Here is the third blog post of images from the outstanding exhibit of select costumes from the BBC TV series Downton Abbey®. I thought I would take a moment to encourage everyone to watch the show if you haven’t already. The costumes, obviously, are fantastic and almost enough of a reason to watch the show. Luckily, the drama is fantastic all the way around. I am re-watching, as a matter of fact. Between the exhibit and creating these blogs of the images, I could not resist a second binge watch! All 6 seasons are available on Amazon, free with Prime. I am unsure about watching it on other channels, such as PBS or BBC America, or even Netflix or Hulu, but it may be available (for free or at a cost).
Here are the links to all the blogs on “Dressing Downton” —
I haven’t been ignoring Lady Edith Crawley on purpose, I promise! Her character simply didn’t have any costumes in the exhibit from Season 1, and only one from Season 2. Beginning with her wartime ensemble for her work on the farm, Lady Edith is wearing wool cord breeches, a brushed cotton blouse, and a linen jacket with contrasting velvet trim. As men left for the Front, women, even those of the aristocracy, stepped up to fill the jobs left behind. The women who worked the land during the war were known as “Land Girls” and doing masculine work often meant wearing masculine garments, which was unheard of before the First World War.
As men left for the Front, women, even those of the aristocracy, stepped up to fill the jobs left behind. The women who worked the land during the war were known as “Land Girls” and doing masculine work often meant wearing masculine garments, which was unheard of before the First World War.
Season 3 ~ 1920 to 1921
Here are two more garments worn by Lady Edith, both from Season 3. The black coat is an original made of grosgrain edged in silk cannelle embroidery. Per the brochure: This coat is a beautiful example of the influence of the Arts and Crafts style, a movement that emerged during the late Victorian period and continued its influence until the 1930s. It was an anti-industrial movement that valued handcraftsmanship and harked back to medieval, romantic or traditional folk styles of decoration.
Next is an orange evening dress made of two layers of silk: the top layer of sheer, shot chiffon that has a gold iridescent quality. The drape at the drop waist is embellished with beaded embroidery and ribbons, as is the scooped neckline. Lady Edith‘s dress is very much “of the moment.” The “boyish look” was a precursor to the Flapper style, with dropped waist, raised hem and flattened bust. The look was achieved by wrapping bandeaux around the chest. The thin straps, bare arms and neckline indicate that Edith’s underpinnings are minimal.
Upstairs / Downstairs
Elsie Hughes is the housekeeper of Downton Abbey. All of her costumes are working outfits of black silk and wool. This exhibit piece includes cream lace trim in a beautiful design. As the chief female servant, the housekeeper dressed to emphasize her managerial status. Her clothes were always in somber colors and noticeably plain, except for the household keys which hung from a chatelaine attached at the waist. Below are two images, the far left one of actress Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes wearing the exhibit dress with the household keys hanging from her belt, and the second a close-up of the chatelaine in the “Dressing Downton” exhibit. Note the mansion’s keys themselves, of which ONLY the housekeeper and Lady Grantham would have a full set, as well as small scissors.
As a mark of respect, housekeepers were always called “Mrs.” regardless of whether they were married or not.
Maids wore black cotton dresses with white lace trim on the sleeves and collar, the apron over also of cotton in white. The maids of Downton Abbey — Anna Smith, Ethel Parks, Gwen Dawson, and Jane Moorsum — wore printed dresses and plain white aprons for their morning cleaning duties. They changed into a black dress with a decorated apron, as seen in the exhibit sample, for the rest of the day.
A Head Housemaid was often responsible for dressing the daughter(s) of the family in the morning and evening. In the TV show, Head Housemaid Anna Smith serves as a Lady’s Maid for Lady Mary, as well as Lady Edith and Lady Sybil. Upper-class ladies usually dressed themselves for afternoon tea in what was called a “tea gown,” a looser garment that could be worn without a corset. The Lady’s Maid was also expected to care for clothes and fix hair, which was worn “up” as soon as girls stopped their schooling. The Lady’s Maid also selected jewelry for her mistress, but not makeup as none was worn in this period.
The photo I took of the maid’s uniform can be seen on “Dressing Downton” ~ Part One. Paired with a gown worn by Lady Mary, I could not position myself at the right angle for a front view. Below is an image from the Taft Museum of Art exhibition in Cincinnati, (borrowed from and credited to Janelle Gelfand) for a better visual.
The only other servant’s attire represented in Dressing Downton was a footman’s uniform. Worn by Thomas Barrow, William Mason, James Kent, and Alfred Nugent, the footman’s uniform (also called “livery”) was made from a wool and cotton fabric. At Downton, for their work upstairs, the footmen wore white ties and two styles of striped waistcoats with the family’s crest on the buttons. When working below stairs, they covered their formal livery with an apron and sleeve protectors.
When a footman started in a big house he could be given a suit worn by previous footmen, but if lucky he was sent to the tailor to be measured for a new outfit. The footman was then responsible for keeping his own clothes clean and in good repair. Hired for their youth, height, and good looks, footmen were called the “peacocks” of the household staff.
This is enough for today. The fourth post of images from Dressing Downton will be this Friday.
The final post will be next Monday.
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