The Costumes of Downton Abbey – Part 1

Posted on May 27, 2014

You should know that we’re the types of queens who go to see all the First Ladies’ inauguration dresses at the Smithsonian on our honeymoon. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that for Memorial Day weekend, we weren’t attending barbecues, heading to the beach or mountains, or generally relaxing in the sun, but instead peering closely at Downton Abbey Costumes.

 

Downton-Abbey-Costumes-Tom-Lorenzo-Site-TLO (1)If any of you are within reasonable distance of Winterthur Museum in Wilmington, Delaware, and you’re fans of Downton Abbey, then you can consider their “Costumes of Downton Abbey” exhibit to be T Lo -Approved. BIG time. We enjoyed it immensely, so much so that we immediately walked into the exhibit, surveyed the large number of iconic or immediately recognizable costumes, turned to each other and said excitedly, “Oh we are SO doing a post on this tomorrow.”

It’s the detailing that really stands out for us.

 

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Downton-Abbey-Costumes-Tom-Lorenzo-Site-TLO (6)We’ve never noticed this delicately pretty print on Gwen’s day uniform, for instance.

 

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Downton-Abbey-Costumes-Tom-Lorenzo-Site-TLO (10)Or the buttons on Thomas’ coat.

 

 

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Downton-Abbey-Costumes-Tom-Lorenzo-Site-TLO (13)Or just how many design elements and embellishments can be found on Mrs. Hughes’ deceptively simple uniform. You think of it as such a workman-like outfit,  but it’s got enough beading and lace to make a modern-day cocktail dress.

But as fascinating as the downstairs costumes are, let’s face it:

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Downton-Abbey-Costumes-Tom-Lorenzo-Site-TLO (17)It’s the “upstairs” wardrobe that provides the maximum number of opportunities to ooh and ahh. No picture can convey how rich and intricately designed a lot of these pieces are. Just look at all the elements in the hat alone. Look at how detailed those buttons are.

 

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Downton-Abbey-Costumes-Tom-Lorenzo-Site-TLO (24)Amazing to see all the lace and embroidery up close. We’d estimate only about 40% of this stuff even registers onscreen.

Very wisely, they grouped certain costumes by the most-remembered scenes in the series, like the garden party when World War I broke out:

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Downton-Abbey-Costumes-Tom-Lorenzo-Site-TLO (27)Honestly, we’re a little embarrassed to find out that the housemaids’ formal uniforms have different aprons, depending on who’s wearing them. We should have noticed that before now.

 

Downton-Abbey-Costumes-Tom-Lorenzo-Site-TLO (28)Look at how pretty the lace collars are, which is another detail that barely registered for us.

 

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Downton-Abbey-Costumes-Tom-Lorenzo-Site-TLO (32B)It’s interesting – and entirely appropriate, given the character – how modern the print looks on Sybil’s dress.  Again, it barely registered on camera.

 

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It’s probably not surprising that this dress was one of the most popular ones in the exhibit, given the constant crowd surrounding it. This in an exhibit heavy with furs and beading and formal gowns. But this dress is iconically important to the show and strikingly pretty in wearable and modern kind of way. We think it may be one of the more aspirational (in the sense of “I need to find a dress like that”) costumes in the show’s run. Given the rest of the exhibit, it’s easily one of the simplest thing’s Mary’s ever worn on the show outside of her sleepwear.

Much more to come in parts 2 and 3.

 

 

 

 

[Photo Credit: tomandlorenzo.com, PBS]

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