This weekend my mother and I went to see the Downton Abbey movie. My criteria these days for bothering to see something in the theaters generally is “will it be pretty and not too loud?” So, obviously this film was right up my alley. In fact, I’m not even going to bother talking about the plot. Because I am very much here just for the clothes.
Disclaimer: I don’t think I’m giving anything away that wasn’t obvious from the trailer, but if you like going into movies completely blind, proceed at your own risk.
Overall, I thought the film was well costumed. Production value on the TV show was always pretty high, but it was clear that the budget was increased for the film. It was very clear that a lot of hard work went into making the very detailed costumes. And there were lots of costumes.
The servants clothing seemed fairly unchanged. This really helped it feel like the film was in the the same world as the series. There was a lot of black, but each person wore it in a slightly different way, reflecting their rank and personality. There were some opportunities to see new and fancier livery later in the film, which was fun (and defiantly reflected the high budget of film vs TV). We got a few glimpses of some of them in street clothes, which were carefully calibrated to be both visually interesting and decidedly not as fancy as those worn above stairs.
However, my favorite part was the purposefully slightly-too-snug fit on all of Carson’s clothes. Something about the way his jackets just barely buttoned really charmed me. I mean, look at the photo below. I could totally believe that he had put on a few pounds after his retirement and hadn’t quite managed to admit it to himself yet.
Upstairs, the women spent a lot of time changing. There were so many different costumes that I completely lost count. Even with that, characters still had defined styles. Lady Mary’s outfits were always a little bit sharper and higher contrast than those worn by her sister. I love it because it works for their coloring and for their personalities equally well. Lady Edith was in a lot of soft blues, greens, and browns which look gorgeous on the actress and fit with the character.
While most of the women were dressed in fashionable late 1920s styles, there were a few exceptions. The wealthy older women, like the Dowager Countess Violet, had clothing that, while obviously very high quality, was a definitely out of fashion. This was a great way to visually distinguish them from the rest of the cast and it suggests that they are in a way beyond the reach of fashion. It may be a bit of an exaggeration on the costume designers part (I mean that outfit below is at least a decade older than what anyone else is wearing in that scene), but this is fiction. The important part is that the difference is dramatic enough to register even without a fashion history background.
One thing all the upstairs women had in common though was headwear. And I’m not referring to the (many delightful) hats here. No, it was the tiaras. There were so many tiaras. So, so many. And I am totally here for it. I started to gather photos but there were just too many. By the time I walked out I was surprised to find one hadn’t spontaneously appeared on my head. I’m now trying to remember where I stashed the rhinestone headband I bought a few years ago when for some reason the New York Times decided business tiaras were a thing.
As for the upstairs men, it was all grey and brown three piece suits for day and black tie for evenings. Though if you looked closely, each man had his own little twist on the look. My favorite to watch is always Tom, who seems to alway be wearing the least formal option that is appropriate for the occasion. It’s a narrow line to walk and it’s done well here.
We also get a few brief looks at some children’s clothing. It was all very adorable and appropriate, but I was so distracted looking at everything else that I didn’t pay them too much attention. I am, however, very much here for that tiny sweater vest.
This film also had a couple of nice little gifts in it for fashion nerds like me. My favorite was early on, when the ladies maid to the queen haughtily informs Anna that she was trained by Lucille. The Lucille she’s referring to can be none other than Lady Duff Gordon, an internationally successful late 19th and early 20th century dressmaker who was also known as being one of the survivors of the titanic. This may be a stretch, but it could be a call back to the very first episode where the family learns that the heir to Downton has died in that same disaster.
The other fashion history easter egg I noticed is the pleated blue dress Lady Mary wears. The tiny pleats and glass beads down the side are clearly meant to look like a Fortuney Delphos Dress. If you’re not familiar, Google Arts and Culture has a nice overview. These dresses were originally designed to be worn at home as a tea gown when they were first introduced in 1909. However, by the 1920s they were worn as evening wear. The exact method used to create the pleating has been lost, so the examples that remain are all stored twisted to maintain their shape.
I really enjoyed the costuming and the film in general. There was only one subplot where I wanted to throw something at the screen, and that is pretty good for me. I also got the impression that the cast had fun. The possibility of a sequel has been floated (warning this article has spoilers) and I for one would totally go see it. Because sometimes my idea of self care is spending two hours looking at pretty people in pretty clothes.
Note: All images in this post were shamelessly downloaded from IMDB.com and are quite obviously not mine. Credit has been given where known. I believe that use in this post is covered under fair use, but obviously I’m not willing to get into a fight about it and if asked the photos will be removed.