Monday, December 15, 2014

A Very Crawley Christmas with the du Ponts – Part 2

Welcome back, dear Readers, as we continue our tour of the Costumes of Downton Abbey at the magnificent Winterthur Museum.  In Part 1, I gave you a little background on Winterthur and the du Pont family, the American landed-gentry counterparts of the British Crawleys of Downton Abbey.  We began our Downton Abbey costume tour downstairs.  Now, it’s time to move upstairs to see what the well-dressed Crawleys are wearing. 

Let’s start with some of their favorite outdoor activities. 

A-hunting we will go……  Never let it be said that the Crawleys do not know how to dress for the hunt.  On the left, we have Sir Richard Carlyle’s costume.  Remember him?  I get the vapors (a term ladies of the era would understand) at the mere thought of Lady Mary marrying this unsavory character.  Lord Grantham’s natty costume is on the right.  The middle outfit belongs to Lady Rosamund.  Other than her occasional involvement in family business of a very “delicate” nature (Lady Edith’s pregnancy comes to mind.), the one incident that stands out for me about Lady Rosamund was her reaction at catching her lover, Hepworth, in bed with her maid.   Her instant dismissal of him from her life was elegant and efficient, without betraying the slightest bit of surprise, as if she had been expecting it all along.  How sad. 

I was, also, struck by the fact that these period costumes, indeed all the costumes in the exhibit, don’t look like costumes at all; they look like clothes.  It’s easy to see how these beautifully tailored, heavy tweed suits could have been, indeed could still be, worn for a day’s hunting in northern England.  

A picnic on Downton’s grounds is always a happy occasion for servants and masters alike.

This lovely, light-as-a-breeze, cotton striped dress belongs to Lady Mary.  It’s the perfect picnic dress.  And who wouldn’t love the beautiful straw hat festooned with summer flowers?  So sweet! 

The christening of a baby is always cause for celebration.  As the Crawleys line up for a family photo to mark the occasion, you can see on their faces that they are still reeling from the sudden loss of the baby’s mother, the youngest daughter of the family, the beautiful and beloved Lady Sybil.   The dress and coat on the left belongs to Cora (Lady Grantham) and the dropped-waist dress was worn by Lady Mary.  Although the detailing comes through as beautifully in person as on the screen, you will notice the camera has clearly altered the colors.

While we’re on the subject of outdoor garments, take a look at these magnificent coats.  From Left to Right, we have Lady Grantham’s coat with a border of beautiful, colorful embroidery, Lady Mary’s cut-out-lace coat, Edith’s coat in more sober colors (how appropriate) and the two on the end belong to the flamboyant Martha Levinson, Lady Grantham’s Mother.  Believe me, the picture does not do them justice.  They are truly fabulous and so perfect for her over-the-top character.  

As we move inside, we remember the young and vibrant Lady Sybil and the day she came down to tea in these gorgeous (outrageous?) harem pants.  How shocking!!  However, that was nothing compared to running off with and marrying Papa’s chauffeur, Tom Branson, an Irish Republican, who fancied himself a champion of the oppressed (i.e., everyone who works downstairs).  Sybil’s death in childbirth, a not uncommon occurrence at the time even among the upper classes, left me in an absolute puddle.  As the grieving Cora sat alone on her daughter’s bed and said good-bye to her baby, her beautiful child, I wept for her loss and ours. 

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that the Dowager Duchess is everyone’s favorite character.  Certainly, she gets the best lines (“What’s a weekend?”) and the most heavily beaded clothes, as befits her status and old-fashioned sartorial sensibilities.  Still, there are times when she shows us how thoroughly modern she can be when it comes to relationships and her granddaughters, whom she clearly understands better than do the girls’ parents.  She suffers fools very badly, a quality I much admire.  While she’s easily annoyed, often appalled, she’s rarely if ever shocked.  She’s seen it all, lived through much of it and knows a thing or two about human nature. 

I love the verbal sparring that goes on between the Dowager Duchess (Maggie Smith) and Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton).   The two actresses who play the roles, long-time friends who often work together, have admitted to having no end of fun with their scenes together.  I know I take immense delight in watching these two old pros go at it.   I’ve been a fan of both actresses for lo these many years. 

One of the delights of this exhibit is seeing how vintage fabrics have been incorporated into the costumes.  The center panel of Lady Grantham’s red dress is a magnificent, hand-beaded vintage piece around which the entire dress was created.  I can still remember the effect this dress made on the screen against Cora’s fair skin and dark hair, but it’s nothing compared to looking at it up close.  It’s absolutely spectacular!! 

Lady Edith’s wedding would have been a cause for rejoicing had she not been jilted at the altar.  Poor Edith.  I think she suffers from middle-child syndrome, looking for love and acceptance in all the wrong places and with all the wrong men.  The lavender dress on the left was worn by Lady Sybil and the blue dress on the right by Lady Mary.  Aren’t they just lovely?

The interesting thing about Edith’s period-precise wedding dress is how utterly shapeless it appears in person.  This was typical of the era.   You might think, therefore, that corsets were completely abandoned by this time; but, in fact, they were not.  Corsets worn during the Victorian Era were designed to cinch in the waist to create the much-prized hourglass figure.  The Edwardian era corsets, the long-line corsets, were designed to cinch in the bust and hips to minimize curves and create a boyish, almost androgynous figure.  So you see, Ladies, one way or another, we gals are always trying to manipulate our bodies to conform to the current fashions. 

Well, with apologies to poor Lady Edith, it’s time for us to leave her at the altar.  Next time, we’ll take a look at some of Lady Mary’s most beautiful clothes and relive one of her most beautiful moments.  Stay tuned….

To (re)visit “A Very Crawley Christmas with the du Ponts – Part 1” click here.

To visit "A Very Crawley Christmas with the du Ponts - Part 3" click here.


  1. Dearest Marie-Thérèse,
    That was a very nice slice of life back at the time of the Crawley family!
    Isn't it admirable how those fabrics back than got embellished in such a way?!
    Thanks for taking us all along this lovely tour.

    1. My Dear Mariette, I would gladly take you along on all my tours, if only for the wonderful feedback. Yes, it was truly a gracious, glamorous time whose like we will never see again. How sad.

      Warm holiday hugs,

  2. Lovely. I am so looking forward to our special edition of Downton on Christmas day.

    1. A special edition on Christmas day? I can't think of a more wonderful Christmas present!! Enjoy, my dear.

      Warm holiday hugs,


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