Dressing Downton: Season 4 Episode 7

Downton Abbey, 407 - Sarah Bunting (Daisy Lewis) and Tom Branson (Allen Leech) ©2013 Carnival Films, photo by Nick BriggsAlthough there was some movement on the Branson front (we all know we’re going to see that woman from the speech again, right?), this episode was really about the women. Mary and Isobel got a chance to show what they were made of, Rosamond showed numerous times how awesomely supportive she is, and Edith made an extremely difficult and painful decision. Two of them, actually.

Upstairs

If Cora’s and Rose’s signature colour this season has been blue, then Mary’s has been purple, and this episode it was a colour that was deployed especially deftly, both for her and for Isobel. These two women spent the episode stepping up and proving their mettle, and the shade they were dressed in–a brilliant plum–really made them stand out. For once, you really couldn’t help but sit up and take notice of them both.

normal_DowntonAbbey-407_0068 normal_DowntonAbbey-407_0160 normal_DowntonAbbey-407_0437Who is your eye drawn to in each of those scenes?

Isobel spends most of the episode in that outfit, tending to Violet. Mary, for the most part, keeps changing into different dresses in that same plummy shade:

normal_DowntonAbbey-407_0673It’s a shame that dress got totally ruined, because it’s beautiful.

The few times she changes out of that colour, she trades it for black, or a more subdued purple. In the scene were she and Anna talk about Anna’s attack:normal_DowntonAbbey-407_0376A somber scene, so somber colours are called for.

And when Gill shows back up:

normal_DowntonAbbey-407_1023Oh, possible lost love. It’s  really kicky little dress though–very modern–so she’s not totally in mourning now. Notice she also doesn’t seem to be wearing gloves to dinner–quite the departure for her. Maybe she’s a little more modern than we thought (she is, after all, clearly willing to muck in when necessary).

But lest we get too excited about the possibilities of her love life after the scrambled-egg bonding time with Blake, Mary follows that encounter up by covering up more than I think she ever has, even in the pre-war years:

normal_DowntonAbbey-407_0882 normal_DowntonAbbey-407_0891Wow, that’s drab. Floor-length, long-sleeved, a colour that fades into the scenery around her…the message is clear: hands off, boys. She might as well be wearing a chastity belt.

On another note, remember what I said last week about blue being a conflict colour? It’s all over the place in this episode:

normal_DowntonAbbey-407_0028Robert whines about having to fulfill family obligations, while Cora practically begs him to help her brother out, in a scene awash with blue, right down to the colour of the walls. And when Edith (facing an enormous conflict) goes to the doctor for her procedure, both she and Rosamond are in appropriately somber shades:

normal_DowntonAbbey-407_0832About Edith: there’s been a subtle change in her costuming this episode. For one thing, she’s wearing much looser, more flowy clothes, like this top:

normal_DowntonAbbey-407_0116She probably wouldn’t be showing yet, but it’s likely she’s put on a bit of early-pregnancy weight, and she wouldn’t want anyone to notice (you can be sure Mary would have some sort of snide comment about it). The other notable thing about her is the colours she chooses. She spends most of the episode in the shades of rosy pink that, for most of the season, have been associated with love. That seems a bit odd, until the end of the episode when we realise that this isn’t about romantic love for her, but love for her unborn child, whom she’s now willing to face social disgrace and ignominy for.

normal_DowntonAbbey-407_0493I found this threesome to be particularly striking, since we got some signature colour action, as well as an illustration of ‘Maiden, Mother, Crone’–the three stages of a woman’s life. Rose (the ‘maiden’) is in her favourite blue, but really the dominant colour with her is white, a shade traditionally associated with innocence and maidenhood. Edith, who is now, literally, the mother, is in love-pink, while Rosamond, the elder in this scenario and therefore the ‘crone’, is in a slightly drab shade that’s already been associated with another elder/mother this episode:

normal_DowntonAbbey-407_0143The outfit on Cora also ties her to her husband, who’s in a complimentary shade of warm brown, and to the house itself, which she practically blends into. Edith was wearing that rose-coloured blouse in this scene, so she complimented her parents as well. Even the houseguests were in brown, everyone showing a united front. Except for Mary, who had to stand out a bit, and even her plum was complimenting Robert’s clothes.

Mother, maiden, crone turned up again, after Edith decided not to go through with her abortion:

normal_DowntonAbbey-407_0872Again, Rose is in white, while Edith and Rosamond are in shades of conflict blue. Edith, the younger, is in a paler shade, because she hasn’t yet advanced to Rosamond’s more mature age.

For Rose, blue’s not about conflict, but about her connection with Jack (and the fact that it’s a good colour on her), so for their clandestine date, she ditches the white and goes for her usual favourite:

normal_DowntonAbbey-407_0526 normal_DowntonAbbey-407_0546He’s in a fairly complimentary grey-blue, the same suit he wore to Downton. It’s probably the only, or at least one of the very few, ‘good’ suits he owns. Nightclub singers didn’t make a huge amount of money, and suits were pretty expensive back then. And he’d want to wear his best to be seen about town with a rich girl.

And now for a quick word on Blake.

normal_DowntonAbbey-407_0109He doesn’t dress quite like the other men. The cut is there, certainly, and it’s a brown suit, like many of them wear in the country, but it’s a very light colour brown, which, like Mary’s plum, makes him stand out a bit. While Evelyn and Robert tend to fade into the panelling, he pops. Nice and bright. And actually, in this particular scene, he matches Branson the closest, the other man who doesn’t ‘belong’.

normal_DowntonAbbey-407_0116Downstairs

Branson went on a field trip!

normal_DowntonAbbey-407_0618 normal_DowntonAbbey-407_0631It’s hard to get a precise read on the social status of the audience members, but judging from their clothes, they’re probably mostly mid-level professionals. People who could take a little time off in the middle of the day (definitely not farmers–it’s planting season, after all) and who dress well, but serviceably. Their clothes aren’t flashy, but they’re better than most working men’s suits. The lady Branson gets friendly with is dressed fairly fashionably, but also conservatively–a colour that’s not too show-offy, a neckline that isn’t too low. She is, however, the most brightly dressed person in the room, in that light cream colour, so she does still manage to stand out, even while, in some ways, blending in.

We also got a rare glimpse of Carson in civvies:

normal_DowntonAbbey-407_0447Note that Carson’s ‘out-of-uniform’ outfit hasn’t changed since the pre-war years.

normal_DA102-0448Seriously, it’s the exact same suit. Just a different tie. And the picture with Anna above is from season one. This could be an example of the costume department saving some money, because how many suits does Carson really need? But I think it’s more indicative of the fact that, in his position, he wouldn’t see the need to keep replacing his suit, and also that there are plenty of people who aren’t going to bother changing with the fashions. And if we can say anything for sure about Carson, it’s that he’s no slave to fashion.



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