“Dressing Downton” ~ Part Four

“Dressing Downton” ~ Part Four

For today I have the fourth post covering the wealth of photos I snagged when visiting the “Dressing Downton” exhibition at Cheekwood Mansion in Nashville a few weeks ago. It was a phenomenal experience. The prior three posts explain a bit more about the exhibit (links below) so without further ado, let me get on with sharing the images and brochure information, in no particular order. The fifth (and final) post of images will be next Monday.

Here are the links to all the blogs on “Dressing Downton” — 

“Dressing Downton” ~ Part One

“Dressing Downton” ~ Part Two

“Dressing Downton” ~ Part Three

“Dressing Downton” ~ Part Four

“Dressing Downton” ~ Part Five


NOTE: The colors do look different in some instances. The variances in filming and lighting, I suppose. I had not brought my camera — the museum visit decided after my hubby and I left our home in Kentucky — so I only had my cell phone camera. It takes surprisingly excellent photos, but not as perfect as my camera!

Season 3 ~ 1920 to 1921


Cora Crawley, the Countess of Grantham is first in the spotlight with three gowns. To the left in the dual image below, actress Elizabeth McGovern models a silk evening dress with net overlay and beaded front panel worn several times in the TV show during season three. The gown’s skirt doesn’t have any structure underneath, but squares of fabric are attached to the hips to create a waterfall effect. According to the exhibit brochure: A contemporary source commented that skirts “though skimpy round the hem are much ampler about the hips where they often have panniers, draperies or flat flounces.”

The second dress is a velvet, drop-waist, formal gown which has original lace and beadwork from the 1920s on the bodice and sleeves, and is embellished with diamante stones and gold seed beads. This ensemble was worn by the Countess as she presented Lady Rose to the King and Queen of England, so the extreme edge of high fashion! The London presentation ceremony was one of the most formal in the Royal calendar with an exceptionally strict dress code published by the Lord Chamberlain. Ladies were required to carry a fan or bouquet, wear a white or pale evening dress with a train (either square or round ended) and a headdress of three white Prince-of-Wales feathers attached to a tulle veil.




The following two exhibit gowns I could not find adequate still images from the TV show to compare, other than the small one of Lady Mary sitting at the dinner table (right).

The first was worn by Lady Mary Crawley in season two, a dusty-pink silk evening dress with a black net overlay, creating a sheer and glamorous appearance enhanced by seed beads and sequins. This beautiful dress has a less-defined waistline than earlier styles and marks the beginning of looser dress styles, which, as in this case, emphasized the wearer’s slim figure. The straight silhouette and geometric diamond pattern hint at the Art Deco style, just coming into fashion at this time.

To the right of Lady Mary’s dress is an ensemble worn by Lady Grantham. A coat with floral embroidered borders and dress with floral self-pattern, which was worn at Lady Edith’s wedding in season three. The coat was made from a 1920s tablecloth! A bit unusual, but the pattern running around the edge is perfect for this style of coat.



Time to honor the grand dames of Downton Abbey! 

The great Shirley MacLaine joined the cast in season three for the intermittent role of Lady Grantham’s mother, Martha Levinson.

The coat, a 1920 ensemble worn when she arrived at Downton Abbey from America, is made from a mixed silk fabric, trimmed with fox fur collar and cuffs, and accessorized with a velvet purse with carved bone clasp. The bold, gold and black, floral pattern, together with her showy fur collar and cuffs, demonstrate that Martha has an American eye for fashion. Her flamboyant persona and Cora’s reserved personality are reflected in their very different fashion choices. Even though Martha is an older woman she is more in tune with modernity than her daughter.

The second outfit worn by Martha Levinson is this evening dress of devour (or burnout) silk velvet in layers. The pattern in the outer layer is unmistakably Art Deco, with its sharp angles and geometric patterns. The front panel is embellished with black bugle beads.

Sitting alongside Mrs. Levinson in the still from the show is Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, wearing an evening dress with an under layer of pale, olive-green satin and an overdress of black chiffon. The center panel shows a definite Japanese influence. The cuffs of the olive dress have original black, silver and white seed beading in a flower pattern with black and gold swirls. The silhouette of the gown is a real departure for the character of Violet. The elements of Edwardian dress that she will never give up — the high neckline and the corset — are still visible, but the S-bend shape is gone, giving her a more natural-looking waistline.



Lastly, for today, is the maternity gown worn by Lady Sybil Crawley (now Mrs. Branson) in season three. Of velvet, the gold embroidered borders on the wide hem and cuffs are original and reflect the influence of a French Bohemian style on the aristocracy during this period. By the early 1920s, the wartime need to economize on fabric coupled with women’s more active lifestyles encouraged younger women to dress more adventurously. Many preferred the greater freedom that shorter hemlines allowed.


The fifth and final post of images from Dressing Downton will be next Monday.

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