Dressing for Herself

Anna Gould inherits from her father a strong sense of self and a healthy indifference to the opinions of others. She displays continuing independence in her lifelong fashion choices and refuses to give up a fashionable lifestyle despite divorce, dislocation, widowhood, and old age. She embodies the modern female sensibility of dressing to please oneself. Her years in Paris gave her the eye and confidence that is displayed by the sophistication of her clothing choices.

Anna ends up wedding two French aristocrats and is the real-life example of the Downton Abbey-style American heiress who gains a title through marriage. Unlike many of her peers, Anna marries European aristocracy by accident rather than design. Anna’s marriage is conducted in the United States, to Count Boni de Castellane, so that she can retain her fortune and option for divorce. Initially, she is a reluctant aristocrat and chafes under the strictures of French society and displays independence not typical of other aristocratic wives.

While Anna does not conform easily to French social standards, she does take the full force of the opportunities for shopping afforded to an American heiress in the French capital. Anna becomes a major acquirer of clothing, jewelry, and luxury goods frequenting the Place Vendome and couture houses of the city. She comes of age during the Edwardian era and her lifelong taste seems to remain with the frilly and feminine styles and soft colors of that period. Gould returns to the United States in 1939 at the age of 64 after the death of her second husband, the Duke of Talleyrand, and in advance of the Nazi invasion. She immediately tries to recreate the luxe of her French lifestyle and chooses to remain fashionable at a time and age when many of her American peers are far more conservative in dress and preserves a habit of dressing in a very youthful manner, regardless of age.

As shown by her remaining wardrobe at Lyndhurst, Gould does not frequent the American couturiers coming into their own during the Second World War. Perhaps because of her age and less than perfect figure, Anna patronizes a virtually unknown maker of custom clothes on Fifth Avenue, Maison Burano, where she can be a premier client. Her purchases seem to show a touch of nostalgia for earlier styles and while she is progressive in wanting to stay fashionable at 65 in a time when 40 was considered old, she no longer seems to have the desire or stamina to patronize a new crop of unknown American designers.

Anna Gould’s wardrobe, as presented, shows the continuous evolution of fashion from 1900 through 1950 from the Empire revival dresses of Redfern to the simple but chic wartime day dresses in the style of Chanel.

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