Fashion and fancy in New York: Costume balls of the Gilded Age | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 3, Issue 1-2
  • ISSN: 2040-4417
  • E-ISSN: 2040-4425


In the chaotic urban scenario of late nineteenth-century New York, fancy dresses became expressive sartorial embodiments of the tensions unfolding in the city. This article explores the fancy dresses worn by New York’s high society during the Gilded Age, through the analysis of Jose Maria Mora’s photographic collection of the guests who attended the Vanderbilts’ Costume Ball and Bradley-Martin Ball.This research addresses these fancy dress balls beyond their common description as conspicuous social events of New York’s upper-class society. It also interprets the chosen fancy costumes and their personifications as expressions of the elite’s relation to political, cultural and social phenomena of the period. As dress historians have commonly disregarded late nineteenth-century fancy costumes, this article illustrates their relevance in the study of social and cultural identities.


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  • Article Type: Article
Keyword(s): costume balls; Gilded Age; society photographers; upper class
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