Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Downton: The Floorplan, The Fashions & The Flappers

Downton Abbey, whose third season premiered in the UK on Sunday, may be about class, and about money (or, in this season, the lack of it). It may be about marrying above your class (for the money), or marrying beneath it (for the love of a good man), or simply marrying for the sake of it. (Known today as 'settling'.) It may be about grand Gothic piles, and sumptuous libraries, and even more sumptuous guest quarters where dashing Indian men gasp their last dashing breath in sumptuous beds. But for many of us, it is really about one thing.

The fashion.

{Spoiler Alert!} Downton Abbey's third season hit the UK screens last Sunday night and, as you would expect with a series set in the Roaring Twenties, the fashion was off and running. Or should that be, walking slowly – up the aisle.

The show's highlight is a beautiful morning wedding in the village church in 1920, where Lady Mary (who starts reading Vogue in this series – told you it was more about fashion this time around), meets Matthew at the alter in a dress inspired by Lavin. The show's new costume designer found back catalogs of Lanvin from the 1920s to help with accuracy, but the dress, which features diaphanous fabric in long, straight lines embroidered with tiny seed pearls at the hip, has polarised many viewers. Some have hailed it as the ultimate in sophistication. Other have called it 
"a tad like a drip-dry nightie".

Then there's Cincinnati millionairess Martha Levinson, mother to Cora, Countess of Grantham, who is played by the inimitable Shirley MacLaine. Martha, who becomes the grit in the oyster for the Crawley family, steps out in some truly splendid numbers (even her car is an eye-opener), but whatever she wears pales in comparison beside her jewels. The woman is a walking Sotheby's catalogue.

Oh – And I loved this recent exchange between Shirley MacLaine and Dame Maggie Smith in front of a journalist from the UK's Daily Mail.

Shirley MacLaine: "We met 40 years ago backstage at the Oscars, next to the catering table. Whatever I was up for, I lost…"

Maggie Smith: "You know what you did, dear? You tucked right into that chocolate cake and said, 'f*** it, I don't care if I'm never thin again'."

But back to the fashion... Sybil is back at Downton, and it's a good thing. I missed her gorgeous face and independent nature. She's in a bob, too. And pregnant.

And even little Edith (who has classic Middle Child Syndrome) has tarted up her act in order to snare a husband. Edith is growing on me. I hope she pulls in a big one.

Downton's fashion has received so much attention that its fashion designer, Susannah Buxton, was nominated for an Emmy Award this year. Even Anna Wintour has given the show her seal of approval.

And Ralph Lauren was so inspired by it, he based his 2012 Fall RTW collections on DA's period glamour. {Photos: Marcio Madeira/firstVIEW}

If you're interested in the fashion and costume side of Downtown, which includes frocks by Vionnet (but not Chanel, I've noticed, which is odd for the era), there's a good article  hereThe show’s fashion is reflected most in the three young daughters of the house—Mary (Michelle Dockery), with her passion for sophisticated style, Edith (Laura Carmichael), who tarts up to snare a husband, and Sybil (Jessica Findlay Brown), with her love of bohemia.

And if you want a sneak peek, the full-length trailer for the third season is here.

However, one of the loveliest things I've discovered that pertains to this gorgeous, glorious production is the floorplan of Downton Abbey, or Highclere Castle. I've found two of them but they're a little fuzzy, so forgive me for the quality. They will, however, allow you to follow the characters as they go from room to room, and although they appear to be slightly different (one is perhaps the lower ground floor and the other is perhaps the second floor?) they will offer a little more of an idea of the configuration of this beautiful castle.

Wishing you all a lovely weekend!


  1. Thank you for an enormously interesting post.

  2. Ooh, have been pondering what happens next as just finished watching season 2 last week. To say I'm looking forward to season 3 is an understatement. Thank goodness Matthew got the feeling back in his.......legs! Have a lovely weekend. Rx

  3. One of the plus sides of living in London was that I was able to enjoy the long awaited return of Downton on Sunday (though for the last month Parade's End has been equally as captivating, if a little more thought provoking). Given that the final episode of series 2 aired here at Christmas last year it has been a long wait...and personally, I loved Mary's dress...just as much as I loved the fact that she finally made it down the aisle with Matthew!

  4. Sunday nights are miserable since DA went in hiatus. I'm now forced to watch grainy b&w reruns of Melbourne's 1964 Grand Final win with you-know-who. Thank you for the little teaser & those glorious costumes. Yep, I was suitably impressed with Matthew's remarkable recovery too, & seeing off that sleazy media Baron was the highlight of the Season.
    Millie xx

  5. How can I possibly wait until January for Season 3 in the US?!

  6. loved the post...I just cant get into Downton Abbey, though those 20's clothes are the business(as they say on Bargain Hunt)

    No Chanel?...maybe Mary, Edith and Sybil prefer other designers.

  7. Oh I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed that opening episode and very fortuitous that I am in England for the 3rd series! Gorgeous clothes and countryside too. Perfect. x

  8. I just adore Downton Abbey and have been hoping it would run long enough for a season set in the twenties....will Mary ever wear a dress just above the knees...and just what will the Dowager Countess of Grantham have to say about that? Will the line top "What's a weekend"!

    I love your blog, thanks for taking the time.


  9. 20 minutes til episode 2! Exciting!

  10. Had hoped Shirley Mclaine would be as caustic as the dowager countess but she's disappointing me so far. They could have been such great sparring partners

  11. Brian von und zu ReberDecember 10, 2012 at 5:16 PM

    RE: the floorplans....

    the reason they are different is because they are of two different floors. the black & white plan is the ground floor (the entrance etc) & the color plan is of the floor directly above it, and shows the bedrooms, dressing rooms, bathrooms etc

  12. Brian von und zu ReberDecember 10, 2012 at 5:31 PM

    ADDENDUM: RE: the floorplans....

    i should add, the author of the article was definitely correct about one thing, both plans show the arrangement PRIOR to the remodeling that brought us what we see today. the main differences are the main staircase & the central main hall. the hall we see today shoots up through all the floors, while the central room shown in the plans is only as tall as the other rooms on the same floor (ie: each floor had it's own large central hall).

  13. Don't know how I missed this, but it's wonderful. I still miss DA. Have visited several National Trust properties where the square hall is surrounded by balcony like at Highclere and it reminds me of the series. Most of all I miss the clothes.


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