Ah, Downton Abbey, my newest sartorial obsession. Yes, the show is really nothing more than a glorified soap opera, with somewhat far-fetched storylines like a disfigured, amnesia-ridden soldier returning to claim his heirdom. Oh, yes, he is also a Titanic survivor. Having grown up watching Dynasty, I’m into it. Deeply.
But somewhat silly story lines aside, the cast is a delight and, boy, do they wear clothes wonderfully! We first meet the aristocratic Crawley family in 1912, in the magical world of Edwardian fashion. I often forget how beautifully luxe this pre-war era was, as it often gets overlooked for its hipper, younger flapper cousin.
Downton Abbey‘s heroine is the beautiful Lady Mary Crawley, a wealthy, somewhat-young woman with a slew of young suitors (but a weakness for hot Turkish ones). Lady Mary is a picture of Edwardian elegance. She has two sisters, both equally beautifully dressed, although one is lacking Mary’s elegance (I suppose these soaps always have an “ugly duckling”). They have a gorgeous American heiress mother, Lady Cora, and a spitfire grandmother, Violet the Dowager Countess, sassily played by Dame Maggie Smith.
If you are a costume drama devotee (which I sort of reluctantly am) then you’ll notice that many of the costumes are in fact recycled from other period films and series (recycledmoviecostumes.com keeps track of these things), like ones worn by Helena Bonham Carter in A Room With A View (love this film!), Emma Thompson in Howard’s End, and Radha Mitchell in Finding Neverland.
Costume designer Susanna Buxton also scours for original Edwardian or turn-of-the-century pieces, sometimes reworking them to create garments for the characters. “The red dress is made from a turn-of-the-century Spanish evening dress. We sourced beautiful silk chiffon and had it pleated for the front. We built layers for the final effect, with embroidered lace laid over the deep-red satin under-dress,” explains Buxton.
The youngest of the sisters, the ever so forward-thinking Lady Sybil, makes a rather scandalous tribute to Parisian couture legend Paul Poiret, by commissioning an Arabian inspired harem ensemble, much to her grandmother’s disapproval (but then again, the Countess disapproves of pretty much everything). Downton Abbey enters the 1920s next September, which I’m sure will prompt many stunning costume moments (maybe even a flapper costume or two). But the one we are all waiting/hoping for? Whatever dress Lady Mary chooses to finally (FINALLY) marry the dreamy Matthew Crawley in. It better happen… these types of shows have a way of messing with your heart. Over and over.
Are you watching? Please tell me you are.