The Gilded Age, the New York-set period piece from Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, returns to HBO with The Gilded Age season 2 on Sunday, October 29 at 9 pm ET/PT and it's bringing its signature brand of over-the-top opulence with it.
We're talking ballgowns and bustles and top hats and all manner of fashion extravagance and excess you would find in late-19th century New York City. Costume designer Kasia Walicka-Maimone reportedly oversaw a collection of 5,000 custom-designed looks throughout the show's first season alone, an attention to both quality and quantity that more than pays off in the series. (Walicka-Maimone was nominated for Excellence in Period Television at the 2023 Costume Designers Guild Awards, and the series was awarded a Creative Arts Emmy in 2022 for its production design.)
"[The costumes] enhance the storytelling," Walicka-Maimone told Women’s Wear Daily. "That's always our job as design teams, to represent the underlying story of each character. I think you feel that just from looking at the people and recognizing each character."
So, as we await more signature looks, here are some of the best The Gilded Age costumes that we have seen so far.
10 best The Gilded Age costumes
Agnes' jewel tones
Emmy and Tony winner Christine Baranski is undoubtedly a queen, a regalness that The Gilded Age reinforces by frequently outfitting the actress, as Agnes van Rhijn, in a variety of polished jewel tones, like this stunning amethyst-hued lace ensemble. As the widowed matriarch of an old-money family in New York, Agnes represents the established elite and her wardrobe reflects that, with intricate yet understated ornamentation, elegant high collars and rich colors.
Bertha's red ballgown
If Agnes van Rhijn represents the old guard, Bertha Russell (Carrie Coon) is the frontwoman of the "new money" set, a hungry socialite and wife of a railroad magnate who is not afraid to make a statement where style is concerned. Her hats are towering, her influences are French and her looks are far more contemporary than those of the rest of the residents on 61st Street, at times at risk of bordering on tacky. Not this head-turning gown that Bertha wears to the Academy of Music, though, with its sculptural draping, asymmetrical neckline and bold crimson hue.
Marian's pretty pastels
New to the New York scene, Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson) has moved from rural Pennsylvania to live with her wealthy aunts after the death of her father. Her costuming mirrors that fish-out-of-water quality, with Marian pointedly opting for lighter fabrics and colors than her aunts, like this baby-blue confection, representing the youth and romanticism of the character. "I wouldn't put Marian in a jewel tone. That's just not her character," Walicka-Maimone told WWD. "She's young and innocent and she's a breath of fresh air that shows up in the house."
Peggy's boundary-pushing plaid
Recent graduate Peggy Scott (Denée Benton) is distinguished from the rest of New York society not only for her race as a Black woman from Brooklyn, but also for her ambition, an anomaly among women during that era. Though she is employed as Agnes' personal secretary in season 1, she really wants to be a professional writer.
To signal Peggy’s breaking of racial and gender barriers, the costume team set her apart with their use of plaids and gingham, pulled straight from historical research on the 19th-century Black middle class. This red-and-white walking suit she wears to Central Park is a particular standout.
Oscar's debonair details
The heir of the Van Rhijn fortune, Agnes' son Oscar (Blake Ritson) looks every bit the gilded age gent in an array of sharply cut suits and debonair tuxedos. However, he manages to balance that privilege with personality, opting to update those old-money traditions with small yet extravagant details that add interest to his outfits, such as small, square-shaped sunglasses, glitzy tie pins, double-chained pocket watches and structured hats perched ever-so-slightly askew on his head.
Those over-the-top toppers
Speaking of hats, given how important headgear was in women's fashion during the time period, it's no surprise that ornate millinery makes a strong showing in The Gilded Age. The flashy toppers are regularly gussied up with peacock feathers, silk flowers and dramatic swoops — how they fit those things into a carriage car, we’ll never know — and seemingly no good outfit is complete without one.
Ada's army-inspired garments
Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon) boasts a sweeter temperament than her sister Agnes and is therefore often seen in warmer, brighter colors like teal and saffron. "We knew that Ada would have the oranges, browns and greens as somebody who's like a librarian and missionary on a journey to discover charities and be part of the society," Walicka-Maimone told Fashionista. However, Ada is still part of the change-resistant "old money" elite, a steadfastness emphasized by the clear military inspiration behind some of her gowns, like the service stripes and button detailing on this blue-green number.
Newport's summery styles
Though the show largely takes place in 1880s Manhattan, it does venture out to other locales like Newport, R.I,, where the New York elites have vacation homes and take weekend jaunts during the warm-weather months. With that change of scenery comes some style shake-ups, with characters opting for lighter, cheerier garments than they'd normally wear in the city. Take, for instance, Bertha's son Larry (Harry Richardson), who swaps out the charcoal suits and sleek top-hats of urban living for a pin-striped blue blazer and beachy straw hat.
All of the dresses at Bertha's big ball
Okay, sure, this one's cheating a bit, but how could we possibly choose just one get-up in the sea of sumptuous gowns on display at Bertha's big soiree in that season 1 finale. From our hostess's show-stopping black-and-white ballgown to Marian's floral-punctuated, French-inspired attire, who needs party decorations when you have such decorously dressed guests?
Nathan Lane's Southern gent
Most of the gentlemen of The Gilded Age are seen in finely-tailored suits in varying shades of black and gray — per Digital Spy, creator Julian Fellowes wanted the male costuming to be more subdued than was historically accurate to give the women's larger-than-life looks more space to shine — but Nathan Lane's Ward McAllister is afforded a bit more flair than his brethren. The mustachioed Southerner is seen in multi-piece suits that look just as crisp and custom as the rest of the uptown men but with contrasting waistcoats, patterned ascots and light-colored top hats.