Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Costumes of Downton Abbey - Season 3

Last winter I write a post entitled "The Costumes of Downton Abbey." It quickly became the most popular post on this site, singlehandedly doubling my number of visitors. Obviously quite a lot of you love the clothing on ITV's popular show, and I hope you'll enjoy my second round of gushing over dresses, suits and hats!

In Season 3, the War has ended and we're marching into the Roaring 20's. This means quite a change in the costuming, as I'll discuss below. First, you may want to take a look at some of the sites I've listed to learn about the history of fashion during the 20's. 

And then of course, some great articles on the fashion of Season 3!

Finally, although I've tried to steer away from plot points, this post does assume that you've watched Season 3. So if you haven't, and you don't  want to be spoiled, please hold off reading this until you get a chance to watch the whole thing.

(All pictures were retrieved from DowntOnline which has a fantastic collection of high rez images. I highly recommend checking out their gallery if you wish to find more images of a particular costume. Also, click on any image to bring up a larger version.)

Mary and Matthew, looking classy and dapper. Matthew pulls off his light grey suit with aplomb, and Mary shows that she was made for the straight silhouette of the 1920's.

Gathered for Edith's wedding photo, we see all three girls wearing light, loose dresses. Sybil has a gorgeous overdress of embroidery and cut lace, Edith wears here elegant wedding gown (more on that later!) and Mary wears a sheath of delicate blue lace and soft draping sleeves.

Cora is still moving towards the younger, youthful styles of the new decade. Here she still wears a structured but beautiful bodice.

Edith's gown is deceptive in it's simplicity. Although cut fairly straight and simple, it features beautiful embellishment at the waist ruching and on the train.

In this season we get a chance to see Anna outside of the house - and therefore wearing something other than her maid's uniform. Here we get only a glimps at the cute cotton print of her blouse, but we can soak in the quality of her finely tailored jacked.

Compare these costumes to the garden party of season one... looser, simpler styles are all in evidence here, much to the relief of a very pregnant Sybil who is much more comfortable in her loose dress than she would have been in the maternity styles of a decade earlier.

Season 3 is really Edith's turn to shine in the fashion world, as she takes up colors and styles that are particularly flattering for her. She really wears no color better than peach-orange, as in high evidence here. although the cut is simple, she has plenty of detail in the pintucks and embroidery on the bodice to indicate the cost of the dress and her society status.

I picked this picture because I adore Violet's hats. In a time when the younger generation is turning to the much simpler cloche hats, the Dowager Duchess sticks to her guns and proudly sports the highly decorated hats of the Victorian era.

So far Downton Abbey has not featured any children in the cast, so it's a refreshing treat to see Ethel's young son. In the 1920's, as in all preceeding fashion, children worn minature versions of adult clothing. The only major difference we see here is the short pants that are still in the future for grown men.

What about the other side of Downton? We ooh and ahh over the gorgeous creations worn by the Crawley sisters, but it's worth taking a peek at the clothing worn by the servants as well. Although the dress worn by this scullery maid is far less elaborate than anything else worn at Downton, it is still well made. Servants rarely had more than two dresses, which usually had to last them several years. The show does an excellent job of portraying this, as well as properly aging and distressing the clothing.

I think one of the most beautiful pieces from the Victorian era is the sheer blouse embellished with lace. Thankfully it was such a practical piece that it carried over into the Edwardian period and the 1920's as we see here. Mary's blouse features a beautiful collar of freehanded cording. I'd love to try to imitate it someday, although I don't have Mary's slim, boyish form that works so well with this piece!

This is a far cry from the hospital gowns most women give birth in today! Loose and comfortable, yet with minute embroidery around the collar, this is a birthing gown fit for a princess, as Sybil is in the hearts of all who know her.

Look at these two lovely ladies! Laura Charmichael (Edith) and Michelle Dockery (Mary) have figures that were simply made to wear 1920's fashions. Oh wait, have I said that already? Well it's worth repeating. Not everyone could pull off these sheaths. And though they are far simpler than the evening gowns of the previous decade, they nonetheless feature equally elaborate beading and needlework.

This was a time when beauty and care was applied to all clothing, including that which one wore to bed. Here we get to see the Crawley girls in their gorgeous bathrobes, each featuring very eastern decor.

While I'm not entirely fond of the gray pairing with the peach here, this nonetheless is a beautifully constructed garment, utilizing the piping to good purpose.

Here we get a rare glimps of the back of a dress, and we can see the row of covered buttons holding the sheer overdress closed. Open the picture in a new tab to really see all that lovely detail along the yoke!

Purple seems to be a favorite color for the Crawley women at formal occasions, and here we see Mary and Cora in beautiful gowns of lavender and lilac. Cora's robe is very different from the structured coats she would have worn previously, a style that remains popular today for women in her age group.

Here is another one of Grandma Violet's awesome hats!

Full length on all of the baptismal wear, and a very good look at the rising hemlines on the ladies, particularly Mary.

Edith's signature detail this season is the ruched waist, fastened with an elaborate embellishment. It's a very flattering look on her!

Although coats are becoming much simpler, Mary's nonetheless carries some nice touches, such as the contrasting collar and the double layered buttons.

And Edith's coat is another look entirely. Completely 20's (and I suspect this was vintage fabric) it has very little tailoring but goes wild with insets and contrasts.

Here we see our first pleated skirt! The sharp knife pleats, perky beret, and contrasting collar give Edith the fresh modern look she needs for her new position as a writer.

Menswear is slowly becoming more relaxed as well, and cricket is the best excuse to roll up sleeves and forsake coats, vests and ties for sweaters.

More cricket goodness! Here we get to see all the beautiful detail of the front of Edith's delicate gown, as well as admire the cute hat Aunt Rosamund is wearing.

Bates and Anna! Bates looks dapper in a three-piece suit, while Anna looks lovely in a dress that looks vaguely familiar... why? Because it used to be Mary's! Love this little detail the show added, as it was very common for maids to inherit their mistress's former clothing.

I included this picture because a) it's adorable, and b) it gives us a good look at Mary's short hem and the unobtrusive side buttons of her dress.

I'm in love with Rosamund's dress here. The accenting of the green silk at the sleeves and the embellished slash is elegant and gorgeous.

Carson! Outside of his house uniform! Now this is a cause for gasping and excitement!

Mary has such an amazing taste in coats. I love this deceptively simple draped affair in maroon.

A lower neckline, extensive beading and sheer sleeves make this a departure from the eveningwear Mary displays during the rest of the season.

Costuming is an important piece in conveying character, and nowhere is it more apparent in Downton Abbey than here. On the left is Grandma Martha in the height of 1920's fashion. On the right is Grandma Violet, steadfast in her adherence to the restricting clothing (and code of conduct) of the Victorian Era.

From a distance Mary's wedding gown appears shockingly plain, so I highly recommend opening it in a new page to see all of the detail. The fabric is richly embroidered, and the veil is edged with tiny pearls to weight it down.

Another great example of servant clothing is Daisy. Unlike the upstairs maids, she doesn't have a uniform, and we usually only see one or two dresses per season. I really like this purple piece with the contrasting collar, and the floral patterned apron is a sweet touch as well.

Who else has awesome coats in this show? Anna! Just look at the detail on that collar!

Sybil, once again modeling the best maternity clothes ever. This soft gray velvet with the brocade hem panels is both elegant and gentle on our mother-to-be.

Another look at Sybil's gown, with a good peek at Mary's dress. I love the contrast of the white and silver embroidery on the stark black.

Of course, just because someone is a background character doesn't mean they'll be ignored at Downton! Here an elderly guest is resplendent in velvet, pearls, embroidery and a modest chiffon collar.

Here Isobel and Cora wear similar colors and fabrics, but with drastically different cuts. Cora has retained a more youthful figure and highlights it with the new slim look. Isobel follows a more maternal line with long drapes to flatter her less trim curves.

Grandma Martha in sharp, classy velvet, with a scarf tossed around her neck for effect.

Sybil, once again showing how good she looks in purple. The detail on her dress is beautiful, I simply adore the delicate white embroidery.

Edith wears an unusual color for her - gold. Yet surprisingly she pulls it off very well. She should wear it more often - it flatters her and enables her to stand out in a crowd.

More Grandma Violet hat love! Plus the detail on the coat lapel...

At Mary's wedding. Here we see Sybil in pale sea blue with a star shaped detail on the bodice, Cora wearing what looks like the same ensemble she'll wear again at the baptism, and Sybil in a soft but slightly darker sea blue, wearing a rare but fashionable silk scarf.

Daisy again! Here once again we see purple on display, again with the contrasting collar and cuffs, probably cut out of a dress that was otherwise completely worn.

Again a great contrast photo. And take a look at the interesting headpiece and short hairstyle of Grandma Martha. That woman is ahead of the times! (But I love Grandma Violet's chiffon overgown dearly.)

Whew! There you have it, folks! A close-up look at the gorgeousness that was the costumes of Downton Abbey, Season 3.

UPDATE: In January 2017, my husband took me to the Downton Experience to see the costumes of the show in person!


  1. I scrolled through this ever-so-quickly to avoid the dreaded spoilers. I do want to read it later though, and my question is this: you live in the U.S, right? And if so, where did you find the third season to watch it?

  2. I was able to watch it through the ITV website. It is horrible that they don't air them at the same time internationally... Hugh Bonneville has been public about begging the networks to coordinate because it's utterly ridiculous what fans have had to do to either watch it or avoid being spoiled by those who watched it.

  3. Lavender and gray were considered appropriate colors for half-mourning. The old rules about mourning dress were going out by this period, but were not completely out. It would have been an appropriate color for the ladies to wear so soon after Sybil's death.

  4. Amy - that is a very good point! Although Lavender seems to be a popular color this season, and several of the dresses appeared previously, before there were any deaths to observe.

    1. When they are all in lavender, it is due to the rules of mourning clothes. They wore them in season one after Patrick's death on the Titanic because they were in half-mourning by the time Mr. Palmuk came to visit. Amy is quite correct.

    2. I never disagreed with Amy, just that Lavender appears at other times in the season before any deaths. Cora wears lavendar at Mary's wedding - the same outfit that she later wears to Sybbie's Christening.

  5. has anyone else noticed the Rennie Mackintosh look alike beadwork?

  6. It just hit me that the costume design is so good. I think the cast and script get you gripped and the outfits passed me by.

    Thanks for a great read and showcase for all of us fans.

  7. i love the show downton abbey seasons dvd costume.it's very gorgers and beautiful,i am looking forward to the downton abbey season 4 dvd box set, it's more wonderful .

  8. Wow, thanks for all the pics!


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