not well known today, it was clearly a favorite of Adelaide and Helen.

Adelaide wore one of their designs to Helen's debut (it can be seen in this exhibition), and receipts from the family archives show both women were ordering dresses between the years 1899 and 1911.

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