In the hands of acclaimed costume designers Susannah Buxton and Caroline McCall–who share a passion for luscious texture, vintage accuracy, precise attention to detail, and fabulous hats–Downton Abbey‘s costumes are elegantly crafted to fit each character’s personality to perfection.
Above left: Fashion rebel Sybil surprises her family in couture-inspired Turkish trousers. Susannah created the striking bodice, using fragile antique fabrics and keeping a needle and thread at the ready during filming. Above right: Susannah stands next to one of her designs: Cora’s gilt-embroidered, high-waist evening dress, worn at the Servants’ Ball.
Above: Stylish Mary attends a flower show. “Hats from this period are a delight,” Susannah enthuses. “I was on the lookout for them in London, Parish, and Madrid, often finding an old one in a bad way and basing a new hat on it, or getting it steamed and retrimmed.”
Downton Abbey’s costumers create a color palette for each actress, working through scenes with the director and the production designer so that the clothes not only suit the character but have a graceful sense of place. Much of the apparel seen on the television series, such as Cora’s ornately beaded couture gown, above, is what designer Susannah Buxton terms “period translations.” A bit of new, a touch of old, and heaps of creativity and skill give the wardrobe pieces luxe beauty, as well as a distinctive avant-garde sensibility.
Women’s styles continued to change at the cusp of the 1920s: Busts were flattened; waistlines dropped into tulip shaped skirts; hems inched up; and undergarments softened. Costume designer Caroline McCall accomplishes this airy, less structured look with a romantic definition and a nod to contemporary audiences. Here, Mary is shown at Edith’s wedding, which unfortunately was not to be. Episodes involving large crowds can require more than two hundred costumes, so wedding scenes keep the wardrobe staff busy attaching crystals and pearls or fluffing silk-trimmed hats.
Text Cornelia Powell
Downton Abbey images courtesy Cosprop Ltd., London.
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“The Costumers of Downton Abbey” can be found in the January/February 2014 issue of Victoria magazine.