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READY, SET, GOLD
BY RACHELLE EVANS
Ready, set, gold. The most influential race to ever exist in the world of fashion kicked off in 1800s America and concluded with the incorporation of the treasured element, gold, into all facets of fashion. With changes in both affluence and the physical prevalence of the element, the gold rush was a catalyst for incredible expansion in the clothing and jewelry world.
The American flock to the West greatly disrupted the existing wealth distribution in America. With profits from new businesses, mining industries, and gold itself, the gold rush allowed poor, working-class members to accumulate wealth and assets for the first time. Lower-class men ditched their worker's clothes and started using their new gold rush profits to dress like the upper class. This meant that men's pieces, such as cravat and fob watches, top hats, and frock coats, exponentially grew in popularity.
It also meant that the upper class lost exclusivity in their clothes, causing them to contain their luxurious clothing within their social circles and almost "hide" their styles from those wanting to imitate them. Their styles became sleeker with basic silhouettes and patterns, and these new fabrics and designers became exclusive and harder to replicate by the lower class.
Soon, the upper-middle class lost their newly formed fashion connection with the upper class. As the demand for upper-middle-class clothing rose, newer fashion houses and corporations began to rise in profits and establish themselves better within the American business industry as well. Levi Strauss & Co., Brooks Brothers, Woolrich, Johnston & Murphy are some of America's most prominent and successful fashion producers that saw an influx of sales following the gold rush. This diversification in accessible clothing led to style changes in the upper-middle class that valued wearable pieces on an everyday basis: tailored and durable pants for men and thinner, more moveable skirts for women. Because of the increased competition with more fashion producers, clothing not only had to serve the purpose of showing status but having qualities of wearability and longevity as well.
While the prosperity that followed the discovery of American gold changed the fashion industry forever, gold itself solidified as a staple in fashion as well. The American Gilded Age introduced and showcased gold-adorned ensembles, lavish gold jewelry, gold chords, and even full dress silhouettes garnished in gold. The Gilded Age was an interesting contrast to the popularity of more durable clothing such as Levi's jeans, but it makes sense as to how both the denim industry and the popularity of gold increased at the same time. While denim was worn on an everyday basis, the Gilded Age was the start of utilizing specific elements of fashion to showcase as art. While ruffles and frills were worn during everyday tasks by the elite, wearing gold on special occasions presented one's fashion sense and artistic interests. Necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings, dresses, skirts, tops – you name it, it was gold. Gold became an obsession during the Gilded Age, whereas elements of fashion before it simply adorned clothing.
The era of Gilded Age history marked the beginning of gold in the American wardrobe, which influenced high-end designers and fashion houses all over the world today. Some of the most influential jewelry and runway designs from icons like Gianni Versace, Vivian Westwood, and Coco Chanel feature gold as the primary eye-catcher, with its ability to heighten any look with its extravagance. With its grasp on fashion, it is no surprise that the gold industry is one of the highest-grossing industries in the world. Newmont Goldcorp is only one of the most active gold mining companies, grossing over $12 billion in 2021. This circulation from mining corporations to fashion houses and designers greatly contributes to the worldly fashion industry's success, making it extremely predictable that we will continue to see gold in fashion for years to come.
Because of the gold rush, gold became incredibly prominent in the American fashion industry. From Marilyn Monroe's show-stopping 'Golden Dress' worn at the 55th Academy Awards to the gold-centric Gilded Age-inspired Met Gala that grossed over $2.6 million, gold has left its influence on social status, culture, art, and especially fashion.