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Sep. 14 2014

Downton Abbey: Who is Who and Who Wears What

By Kati Harrison | Posted in Host Blogs | 2 Comments

There is the expression, “One must know who is who and what is what,” or that is to say know and mind your place in society. Clothing back in the day, certainly in the Downton Abbey days, expressed who you were and your station in society. Whether you were a Lord Grantham or a butler named Mr. Carson, you had to know what to wear, and it could be complicated. Texture, fabric or particular colors would often convey social codes. This is just one of the many topics covered in the current exhibition at Winterthur Museum called, Costumes of Downton Abbey.  The costumers on the show are obviously passionate and meticulous about getting it right on a variety of levels. In some cases perfectly matching fabric has been added on to the existing clothes from the period. In other words some of these “costumes” were worn by real people in the Downton Abbey day. It’s also fascinating to follow the transitions in fashion from the turn of the century into the 1920’s.


 I didn’t realize until the Winterthur exhibition that some of the protagonists are dressed to match their characters. Cora, the American, appears in looser, more modern frocks and coats to match her New World, easy going disposition.Cora, Relaxed American








Ladies from opposite ends of the pond

It’s the Mighty “Mummit” Martha Levinson and Violet Crawley, two ladies from opposite ends of the pond, in more ways than one.








The riding and sporting costumes are worth the price of admission. Apparently in those days dry cleaning had not been developed yet, and you wouldn’t want to ruin or shrink clothes by washing them. However, you would only wear an outfit for a couple of hours and change into something else several times throughout the course of the day.lady_mary_on_horse


 Downton hunting












Housekeeper, Butler, Valet, Lady’s Maid, Kitcdownton abbey servantshen maid, Underbutler, Second Footman? Who’s who? All is revealed at the Costumes of Downton Abbey!







Yes the exhibition does feature the spectacular harem pants outfit worn by Sybil!!! Happy Dance! Happy Dance! These are 2 photos I chose from a whole slew I took doing my best to capture the layers and colors. Alas, these photos don’t do it the justice it divinely deserves. By the way, the dress toward the eSybil Suitnd is Lady Mary’s which is just as striking in its own way. They say it conveys her more conservative nature, but I think it speaks to Mary’s wilder side.










Capturing all the layers and depth of the costumes with just a photo isn’t sufficient. Seeing the costumes in person is a much better way to fully experience and enjoy the exhibition. You are allowed to take photos of the exhibition, but please don’t, as one person did, attempt to try on the exhibition. It is tempting to want to touch and try (I found myself purring at times) but talk yourself down from it because it is NOT a good idea!


A great story, thought provoking ideas, fine acting, nuanced characters and scrupulous attention to detail make Downton Abbey more than entertaining for me. Costumes of Downton Abbey explores these many facets in the same way making for a memorable exhibition.  On view at Winterthur until January 4, 2015, here is the web addy for more info: http://www.winterthur.org/Downtonabbey




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Kati is WBJC's Operations Director and weekend host. Her full bio can be read here.

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