Clothing In Wharton's The Age Of Innocence

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In Edith Wharton’s novel, The Age of Innocence, Wharton indirectly characterizes the character Countess Ellen Olenska using details from her clothing to emphasize Ellen’s rebellious nature. Towards the end of Chapter 1 and through onto Chapter 2, one of many of Ellen’s social faux pas is illustrated immediately at the start of the novel. Her blunder being that she wore a “dark blue velvet gown” that had “caught under her bosom by a girdle with a large old-fashioned clasp”. It is noted later how “her dress (which had no tucker) sloped away from her thin shoulders”, indicating at this point that Ellen’s dress is in fact cut too low along the neck, revealing too much Ellen’s dress. Ellen had had not worn a ‘tucker’ which is a piece of lace or linen worn around the top of a bodice or as an insert at the front of a low-cut dress, this item of clothing was traditional to the customs of this society…show more content…
The way this detail is offhandedly mentioned with a scandalous tone illustrates the societal view of Ellen over her impropriety. Ellen chooses to dress to demonstrate her blatant disregard for the societal norms accepted by Old New York society. The fact that Ellen’s way of dress, like wise her entire person and reputation, is “an offence against ‘taste,’ that far-off divinity of whom ‘form’ was the mere visible representative and vicegerent” is taken as and criticized as a heretical action (13). It is dogmatic, essential for individuals to follow the ‘vicegerent’ of society. The term ‘vicegerent’ is allusion to a sovereign ruler, someone appointed as being the human representation of God and often believed to be picked by a higher power. The usage of this diction shows the importance of social interaction and action. Above her dress, Ellen’s largest infelicity was that she did not care despite the fact she is declared as a slight to the Mingott family as “‘poor Ellen Olenska’”

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