A new Downton Abbey Exhibition has opened in New York and something was clear to me during my visit this week: I have missed this extraordinary show! Revisiting the world of Downton Abbey; the exquisite house with all its rooms – both upper and lower levels – and the beloved characters whom I had come to love, with their engaging story lines, was thrilling to me. I have been drawn to the costumes and costume design of Downton Abbey, and have written about it on TFIO, but it was actually seeing the fashions up close that brought my fascination to life. The hats, the gloves, the dresses, the evening gowns, the tuxedos, the jackets, and the jewelry were all integral to the storytelling. But there were two specific costumes that were everything: the red scalloped dress worn by Lady Mary Crawley, when she and Matthew are together on that snowy evening as he gets down on bended knee and proposes to her, and the harem pants with which Lady Sybil Crawley shocks her family. Seeing these two costumes brought me back to those quintessential Downton Abbey moments.
Downton Abbey’s costume designer, Susannah Buxton, was able to tell the story of the times in these costumes. In creating Lady Mary’s engagement dress, Buxton looked to the period designs of Parisian design house Lanvin. The beading gives definition and pop to the scalloped edges, which otherwise might disappear in front of the camera in the dark snowy scene. For Lady Sybil, who represents change and a shift in the social order for her aristocratic family, she disarms them by showing up to formal dinner wearing harem pants. Buxton chose the Ballet Russes-inspired silk trousers as a way to tell Sybil’s story of rebellion and independence.
The fashions of the times displayed at the Downton Abbey Exhibition are so worth seeing!