On the recommendation from my wonderful boss at the Chicago History Museum, Meghan Smith, I spent the majority of Sunday watching "Downton Abbey," a series put out by PBS as part of their Masterpiece Classic series. It is currently on Netflix Instant Streaming for anyone who wants to check it out for themselves. I was intrigued first and foremost because Meghan said the costumes were fantastic, and secondly because the time period it is set in, the 1910s, pre-WWI, is possibly my favorite period in history for a collection of reasons. As I began to watch the episodes I was delighted by the plot line, along with the costumes, which were designed by Sussanah Buxton. The story of Downton Abbey consists of an old world Victorian family, the Crawley's, and the world that they and their servants live in. The story is filled with scandal, betrayal, love, family duty, and inheritance against a backdrop that consists of a traditional 19th century family and their servants trying to maintain order and propriety in a social atmosphere that is rapidly changing. Needless to say, I was completely enveloped by the aesthetic and the story, and was disappointed to find out that the second season of the series is not due out until next year.
Dress during the Edwardian Period, the first decade of the 20th century, reflected much of the same aesthetic as dress had during the last half of the 19th century. This aesthetic was a highly-corseted, conservative look with a high neckline, long sleeves, and long skirts. The most prominent silhouette at the beginning of the 20th century was a "S-Shape" silhouette. This look had an exaggerated bust and bosom and tiny waist and was created through the use of tight corseting. The costumes of Lady Violet Crawley are reminiscent of this style of dress even though by 1912, the time the series begins in, this silhouette had been largely replaced by a simpler straight silhouette with an empire waist. The fact that Susannah Buxton chose to keep Lady Violet in a more traditional style of dress shows her attention to detail and to the characters themselves, because Lady Violet is and would be in real life if she had existed a very traditional character who is attempting to withstand the radical social changes occurring in the world around her.
The costumes of Lady Mary, the eldest daughter, and her two younger sisters, Edith and Cybil, are much more reflective of pre-WWI dress after 1910. Many women still wore corsets with this style of dress, although they were straight and less restrictive than the corsets required to achieve the "S-shape" of the previous decade. The empire waistline was very prominent as well as oriental influences, as seen in the picture with the chinoiserie style embroidery on Lady Mary's dress.
Just wanted to show one last look at a gorgeous image from the film of the three Crawley sisters. The fashion of the 1910s were changing in ways that had not occurred in the past because changes were happening throughout society for women that had not occurred in the past. Downton Abbey does a wonderful job of capturing the unseen war between the Victorian-minded traditionalists and the social revolutionists that were fighting for change in Europe and America at the time. Look out for my new Favorite Old Thing of the Week coming up in the next couple of days.
Thanks for tuning in,