Dressing Downton, Season 4 Episode 1

Let’s not kid ourselves: sartorially speaking, this was Edith’s episode. Our favourite neglected sister is really nailing it, style-wise, isn’t she? We’ll get to that. First, let’s check in with a few of the other Downton folks.


Downton at this point is still a house in mourning, which means everyone (well, the ladies, anyway) is, for the most part, still garbed in appropriate mourning colours of black, purples, and greys:

downton4-14 downton4-145These prolonged mourning periods were a leftover from the Victorian era (in which widows would wear mourning for years) and were close to being on the way out, but since Matthew was  a fairly close relative, it makes sense that the family would still be showing their respect some months later.

And then, there are the women who were closest to him, who are both determined to stay in deepest, darkest mourning for as long as possible:

downton4-15 downton4-19Even the lighting around them makes them look gloomy. Socially, this was to be expected. A mother and a wife would have been expected to more deeply mourn a loss than, say, a mother-in-law would. But with these two ladies, the grief has become oppressive. In Isobel’s house, pictures and mirrors are actually draped in black for most of the episode (which was a very Victorian thing to do). Mary’s gloom has actually started taking over Downton: the first shot is of the place all dark, wrapped in a damp mist. She carries it with her everywhere, wandering about like a particularly creepy wraith. In the scene with Edith on the stairs, which is so uncomfortable it made me squirm, she’s also shot from a low angle, making her appear larger and even a bit menacing.

downton4-18That’s what her grief is like for these people. It’s looming over them all.

This is Mary, though, and somehow she manages to make even widow’s garb look sexy:

downton4-130 downton4-142She’s showing a fair bit of skin, but remember that the scenes where she wore this dress–at dinner, when she was feeling picked on and raw, and later when she apologises to Carson and cries–were places in the story where she was showing her vulnerability, instead of the brittle exterior she’s been hiding behind. She feels exposed, and the costume illustrates that.

But eventually, you have to move on, and close to the end of the episode, we’re starting to see more colour and more style. Violet shows up for dinner in a very dark red, while Edith, still sticking to mourning-approved purple, has adopted a lovely shade of lavender and an extremely stylish dress.

downton4-134Even Mary eventually unbends and puts her black aside in favour of a lighter mourning colour:

downton4-143 downton4-144And I think it’s worth noting that in that last shot she’s positioned right behind a nice, bright, cheery yellow bouquet, which suggests she’ll start to pull herself out of her gloom soon and possibly look into a brighter future.

Just a quick word about Violet, while I’m on the subject of the family. She’s an excellent illustration of how many people, at a certain point in their lives, simply stop following fashion. Consider: it’s 1922. And she’s wearing this:

downton4-124That would have been old-fashioned looking even a decade before. But ladies of a certain age and a certain income would be clinging to these sorts of styles–that lace jabot, the little cocked hat–for many years to come. The woman’s a great-grandmother who came of age in the 1860s, she’s not going to be wearing loose-fitting 20’s styles. Not only would they look a little ridiculous (even Cora would consider such styles too young for her) they were simply too radical for someone who spent 90% of her life in the corset and floor-length-skirt era. Violet’s costumes lately have been reminiscent of Queen Mary’s clothes during the same period. Behold:

elisabeth_maryQuite the contrast, wouldn’t you say?

Even Violet’s friend, who’s a bit younger, is somewhat out of fashion, though a bit less than Violet is:

downton4-137That hat (which is pretty fun, I have to admit) and that lacy-top-jacket combo are right out of the Edwardian period. They would have been right at home in the show’s first season, but here, they illustrate that these ladies are rather out of step with the faster-moving world.

You know who isn’t?

Edith. Who would have thought that the frumpy Crawley kid would turn out to be such a clotheshorse? At Downton, she sticks to the proscribed purples, but when she gets to escape to London, it’s a whole other story.

downton4-121That coat is simply gorgeous and the patterning on it is very of-the-moment (which is the case with most of her clothes). It’s still black, but that edging really dresses it up. If you’re watching the show, also note how she steps off the Downton train into gloom and literally steps into the light as she meets up with Michael and heads out into the city. She’s in a much happier place.

She’s making her own money now, and going to London frequently, so it makes sense that she’d now be the most fashionable member of the family. Judging from the size of her miniscule suitcase, I’m guessing she used this trip to stock up on a few things, since the outfits she subsequently wears are so stylish it’s like she nabbed them right off a ca 1922 runway.

Also, she and Michael go nicely together, colour-wise, no?

downton4-125 downton4-126Damn, girl! Edith is not messing around. This is an outfit you wear to get noticed, which makes sense, considering it’s a party given in her honour where she gets to meet London’s literati. A party thrown by Michael, no less, and although she knows she doesn’t have to really do anything to get his attention at this point, that doesn’t mean she’s just giving up. This is almost certainly a brand-new dress–the slightly wild patterning, the cut, and that headscarf accessory are so pure 20’s you wouldn’t have to even be watching the show or know what’s going on to be able to place the time period, just based on these pictures alone. This is an unusual colour for her–I don’t know that we’ve ever seen Edith wearing red before. Certainly not such a bright, scarlet colour, which is fitting in a scene where she’s rather teasingly talking about ‘living in sin’ with Michael, who’s considerably less jokey about the possibility.

But Edith was saving the best for last:

downton4-139downton4-140 tumblr_mtkhyqqJGy1rfco8go4_r1_250Ho-ly crap. Talk about a dress to get noticed in. And she does. Michael practically falls out of his chair when he sees her. Hell, I almost fell off the couch. Consider, for a moment, that back in season 1, she was dressing like this:

downton4-147Like she raided an 8-year-old’s wardrobe. Even as recently as last season this was her go-to dressy dress:

downton4-149It’s not bad, but neither the cut nor the colour do much for her. But that peacock dress she wore out to dinner? Yowza. That intricate bodice, the flowing, slit skirt–that was a daring dress, even for London at the time. We almost certainly won’t see her wearing this at Downton anytime soon (though I’d love to see the look on her father’s face if she did). The great thing is, Laura Carmichael could wear this dress to a red-carpet event today and would probably get applause for it. It’s a fairly timeless style, and it suits her far better than the fussier Edwardian styles did. Also, take a closer look at the second picture, with her and Michael sitting at the table. The lighting behind the bar actually picks up on the colour of her dress, as do the golds splashed all over the room. She belongs here, in this world, where she can be more daring and more modern, in a way she doesn’t belong in the rather staid, old-fashioned world of Downton, which I have to say, is starting to look increasingly dull and silly compared with London.

So I’m calling it: it’s time for Edith to get her own spinoff.

Just a quick glance at the boys before we head downstairs:

downton4-13Very nearly a matched pair. Looks like Tom’s taking to being a peripheral member of the upper classes quite well. I love the kelly green tie, though. You can take the boy out of Ireland, but you can’t take Ireland out of the boy.


There’s not a huge amount to say about the downstairs folk this week, since most of them never got out of their servant drag, but here goes.

First, a bit of contrast between upstairs/downstairs:

downton4-11Violet’s clothes may be unfashionable, but they’re undoubtedly expensive and well made. Old Molesley’s clothes are substantial, thick, serviceable, and a fairly dull earthy-brown. The clothes of a working man, which is exactly what he is. A reasonably comfortable working man, but a working man nonetheless. And he passed along his fashion sense to his son:

downton4-133Pretty much perfectly matched. Two characters connected through their clothes.

downton4-127Fairly standard nanny wear for the period. Nannies’ uniforms changed very little from the late-Victorian up into the mid-20th century. Mary Poppins all the way.

downton4-17Ethel’s gotten quite a bit more stylish, which makes sense, seeing as how she’s become a lady’s maid. The cloche hat and that style of jacket were very early 20’s. And of course the coat’s red, because she’s a scarlet woman (certainly by the standards of the day).

downton4-135Like Old Molesley, Ivy’s clothes are serviceable, sturdy, and made to be long-lasting. Kitchen maids made very little money, so she’s not exactly rushing out to buy the latest thing. The lace on the front of her blouse is thick, not the delicate stuff favoured by the ladies upstairs, who could just replace theirs if it got torn. The hat and jacket are both pretty plain, though I would have thought she’d have trimmed the hat herself or something, to look a little more stylish. Then again, another thing kitchen maids had very little of was time. Keep in mind, these were probably the best clothes she owned. She was going out with her crush, so of course she’d wear her prettiest outfit. Shame the evening ended the way it did.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about Mrs Hughes other than the fact that she’s looking frumpier and more buttoned up than ever, to me:

downton4-16Talk about someone who’s not interested in adopting newer fashions. I think she’s actually still wearing costumes from season 1. And while it makes sense for someone with as little pocket money as Ivy to rewear things year after year after year, a housekeeper got a fairly decent wage (plus room and board), so Hughes could certainly have splashed out on herself at some point. But it just doesn’t interest her. I think she feels that part of her life is over; she pretty definitively shut the door on it when she refused that farmer’s proposal, nearly ten years before (in show time). She’s a professional, and she dresses like a housekeeper. All. The. Time.

And finally, Carson’s old music-hall partner, Charlie:

downton4-138Just to get a sense of contrast, this is what Charlie looked like the last time we saw him:

downton4-150 downton4-151Flashy, to be sure (he is a theatre bloke, after all), but also fairly natty. He looks like he could have wandered over to Boardwalk Empire and fit right in. But times tend to be a bit tough on aging entertainers, as he found out the hard way. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see if he’s actually reformed, or if Isobel’s about to lose all of her silver.

2 thoughts on “Dressing Downton, Season 4 Episode 1

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.