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‘The Gilded Age’ HBO: Bertha’s ‘Gasp’ Worthy Dress, Explained

The following contains spoilers for the Season 1 finale of “The Gilded Age.”

“I’m afraid it’s too small,” says Bertha Russell, the socially ambitious wife of a railroad tycoon at the HBO center. “Golden age.” Embodied by the “new currency,” Mrs. Russell (Carrie Coon) tells her staff about the opulent ball she is throwing to christen her Fifth Avenue estate and, she hopes, reach the inner circle of new-world society. yorker. Will the notables of the city attend this extravagant event? And – more importantly – what will she carry?

Those questions are answered in Monday’s season finale: With a bit of strategic intimidation, Bertha secures the presence of Mrs. Astor (Donna Murphy) and, by extension, the rest of the hard-to-please elite, including her elusive neighbors, Agnes Van Rhijn (Christine Baranski) and Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon).

Bertha welcomes the affair in a breathtaking black and white ball gown, decorated with leaf-shaped appliqués and lined with a whimsical periwinkle chiffon. (All paired with jewelry that echoes the railroad empire built by her dashing hubby, played by Morgan Spector.)

The cut is daring both for its very graphic nature and for what lies under its matching cape: asymmetrical sleeves, the left of which is a voluminous shape, while the right is a single ribbon of fabric.

Bertha Russell (Carrie Coon) wears a bold dress in the season finale “Gilded Age.”

(Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO)

“There was a long and heated debate during my fitting about whether or not she could get away with this little sleeve without a scandal,” Coon recalled. “At the time, it was incredibly inappropriate for a woman to have a sleeveless dress because it [mean] you were a courtesan, a prostitute. I was advocating for a woman to walk into the ball and gasp when she saw my bare arm! It was breathtaking. I liked it.”

The fact that most of Bertha’s clothes this season have been in much brighter colors makes her latest look all the more meaningful.

“Bertha finds out about this language of glamor and what it looks like in this new world her husband is creating, and since she has unlimited money, there’s an adventure and a boldness to her style, and a more immediate embrace of new ideas,” says costume designer Kasia Walicka-Maimone. “But she also desperately wants to be part of this women’s society, and she’s probably trying to impress them more than the other way around.”

For prom, “I went with these super light colors so that Bertha would fit into the prom aesthetic, because the idea was that she was finally part of the world she was trying to enter,” adds Walicka. -Maimon. “Nevertheless, the black appliqué still grabs attention and sets her apart from everyone else.”

Three views of a woman in different period dresses, in gold, red and green.

“There’s an adventure and a boldness to her style, and a more immediate embrace of new ideas,” says Bertha Russell’s (Carrie Coon) costume designer Kasia Walicka-Maimone.

(Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO)

A mere sampling of the season’s more than 5,000 costumes, Bertha’s dresses were usually adorned with shimmering beaded fringe, puffy feather arrangements, and hats so tall the car top had to be removed for Coon to avoid. don’t have to tilt your head to the side. . Such embellishments not only exemplified the opulence of the time – “The amount of money they spent on their dresses was endless, so we had to come up with tricks to show it off without spending that kind of money on every outfit,” says Walicka-Maimone – but also diverted public attention from Coon’s pregnancy.

“I was already showing, so my waist is about six inches too high, and they added more volume to make sure they could hide my pregnancy as much as they could,” Coon laughs. “Anytime you see Bertha in a fancy cape, you can be sure she was shot in the last two weeks of filming. It was kind of crazy for the costumes to have to figure out where to put my boobs, because they kept growing!

There was also an added benefit to Coon’s pregnancy: “Because I wore tennis shoes and no corset, I was the most comfortable woman on set,” she says. “So there’s almost something about the looks that kind of relaxes, that makes me think of a woman who’s found her voice, who’s in her power and her strength. And her appearance almost settles into something that is very emblematic of her.

Since capturing the party required a lengthy shoot with an ensemble of dancers, the actors killed time by showing off their outfits to each other with an impromptu fashion show.

“It was beautiful when everyone came out of their dressing room to see what everyone was wearing, like going to a real ball,” Coon recalled. “We had kind of had a wacky party, so by the time the actors actually got on the ballroom floor, people just kept laughing hysterically and bumping into everyone. We didn’t shoot for very long, and I really can’t believe they got a usable take because it was just like chaos.

A man and a woman in period costume dancing

The Russells – played by Morgan Spector and Carrie Coon – in ‘The Gilded Age’.

(Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO)

Walicka-Maimone is currently preparing costumes for season 2 and promises that the series has only just begun: “Since season 1 was such a gigantic learning process on how to do this huge show, now we know it and can really player.” For her part, Coon hopes Bertha’s shameless luxury has been an entertaining escape for viewers right now.

“There’s nothing wrong with something that’s aesthetically beautiful, just looking at it right now,” she says. “We all need those hours away from the chaos that is the world we live in right now.”

“Golden age”


When: 9 p.m. Monday

Rating: TV-MA (may not be suitable for children under 17)