If you’re anything like me, you sometimes get a little distracted while watching Downton Abbey.
It’ll be the middle of an important scene, full of subtle dramatic tension and all of a sudden, you realize that you’ve completely tuned out the dialogue because you’re studying one of the character’s outfit so closely.
You get lost in a sea of dropped waist dresses, intricate beading and gorgeous hats. And you’re also probably thinking, “Is there some way I can get away with dressing like I just stepped off of a sprawling Edwardian estate?”
The answer, thankfully, is yes. Well, sort of.
You may not want to go whole hog period fashion, or you might risk looking costumey, but there are certainly ways you can incorporate the style into what you wear every day.
Color Me Softly
When it comes to a color palette, if you want to fit in at Downton, you should stick to soft shades. Think colors like dusty rose, pale mint, creams, grays, lavender, and light blues. The overall effect you’re going for is delicately feminine, so stick to muted tones as opposed to vibrant ones. You do sometimes see the Crawley ladies in more saturated colors, but that’s only for formal occasions, and only once in a while.
Art Deco Details
The Art Deco design movement can clearly be seen in the fashion of Downton Abbey. Everything from the jewelry to the details on dresses is inspired by the symmetrical, geometric elements seen in things like the stained glass, furniture and architecture of the time period.
Art Deco in fashion and design can be summed up by the phrase “modern glamour.” Gone were the floral brocades and frills of their mother’s and grandmother’s day. There was definitely sparkle and glitz, but it was well balanced by the angular and abstract shapes seen in embroidery and beading in dresses. As for jewelry, look for long, multi-stranded necklaces, filigree, cameos, pearls, and geometric shapes.
Straight & Narrow
In the Victorian era of fashion, which just preceded theirs, the silhouette was a highly exaggerated curvy, feminine one – it was all about the corset, the bustle, big sleeves, and emphasizing the bosom and the behind. You can still see vestiges of this aesthetic in the clothes of the one and only Dowager Countess, whose wardrobe hails from her heyday.
This starkly contrasts the straight, tubular silhouette that became popular during this time. No longer were women being forced into unnatural shapes…and they could even start wearing pants! To capture the simple elegance of Lady Mary and the rest, opt for low-waist or empire-waist dresses with long hemlines and modest necklines. This era of fashion was gorgeous, to be sure, but not overtly sexy.
It’s All In Your Head
A big part of capturing the Crawley look is the hair and headpieces. Fun and kind of gross fact: It was common for ladies to add extra volume to updos by inserting a ball of their own hair collected from hairbrushes. Here are a few hairstyles that were de rigueur:
· The low side chignon
· Finger waves
· Updos with soft curls
Hats and hair accessories were also a serious part of fashion then. At the time, women would hardly be seen out of doors without a hat. On Downton we see several styles, but the most popular shape is undoubtedly the lovely cloche, a minimal shape that closely hugs the head, is worn a little jauntily and ends just above the brow.
But when it’s time for something a little fancier, go for dressier pieces that feature beading, feathers, birdcage veils, lace, and flower embellishments. You should also try sparkly headbands, vintage-style combs and barrettes and very subtle little tiaras or beaded bands that go across the forehead.
One of the most beautiful aspects of this time in fashion was the sheer overlay dresses. We often see the ladies wearing frocks that have a solid layer in one of the muted colors mentioned above and then a sheer one on top, creating a lovely, ethereal effect.
The sheer layer was commonly black or gray and was where we see some of the most jaw-dropping and intricate beading and embroidery. It was also common to have the under layer cover less than the overlay, allowing the modest ladies to show a little leg, arm or cleavage without scandalizing their poor granny.
It’s no surprise that the fashion of the Downton Abbey days is making a comeback. It’s not just how much we’ve come to love the characters either. The style embodies a beautiful and restrained elegance we don’t see much these days, but by incorporating a few of these tips into your personal style, you can channel this bygone beauty every day.
About the Author
Nicole Betti is a style writer who is passionately committed to vintage-inspired fashion. Her special passion, though, is hats and fascinators. This love led her to open Gold Coast Couture, an online accessory boutique that specializes in designer hats. Nicole also frequently writes for several online style publications. To see more, visit www.GoldcoastCouture.com