When Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner published their novel “The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today” in 1873, little did they know the phrase they invented would come to define not only the next 30 years in the United States, but also periods like our own, when vast wealth has been accumulated by a sliver of society that is unafraid to flaunt it.
How that period manifested itself on the East End is the subject of “High Style in the Gilded Age: Southampton 1870-1930,” which will open a one-year run at the Southampton History Museum on Saturday with a reception from 4 to 6 p.m.
The rise of the Southampton summer colony followed the arrival of the Long Island Rail Road in 1870. At first the summer visitors preferred the informal pleasures of country life, but it wasn’t long before the taste for Gilded Age excess in the city would find its way east.
Formal balls and extravagant entertainments replaced the first visitors’ afternoon teas and picnics, and women began to arrive with trunks loaded with gowns and accessories appropriate for their demanding social schedules.
A younger generation that began arriving at the beginning of the 20th century was less interested in the excesses and formality of the Gilded Age, and the 1920s brought the flappers, young women who wore skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and disregarded social conventions. Throughout that period, and not unlike today, Southampton’s fashionable elite was profiled in the local and New York City society columns.
After Saturday, the museum will be open Wednesdays to Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $5, free for members and children under 18. M.S.