Dressing Downton: Season 4, Episode 2

We have colour again! Now that most of the household has moved past the 6-month mourning period, they get to wear clothes that don’t make you want to fall asleep in your pudding. True, Cora, Mary, and Isabel are still working the blacks and lilacs, but everyone else gets to branch out a little. Thank god.

Upstairs

Like I said, Mary’s starting to ease a little style back into her wardrobe–both of her evening dresses had red in them, which has traditionally been a colour she’s favoured, so it looks like she’s getting her mojo back to some extent. But she does need to be careful, because she’s starting to be costumed in a way that’s drawing direct lines between her and Violet:

downton2-4 downton2-29downton2-9Now, obviously Violet’s dinner dress is decidedly more old fashioned, but the devil’s in the details here. Both dresses pair a subdued red with black netting and intricate beading. This trend continues later, when both women just happen to wear dark purple colours in the exact same scene:

downton2-13 downton2-14To some extent, this does make sense. Aside from Isobel (whose middle-class status kind of sets her apart from these two both socially and sartorially), they’re the only two widows on the show. Violet comes from a generation that believed widows should dress like widows for the rest of their lives, no matter how old they were when their husbands died. It’s unlikely that Mary will cling to the lilacs quite that long, but she’s got to be careful not to become a frump. And I hate to say it, but that’s a very real possibility. She’s a beautiful woman, but 1920s styles aren’t suiting her well at all. That heavy hair in a low chignon, the somewhat shapeless dresses–not good. She was a glorious Edwardian beauty, but while Edith’s embraced the 20s aesthetic perfectly, Mary’s floundering. Not terribly surprising, considering this is the woman who’s dressing Mary and doing her hair:

downton2-5Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Anna, but she’s not hip. Not even the teensiest bit. Consider how uptight she was at that the dansant with Rose. It’s not an accident that her hair and Mary’s are styled just the same. Even Cora, who’s a full generation older, looks more fashionable than these two.

downton2-8That front-draped shawl detail and the simple, long necklace are much more on point than most of what Mary’s wearing nowadays. But then, she has a maid who actually trained as a maid (and a hairstylist), whereas Anna was promoted from housemaid to ladies’ maid, which was a bit unusual at the time, especially without some kind of additional training.

Let’s talk about the fun gals, shall we?

downton2-7We have Edith, who’s London-hip, and Rose, who’s young and probably more into fashion than some of the older ladies. Though even she’s not quite as at ease in these clothes as Edith is. Rose is still clinging to some older aristocratic notions of dressing–heavier fabrics (and that frontpiece looks a lot like the front of every dress Violet wears) and a tiara-like hair ornament. Edith’s favouring ethereal fabrics and simpler adornments, like that head scarf. Both look beautiful in their colours, though, and provide a bit of a counterpoint to Mary, still heavy in darks.

downton2-10Well, look at that, the first sighting of a woman in trousers at Downton! True, they’re pyjama trousers, but still, that was pretty ahead of the time in the early 1920s, so it signifies Rose’s youth, as well as her wealth (she has the money to stay on-trend). PJs were introduced as loungewear for men in the 17th century, coming from India and Pakistan, where such garments were worn by both sexes, but they didn’t really become fashionable until the late 19th century, and again, they were only for men. It wasn’t until the early 20s, when Coco Chanel introduced her lounging pyjamas, that they became acceptable clothing for women. Still, this contrasts Rose considerably with the older women at Downton–both Mary and Cora are seen in sleepwear that’s downright prim (dainty long nightgowns and kimono-style silk robes) and looks almost exactly like what they wore to bed back in season 1.

Rose’s youthful exuberance is on show this week, and it’s thanks to her and her desperation to get the hell out of Downton for a bit that we get to visit the other side of the tracks for a little while. Of course, even while she’s pretending to be a parlourmaid, she can’t really hide who she is, and who she is is a rich girl out slumming.

0ea89f53ee2129c4f23c7dc916d3e384 anna-rose downton2-20Talk about a study in contrasts. Look at what she’s wearing, and look at Anna’s clothes. Or, look at the clothes of the woman in blue the middle picture. Rose’s outfit is clearly well made, fitted to her body, with a modern print and in a thin, delicate fabric which would have been very difficult to keep clean in the days before dry cleaning. Anna’s outfit is…pretty tragic by comparison, if we’re being honest. It’s made of sturdier stuff, so it can be washed more easily, but it also appears to be rumpled and ill fitting, which is just odd. One of the ladies’ maids perks was getting hand-me-downs from their employer, but there’s no way Mary ever wore that. More likely, Anna bought this ready made, probably through a catalogue, and just had to deal with the fit. Though, considering the fact that part of a ladies’ maid’s job was looking good both on and off the job, you’d think she would have put a little effort into making it fit a bit better. And the shoes–man, Anna’s shoes are tragic. Those are definitely her ‘I’m working here’ shoes. She’s not out to have fun at this dance, she’s there to be a chaperone/killjoy. Jimmy, on the other hand, is looking rather dandy in his three-piece suit, and literally letting his hair down.

Because this is Rose we’re talking about, and she’s a bit impulsive, she gets a crush on a guy and tells him where she lives, and since it turns out he’s a nice guy, he shows up to check on her. And that night, she happens to be wearing a nice, blushing pink dress:

downton2-26Ahh, young love. I also think it’s funny that Rose is wearing rose. But god forbid she come clean with this poor guy, so she and Anna perpetuate the ruse by putting her in this:

downton2-27I guess we’re supposed to think this is an extra housemaid’s uniform that was lying about, but to be honest, it looks a bit ridiculous. Like a maid’s costume from a musical comedy of the period. It’s hard to see in this picture, but the the slightly contrasting detailing at the sleeves and collar are a little too fashionable, while the frilly hat and apron look a bit silly. Housemaids of the time were expected to supply their own uniforms (yes, really, and pay for them themselves), so I find it a bit hard to believe that a Downton maid would have something like this on hand and would be willing to just hand it over. Especially since this is an afternoon/evening uniform, so the maid would be wearing it. Is there a naked maid shivering in her skivvies in the game larder?

Ok, on to other things. We didn’t get to see much of Edith this episode, but what we did see didn’t disappoint, and we got a better look at Michael’s amazing flat.

downton2-1611982 downton2-17Everything about that place is open, airy, modern, and bright. Though, it must be said, it’s also a tiny bit overwhelming. That first shot makes them both look tiny, which makes me a teensy bit nervous when I consider they’re facing some pretty massive obstacles to being together. But let’s think positive and focus on the good: I love that every last square inch is crammed with books, and that the furniture and artwork (check out the painting behind Edith’s head) are most definitely modern. Quite the contrast to Downton, with its endlessly inherited furniture and tightly ordered lack of clutter. It’s nice to see how at ease with each other these two are–Michael’s lunching in his shirtsleeves, which at the time was a fairly big deal. It’s like having lunch with someone now with your shirt off. You only did it at home, with someone you were entirely comfortable with. Like a spouse.

Edith’s sticking to the drapy, floaty fabrics that seem to really be suiting her this year. Her dresses are definitely romantic, and lovely. This is a bit less daring than some of the other things she’s worn lately, but remember that it’s a daytime dress, and it’s what she’s wearing to go home. She needs to be in something that’ll fit with Downton propriety, and this one suits so well she’s able to step off the train and go right into family dinner while wearing it.

Also notable: these two match, in shades of red and dark blue.

The men are never quite as much fun as the ladies, but I did laugh a bit when I saw this on Branson:

downton2-15He really is looking the establishment part, isn’t he? This is pretty similar to an outfit that Robert wore in season 1, when he was telling Matthew how much Downton meant to him. Love that Branson’s still rocking that green tie.

And for a tour of the estate:

downton2-21Again, fairly establishment. Note, however, that the colours in his outfit match almost perfectly with his surroundings, while Mary’s…don’t. Whether that’s because he’s meant to fade into the background here and make her stand out or to illustrate that she’s still a bit of a sore thumb in this scenario is unclear, but I thought it worth a mention. Feel free to debate in the comments.

Downstairs

We’ve already touched on Anna and Jimmy above, but just one more look at Jimmy out and about:

downton2-19That’s actually a pretty nice suit for a footman. Compare that with what Molesley wears:

downton2-22Both are fairly dressed up–Molesley’s got to figure Anna blabbed about seeing him repairing roads and would want to put up a good front at his former place of employ, and Jimmy’s out on the town for a day, so of course he’d want to look good–but Molesley’s clothes tend to be more practical, in a thicker, darker, more hard-wearing fabric. Jimmy’s light grey would be hard to keep clean in a time of coal fires and still-questionable sanitation. But then, Jimmy’s younger than Molesley (again, youth vs age with dressing), and we know that he’s gotten perks in the past because of his good looks, so it’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to say that he probably either got this as a gift or pooled some of his tips to buy it so he could look especially good on his days off.

While we’re on the subject of Molesley, though:

downton2-3He may be a plainer and more practical dresser than Jimmy, but that doesn’t mean he’s got the right outfits for this kind of work. The poor man’s a mess, being unaccustomed to such hard labour. Look at how he’s dressed compared with the men behind him. They’re used to it, and they’re all layered up in dark, coarse workmen’s clothes. Unlike the man used to delicate work, they don’t even need gloves and an apron to protect them from the heat and muck of roadwork. This is a man whose expertise lay in choosing cufflinks and getting stains out of sleeves. He was mortified at the thought of having to serve at table while wearing gloves because he’d look like a footman, and he thought he was going to be the valet to an earl. This is an incredibly long, hard, humiliating fall for him. It’s only because his father’s still alive that he’s not heading to the workhouse, like Charlie Grigg.

Oh, but Charlie? He’s got his bowtie-wearing mojo back:

downton2-31His suit’s a bit more subdued these days, though. He’s humbled.

The the dansant Rose and Anna attended gave us a brief glimpse of the types of entertainments enjoyed by the lower middle and working classes of the day, though it was clearly shot to look as unpleasant and grubby as possible, because this show really doesn’t much care for working-class types who aren’t servants (a problem it seems to share with Upstairs Downstairs). Still, Rose’s suitor seemed a nice enough young man (though he’s not the exception to the rule–he’s a servant at another local country house). downton-abbey-series-4-episode-2-7downton2-25He’s obviously put in the effort to look nice, unlike the guy who next asks to dance with Rose, who couldn’t even be bothered to slick his hair back. Once again (and I’m sorry to sound like a broken record here), the clothes are plain and serviceable and easy to keep up. Even the women’s clothes are a few years out of fashion (see that blue dress in the long shot up above), a bit ill fitting, and nothing really exceptional. These aren’t people who have a lot of extra cash to be spending on their clothes.



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