Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Day at Downton Abbey - Part 1

Lady Sybil's garden party dress
I was going to try to do this in one post, but two days later, I still can't get my head clear from seeing the Downton costumes at Winterthur, so I'm just going to take my time here and show as many costumes and details as need to be shared.

Considering I took the camera off the charger that morning, and it died as I took my last photo that day, I think that says something.  It says something like 210 photos is what it says.

But there's something to be said for a costume exhibit without ropes, without wires, without invisible alarms that go off and scare you half to death when all you're trying to do is lean in a little closer to see how something was constructed.  I nearly got tossed out of the Met in NYC years ago when I set off one too many alarm at the Paul Poiret exhibit.

I always loved this Lady Mary dress.
The Downton exhibit was set up really well -- it started with a nicely staged servants' area, with Mrs. Hughes, Thomas and a day maid's uniform, then went on to the girls' garden party dresses from season 1 (the party where war was declared), then turned to more afternoon wear, menswear, and finally (and most gloriously) the evening section, including Matthew's tails and Lady Mary's dress from the engagement scene, set in front of a video of that scene running on a loop, and falling snowflakes projected on the walls.

Nice touch, but even after spending 15 minutes in that section, I think I know every syllable of the scene by heart.  How the poor woman who works in the Downton exhibit gift shop manages, I'll never know.

And Lady Mary's engagement dress?  Not all that much.  Probably my least favorite dress in the entire exhibit.  The explanation said they wanted a fairly simple dress, so as not to take away from the intensity of the scene, but really?  Matthew and Mary finally getting themselves together, outside, at night, in the snow?  She could have worn something a bit more dramatic and I don't think we'd have noticed one bit.

Very nice use of stripes, and I love the lace
at the neckline.
Speaking of noticing, the best part of the exhibit for me was seeing all the details that I never noticed on TV.  I've watched most of the series several times, but like the costumes on Game of Thrones (have you ever seen closeups of those costumes? You must!), things just move too quickly, or aren't lit to be examined the way I would like to.

Interesting closure - down the bodice front, along
the belt and then snaps down the skirt.  
The exhibit made up for that.

Somehow I didn't managed to take photos of each grouping (though I thought I did), but in this first section you have Mary and Sybil's garden party dresses, with a wall-size photo of the scene and some of the script on the wall beside it.

I loved how much vintage is integrated into the costumes.  A few (I believe Sybil's dress here is an example) are mostly vintage, but obviously the lace on Mary's neckline is as well, and certainly they were watching their p's and q's with that appropriate method of closure on Mary's dress.  I would have been so upset to see a sneaky hidden zipper in a side seam.

The frightening thing, though was a card explaining that the costumers only have 7 weeks to construct all the costumes for a season.  I'm picturing a total sweatshop here -- I'm sure they're thrilled that costumes get re-used from season to season; it saves them some work.

Next up, the Mauve Decade, or Mary and Cora's partial mourning dresses from Little Sybbie's christening.


Leigh in Portland (we are not burning down) said...

Post as many pics as you have! I love the Downton costumes and and green with envy that you've seen them in person. Can't wait to see more.

badmomgoodmom said...

I saw The Marriage of Figaro and Central City (CO) Opera this month. CCO purchased some of the 1920s costumes from Downton Abbey b/c DA had moved into the 1930s and DA needed to clear the racks. I took some pictures and will blog about them shortly.

I saw an exhibit of movie/TV costumes at the Classic Turner Movies Festival in 2012. The exhibitors said that handwork had mostly been moved overseas to India. That's why there is a resurgence of costume dramas. For a time, it had gotten too expensive to build costumes in the US and UK, so they stopped making costume dramas. Once they figured out how to work with factories in India, they could make costume dramas again on a budget the studios are willing to pay. Sigh.