Gilded Age Excess, or possibly the First Wearable Electronics

An interesting coincidence this morning brought together two related posts that crossed my electronic threshold.

Mrs. Vanderbilt and her Electric Dress

Mrs. Vanderbilt and her Electric Dress

First, the story (with voluminous photographs) of a ball (apparently, THE ball) of 1883, hosted by Alva Vanderbilt. The social machinations outlined in the story are simultaneously petty and intriguing. Included in the post are photographs of many of the attendees at that fancy-dress ball from an album now owned by the Museum of the City of New York.  Needless to say, at a New York society ball during the Gilded Age, one did not wear a simple frock.  No, the costumes are pretty much all over the top. One woman even included a dead stuffed cat as part of her hat.  See the photos; they’re rather unbelievable.

Second is the tale of one particular dress, which happened to have been worn by Mrs. Vanderbilt’s sister-in-law, Alice, wife of Cornelius Vanderbilt himself. Fittingly celebrating one of the greatest inventions of the day, Alice Vanderbilt dressed as an electric light, powered by a battery cleverly hidden within the folds of her gown.

Today we might steampunk it up by sprinkling twinkling LEDS around the hem, or have them flash in time with music, or even include a way to measure calories burned while dancing, but in 1883, it was pretty revolutionary to include an electric light in your costume.


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