Fashion from the era that Mark Twain famously dubbed “The Gilded Age” will be the focus of an upcoming exhibition showcasing extravagant gowns from an era synonymous with unabashed wealth.

A Champagne Reception will mark the opening of “How the Industrial Revolution Created the Gilded Age,” on Friday, Oct. 4 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Darien Historical Society, 45 Old Kings Highway North. The exhibit will run through Jan. 22.

“The many social commitments of the Gilded Age required a whirl of dressing and redressing,” said Babs White, the society’s costume curator who is overseeing the exhibition. “There were lavish balls, picnics and regattas; and pampered wives and daughters assumed that each activity required an appropriate change of clothes.”

Unprecedented growth in industry and technology during the Industrial Era spawned this tumultuous 40-year period from 1870 to 1900, during which wealthy tycoons amassed extraordinary fortunes, an announcement about the show said. These families relocated to mansions in New York City and in Newport, Rhode Island, and set new high standards in etiquette and fashion, according to White.

“With increasing interest in sports and other summer pastimes, the Gilded Age set favored Newport,” said White. “They built “summer cottages” — actually mansions — on Bellevue Avenue and sponsored daily carriage promenades. The arrival of wealthy New Yorkers created a constant party atmosphere.”

The gowns featured in the historical society’s upcoming exhibition were once owned by Darien women who lived here during the Gilded Age. In addition to several ball gowns, the display features clothing suited for sports, teas and promenades.

However, it is the lavish ball gowns from the society’s collection, with velvet bodices, satin skirts and appliqued pearls and flowers, which best reflect the opulence of the era, White said.

“While we don’t know which ball these women attended, these gowns absolutely define the fashion and spirit of the Gilded Age,” White said.

While their husbands jockeyed for power in the halls of government and industry, several of their wives waged their own — somewhat quieter (but no less competitive) — contests in ballrooms, the announcement said.

“The costumes were just extraordinary,” White said. “During one costume ball, Mrs. Vanderbilt’s costume, ‘Spirit of Electricity’ included a torchlight that was powered by a battery hidden in her skirt.”

To register for the opening reception, go to, or call 203-655-9233. Tickets are $50 for members and $60 for non-members.

There will be two Ladies’ Luncheons With The Curator held at the historical society, where White will discuss the items on display in detail, followed by a luncheon in the society’s library. The luncheons will be on Wednesday, Oct.23, at 11:30 a.m. and Thursday, Nov. 7, at 11:30 a.m. Tickets are $25 for members, $35 for non-members. Space is limited and reservations are required. To register, call 203-655-9233, visit, or email

This exhibit is free for members of the Darien Historical Society and $5 for non-members. To become a supporter and member of the society, visit its website for details.