With the finale of the second season of Downton Abbey just hours away, TIME has published an interview with Downton costume designer Susannah Buxton. Buxton discusses how fashion changed during the war period and how the characters’ costumes reflected this. Skirts began to relax, becoming less constrictive and more practical. Colors were more somber for the most part. The ladies still would have dressed in their finery in the evenings, because, as Buxton states, “they would have lasted. They would have two or three and repeat in real life.” Thus the reason you see the Crawley sisters with just a few different evening gowns during the second season .
Buxton discusses some of the costumes from the first series as well, including Lady Sybil’s infamous harem dress. The bodice was made from original fabric of the period, and Buxton describes how delicate it was. ”She came down for the first scene and after the third take the whole panel started to split at the back. Fortunately we did have another piece of it, but watching a dress part from itself in front of your eyes on camera is pretty scary.”
Also interesting is the information she reveals about the staff costumes. The pink striped dress that we often see Daisy in is an Edwardian original, one that had never been worn before.
It’s a great interview with some excellent insight into the costumes of this smash hit series. Read the article here, and be sure to click on the slideshow of photos from the series.
Admit it, one of the reasons we love Downton Abbey is the eye candy (and I’m not just talking about Dan Stevens, aka Matthew Crawley).
Sorry Matthew, I couldn't resist.
The gowns worn by the three sisters of Downton are not only gorgeous, but they help set the tone of the times and tell a story themselves.
Susannah Buxton is the costumer of Downton Abbey. In an interview (which you can read here) she discusses how the costumes convey the personalities of the characters she is dressing. Mary’s a no-nonsense sort of girl, and her wardrobe reflects this with very few lacy frills. Edith’s dresses seem overly elaborate for her character, and after reading this interview I understand why. She lacks the confidence of her older sister, so one would think she’d wear something that helped her blend in to the scenery. But Buxton purposefully avoided this in order to prevent Edith’s character from becoming too cliche. She would have had access to the same wealth as her older sister, so of course she would wear the latest fashions as well.
Sybil, Mary, and Edith
That leads us to Sybil, my favorite of the Crawley sisters. She’s the youngest, and we see her grow up a great deal in the first series. Buxton dresses her in a lot of floral prints to show her youth. But Sybil’s progressive thinking and interest in women’s equality begins to shine through. One of my favorite scenes in the first series is when Sybil enters the room, dressed for the evening meal in this:
Everyone’s jaw drops as she shows off her (gasp!) legs AND ankles. In Buxton’s interview she explains that her inspiration for costumes came from Paul Poiret, a Parisian designer who took his inspiration from the Russian ballet company Ballet Russes. Poiret introduced “harem” pants in 1911, a design highlighting American and European fascination with Turkish dress. Here is a 1910 photo of a Ballet Russes costume designed by Leon Bakst:
I love how Sybil even strikes a similar pose when she shows off her new look to her family.
I have no doubt that costumes will play a major role in telling the story of the second series of Downton Abbey. And I can’t wait to write about it!
Until then, I'll just have to wait...