For an episode that turned out (for me, anyway) to be a tad dull, we have a lot of ground to cover, costume-wise. First, our season’s signature colours of blue and blush pink seriously worked their asses off this episode. They were everywhere, even in the crowd scenes:
Second, I found it interesting that, in an episode where the Americans landed and a bit of the story involved the clash between the old and the new worlds, red (or shades thereof), white, and blue dominated. A trio that could relate to either America or Great Britain.
Blue, which increasingly became the colour of conflict throughout the season, came to the forefront this episode, which makes sense, because there was a fair bit of fighting going on, even in a very genteel way.
Let’s start off with Cora. I noted in previous recaps that Cora wears blue quite a lot, despite the fact that she’s a pretty placid woman and rarely seems to have arguments with anyone (beyond occasional disagreements with her husband). But this episode really brought home to me the fact that this is a woman who lives in constant conflict between her two families: her American family, which clearly loathes the British upper classes (which makes me wonder why her mother brought Cora over for a season in London to begin with) and her English husband, children, and in-laws. Hence, all of her blue: Her eldest daughter’s storyline is now almost entirely about her inability to choose between two wealthy, well-bred, good-looking suitors (talk about your first world problems), so it’s not surprising that she also wears a fair bit of blue this episode.
At the evening reception she sort of had to invite both men to:
Edith, living in her own private hell and questioning her recent choices over the adoption of her child, wears a really sombre shade, appropriately:
She’s worn that first dress before, in the scene where Violet convinces her that adopting the baby abroad is the best thing to do. It’s fitting it should show back up in another scene with Violet, where she’s still trying to convince Edith she did the right thing.
Rosamond, who’s one of the few family members right smack in the middle of this babydrama, also wears blue when it comes up:
She, too, has worn the first dress: in the scene where she warned Edith that sleeping with Michael could have dire consequences. And now she’s wearing it again as they face the implications of those consequences.
Isobel and Violet both wear blue for a road trip that immediately starts off with bickering:
The first time she meets the Prince, Rose is wearing blue, which connects her with both the Prince of Wales (who’s wearing a blue sash) and Freda, in a blue-green dress–the two other players in the upcoming conflict over the letter.
Aside from a couple of brief forays into blue territory, Rose spends almost the entire episode in pink–either the rosy blush pink she’s started to favour or, at the very end, in an eye-catching hot pink befitting someone who’s supposed to be the centre of attention at a party in her honour. Even her court presentation dress is, somewhat unusually for a deb, a pale shade of pink.
By the way, it’s not actually a costuming mistake for her to be in pink for her court presentation. White was more common for unmarried young ladies, but pale colours were also acceptable. It was not acceptable, however, to appear without a train that was at least three yards in length. Neither Cora nor Rose have such a train. That’s a no-no.
The style of dress Rose wears both for her presentation and for her ball–that 18th century side-hooped silhouette–was having a moment in the early 1920s, having been introduced by dressmaker to the aristocrats Lucile back during the war years. Lucile, AKA Lady Duff Gordon, was a popular couturier in London during the first 30 years or so of the 20th century. You may recall that she’s named as having designed Edith’s wedding dress. She was also a Titanic survivor. Before long, this look would be picked up by Lanvin as well. It makes sense that for her debut season, when she’ll be looked at and probably photographed quite a lot, Rose’s wealthy family would make sure she’s in the very latest thing, even if it is terribly unflattering.
Typically throughout the season, pink has been used to denote love, whether a crush or maternal love. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with Rose, in this episode. I think her love of pink and blue is denoting how childlike she is. Those are baby colours, and Rose certainly doesn’t exhibit a great deal of maturity. She dated (and nearly married) a man to shock her family, adopted a new persona at a lower-class dance, dashed away to a dance club last season, and giggles childishly at a love letter. Let’s take a look at these pictures:
The other character who wears pink the most is Edith, and in her case I do think it denotes maternal love, because that’s what she’s focusing on throughout the episode.
Another re-wear. She wore this dress and hat previously when she told Rosamond about her pregnancy. She’s setting off down the path that will possibly lead to her getting her daughter back, so it’s a fitting reappearance (in her case, maternal pink is also appropriate since she had a little girl). The colour also connects her to her grandmother, who’s also in a pinkish shade, though her clothes are more garish. Martha’s been supportive of Edith in the past–she told Robert to back off regarding Anthony Strallen’s suit, remember–so it’s nice to see them drawn together through colour here.
An evening dress from the past shows up again:
I’m actually shocked that this dress reappeared. She first trotted it out during the Downton House party, which Michael attended. You’d think it would have brought up some sad memories, but maybe that’s why she’s so downcast. It’s also a pretty sexy dress, which is out of step with what she wears most of the rest of the episode: Quite buttoned up and covered up. That last dress is interesting, because it’s super modern and quite a departure for her. It’s obviously one of the brand-new things she bought in London (she mentioned picking up some new dresses at the beginning of the episode) as the abstract patterning and shape of it are very up-to-the minute. But it’s a rather sad dress, isn’t it? So dark and heavy, with that mock turtleneck, and she doesn’t look all that comfortable in it. Of course, she’s not all that comfortable in anything, including her own skin right now, so that’s fitting.
In her last moments on the show, when she’s talking to Farmer Drew about him taking her child in, she’s dressed in both maternal pink and conflict blue:
If Rose’s colour is pink, then her friend Madeline’s is most definitely white. Madeline wears white almost all the time:
The white and gold of the court presentation dress tie her tightly to her surroundings–she clearly belongs in this world, and this place. But her pale colours also tie her to Harold, who wears lighter suits quite a lot:
Red pops up quite frequently throughout the episode, in dresses, ties, and accessories. Also, here:
The Crawley arms, on the left, are black and red. The Crawley women, Mary especially, have historically shown a fondness for red. And this episode, when Mary wears this dress to try and filch that letter:
Green had a bit of a supporting role this episode. At the first party, when Madeline’s father launches her at Harold, she’s wearing a green dress, the colour of money. Not just any money: American dollars.
This outfit is so incredibly OTT it’s actually kind of hilarious. She’s dripping with heavy, expensive jewellry, and that headband/tiara-like thing is so gaudy it’s somewhat ridiculous. Considering her contempt for the British aristocracy, I think she dressed that way on purpose, to mock them. But she may as well have been running around the room waving $100 bills under Lord Aysgarth’s nose.
Speaking of Aysgarth and amusing moments, I was rather entertained by the fact that he dressed in red, white, and blue for their picnic later:
Shall we talk about the Americans for a little?
Everyone in this episode is a bit more dressed up than usual, which is to be expected. They’re in the city, going out and being seen, so they’d want to put on a show. In the countryside, it matters less what you wear. But in most scenes, one look at Harold and Martha and you instantly know who doesn’t really belong. Their clothes are far flashier; their wealth more prominently on show than the more subdued Brits. Consider the first outfits we see them in:
Martha’s in a brightly coloured silk, which is not at all practical for travelling in, with an eye-catching hat with a big feather. This is not a woman who has to worry about taking care of her own clothes. Nor is she someone who’s afraid of being the centre of attention. In fact, she kind of seeks that position out.
Harold’s clothes, especially his overcoat, have ‘new money’ written all over them. You’d never see one of the Downton men in a coat this flash, with that expensive fur collar. Keep in mind, it’s summertime. Edith’s wearing a fairly light jacket and Mary just went floating out in a chiffon dress. Fur is totally not called for, based solely on the weather. It’s just there to make it obvious how rich he is, and also how out of place.
Another thing about the Americans that this episode likes to show is how very modern and laid back they are. At the picnic, Harold’s lounging around on the grass with his jacket off, unlike the other adults, who are all primly seated at the table, still buttoned up:
This might be pushing the point too hard, actually. It almost certainly wouldn’t have been appropriate for Harold to be sitting around with his jacket off in the presence of ladies, particularly a young lady he barely knew. Remember what I said about Michael dining in his shirtsleeves at home with Edith. You can be sure Violet would have had a few words to say on that account.
Also, remember how I remarked that Violet and most of the other ladies of her acquaintance were dressing at least 10 years out of style? That definitely isn’t Martha’s problem:
She might be dressing even more fashionably than Cora, and she definitely puts Violet’s late-1890s look to shame. This woman has money to burn and travels a lot. I’ll bet she stocks up on the latest thing in Paris every time she comes over.
A few quick words before we turn to the Downstairs folk.
Brown has apparently become the official suit colour of the countryside:
On an unrelated note, Merton’s a silver fox and Isobel really should snap him up.
Just for fun, a look at Robert in his regimentals:
They really got the costuming and styling of George V and Queen Mary spot on. Aside from the Prince of Wales, we can only take a stab at who the others on the podium are: The woman in pink next to the prince may have been the only daughter of the family, Princess Mary, Viscountess Lascelles. The man in naval uniform just behind the queen is most likely Albert, Duke of York, the future King George VI. He married Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in April 1923, so the woman next to him with the feathered fan could very well be her.
1923 crowd shot:
As I said in the recap, I’m not sure I really buy that this many people would be lining up to watch a bunch of rich girls drive past, but it’s fun to look at them anyway. They’re all quite fashionable, but then, these are Londoners. How about that newspaperman front and centre, with the stereotypical fedora and brown overcoat?
Not unexpectedly, we had a brief run-in with Sarah Bunting, that nice teacher from Downton Village, whom Branson has somehow been managing to dodge for about a year now.
She’s worn that dress before, when she was helping to set up the bazaar in the last episode. It makes sense that she’d rewear her clothes for quite a while–she’s a teacher and doesn’t make that much money. Everyone on this show recycles costumes, even the wealthy. What’s interesting about this is that it’s green, which yes, can signify money but can also signify hope and new life, which I think is more the point here (Edith also wears a spring green dress in the scene where she decides she’s going to bring her daughter back to England). Also, as an Irishman, green would have a certain significance to Tom. Also, when she wore the dress before, it was in a scene where Tom got to show her that not all aristocrats are stuck up. But in this scene she gets quite the opposite message, as Violet rolls up in her huge car to make a big deal about how she’s on her way to Buckingham Palace. One step forward, one step back.
In other news, the servants actually got to go out for a while! Yes, it’s time for the annual Christmas Special Outing, this time, to the seaside, and this is what they wore:
How hilarious is it that the men are still wearing suits to the beach? And Molesley still has his waistcoat all buttoned up? To be fair, though, beachwear wasn’t yet a common thing; certainly not amongst the lower classes. Middle and upper class people could put on linen and seersucker, but servants had to make do with their regular old off-time suits.
Well, most of them did.
Ethan might be awkward, but he’s one natty dresser. As with the upstairs Americans, his clothes here clearly set him apart from the Brits. The slightly more casual, patterned knitted vest, those rather flashy shoes, the jaunty bow tie…just compare him with the other men in the scene. I could actually see someone wearing this outfit, or at least something quite like it, today.
The ladies, lucky for them, were less confined to stifling woolens and used this opportunity to show off some nice outfits (for the most part).
Here’s Baxter in conflict blue, telling Thomas to shove off and then thanking Molesley for his support:
And it’s totally cute! And in love pink for a scene where she acknowledges that Ethan likes her (though she’s not quite that into him). How appropriate! I mentioned in another recap that Daisy probably didn’t really have the time to go all the way to Ripon to shop for new clothes, which is why she’s been wearing the same outfit in her off time for years now. But she undoubtedly took the opportunity while she was in London (urged on by Patmore, no doubt) to update her wardrobe a bit. And she’s not the only one:
Others, however, aren’t about to change their look no matter what.
That’s the same blouse Patmore bought to go to the fair in last year’s Christmas episode. She’s pretty settled in her ways right now, and she’s not about to go racing around to pick up the latest thing. And let’s face it, the latest in early 1920s fashions wouldn’t really suit her very well anyway. She’s sticking with what works. The pink colour also ties her to Daisy, her eternally loyal protégé.
That’s the same rather tragic dress she wore to the thé dansant with Rose. And although the shoes are a different colour, they’re pretty much the same as the horrible ones she wore then too. Look, I like Anna, but there is honestly no excuse for her to dress this way. She’s a ladies’ maid; she should have some kind of eye for fashion. And what adult woman wears flat Mary Janes anyway? Take a look at Baxter, who’s at least a decade or so older than Anna and is dressing a woman a full generation older than Anna’s boss. From what we can see of her getup, it’s quite lovely. Mary’s a fashionable young woman, so why is Anna dressing like such a frump? I’m surprised we don’t see her in Mary’s castoffs (wealthy women often passed along dresses they no longer wore to their maids, and Mary’s clearly done this in the past–in the cricket episode, Anna’s wearing a former dress of Mary’s). Anna, you’re a lovely young woman–have some fun and step it up!
And back to the subject of people who aren’t about to change their style:
These two could certainly afford new clothes (if Daisy and Ivy can, the housekeeper and butler can), they just can’t be bothered. Carson’s still wearing that same suit from season one, and if it’s the only one he has, no wonder he’s worried about getting it wet (can you imagine sitting around wet wool? Uck). Hughes, like Patmore, probably isn’t well suited to 20’s styles, and she’s fairly set in her ways. She’s not trying to attract anyone or follow fashion trends, she just wants to be comfortable. And you know what? That’s ok. (All right, maybe I’m being too hard on Anna. Maybe that’s just a super comfortable dress).
That’s all for this year’s edition of Dressing Downton. I hope to be back with this again when Downton returns (presumably) in the fall. Until then, let me know what you think in the comments and I hope to see you again!
Images courtesy period.grande-caps.net