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).
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.
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!