Dressing Downton: Series 5, Episode 2

DowntonEpisode2After last week’s excitement, it felt like not a lot happened this episode. It was more focused on setting up possible things to come (Cora and Bricker), making us hate Robert even as he was proven right in the most eye-rollingly ridiculous way imaginable, and some narrative wheel-spinning with Mary and Edith while Rose was totally wasted running around bleating about a wireless like a teenager begging daddy for the iPhone 6.

But the clothes were lovely, and the dowager seriously stepped it up.

Upstairs

Finally, Cora is being given something to do, so let’s chat about her a little bit. I haven’t gone into her costumes all that much, but I’d like to take this opportunity to say that, like Rose, I love her style. It’s modern but elegant, so she looks on trend without also looking like she’s trying too hard. Compare how she dresses to Violet’s and Lady Anstruthers’s looks. Cora looks classy and feminine.

Downton52-13 Downton52-49 Downton52-51 Downton52-18Downton52-26 Downton52-27She also wears a lot of blue. Especially in this episode. One reason for that is because, like Rose, it’s a great colour on her. Elizabeth McGovern’s eyes are bright blue, and with her dark hair, blues work beautifully. But for her to wear it in pretty much every scene in an episode where she starts exchanging major chemistry with an elegant houseguest, well, it gets a tad ominous, considering how often that colour’s been associated with conflict.

Notice that her robe actually matches her bedroom walls. That’s some serious coordination. Last season, a robe she wore matched the china pattern on her breakfast set. Even when she’s undressed, Cora’s not messing around.

From one mother to another: Edith. Last episode, she wore a lot of blue, and this episode, she switches over to pink:

Downton52-5 Downton52-36 Downton52-50Pink has been used in the past to denote love on this show, and in Edith’s case, it’s typically been maternal love. It makes sense that, in this episode, when she’s finally finding a (clumsy, completely unbelievable) way to be more of a part of her daughter’s life, she’s in the maternal colour. That second outfit also sets her up as a contrast to Mrs Drewe, who, like any farmer’s wife of the time, wears duller, more practical clothes:

Downton52-38Downton52-37Edith, in her pretty, delicate silk blouse, gets to just come flittering in and play the mum whenever she likes, but Mrs Drewe is the one doing all the actual hard work of raising this baby.

The third dress pictured above is interesting from a historical perspective. It’s a very fine knit (take my word for it). Fine, machine-knitted fabrics were really catching on during this time. They were affordable and draped nicely, so they worked well with 1920s fashions. Quite popular with the younger crowd.

Downton52-52 Downton52-53It’s a pretty modern print, too. The colour’s a bit drab, but overall, it’s not a bad dress and suggests that Edith hasn’t totally lost her sartorial savvy. Of course, later on she wears this:

Downton52-24The dress is…ok but DEAR GOD WHAT THE HELL IS THAT AWFUL THING AROUND HER NECK? Seriously, Edith, what the heck? What’s up with her entire storyline? It’s just so drab and uninteresting. Didn’t Michael leave her in charge of his newspaper? Whatever happened with that? Did she just forget? Why hasn’t she just told her emotionally abusive family to shove it and gone off to be a literary glamazon in London? Hell, with that crowd, she could live openly with her illegitimate kid and nobody would have batted an eye. Of course, that kind of turn is unlikely given her uptight upbringing, but wouldn’t that be so much more fun to watch? Give this poor character something meaningful to do!

And while we’re on the subject, give Rose something meaningful to do, besides wear beautiful things.

Downton52-6 Downton52-10 Downton52-20 Downton52-28 Downton52-54Like Cora, she wears blue a fair bit because it’s a good colour on her. She’s also in (mild) conflict with Robert this episode, so there’s that as well. I love that cream-coloured evening dress she wears in the pictures with Branson and Mary. I also love that it has roses around the waistband.

Downton52-25Cute.

Speaking of characters not doing much, what’s up with Mary? The more I think about her, the more I think she’s shown disturbingly little personal growth over the past five seasons. In series one she was a cold, dismissive, entitled bitch who jerked men around and now she’s a slightly less cold, dismissive, entitled bitch who jerks men around. She’s softened slightly, but when I say slightly, I really mean it. And consider that, in show time, she’s gone from about 18 years old to 30. Show of hands, how many of us really feel like we were the same people at 30 that we were at 18? I don’t. At least, I hope I’m not the same.

Her clothes this episode carried through some of the things I noted last week, like ominous overtones to her relationship with Lord Gillingham.

Black when she’s talking about him:

Downton52-11And remaining quite covered up when she goes to meet with him for their sex weekend:

Downton52-42It’s a glorious coat, but she’s very, very covered up. Of course, it’s a coat, so you’d expect that, but what’s underneath it isn’t a whole lot better:

Downton52-45The only way she could be more covered up is if that dress had a turtleneck. Again, this is what she wore to a weekend of non-stop sex. Would you cover up this much for something like that? This does not bode well.

For the re-introduction of Charles Blake, she wore this:

Downton52-19 Downton52-28A little more skin (and a necklace that draws attention to the bare skin of her back)

Downton52-21LOVE that necklace, by the way.

I may be reading too much into this, but she’s wearing green (an unusual colour for her) in a set of scenes where she’s trying really hard to make Blake jealous. Because at heart, she’s still the mean girl who wants boys fighting over her. Mary is an everlasting high schooler. Which makes sense, to some extent, because her grandmother is too, and she proves it with these endless, clumsy attempts to ruin the relationship between Isobel and Merton, even though Isobel keeps telling her she’s not interested in Merton in that way.

So, conflict. So much conflict:

Downton52-9 Downton52-15 Downton52-46 Downton52-47Violet has Isobel and Clarkson over to tea so she can simultaneously make fun of Isobel for her medical knowledge, rib her about this thing with Merton, and make poor Clarkson super uncomfortable. Because none of these people have anything better to do or the wherewithal to just tell Violet they’re busy that afternoon. You’d think they’d catch on at some point and start making excuses. Instead, they just put up with her obnoxious nonsense, though at least Isobel finally tells her to just shut up already, and gets in a little tease of her own by suggesting that Merton’s actually interested in Violet. We (and Violet) know that’s definitely not the case, but something tells me that Violet heard that and did kind of think, well, there’s an idea, because when she and Isobel go to Merton’s for tea, this is what Violet wears:

Downton52-14 Downton52-16 Woah, where did that dress come from? That’s actually modern! It’s not young-woman modern, of course, but it’s definitely of the 1920s. If you showed someone that picture out of context and just asked them when they thought this scene was set, I bet you anything they’d guess the 1920s or even the 1930s. Just compare that look to what she’s wearing at the tea with Isobel and Clarkson. It’s decades different. And it looks great on her. The coat, too, is more up-to-date than what she typically wears.

This is what Isobel wore to the same tea:

Downton52-17It’s quite pretty, but it’s also out of style in the way most of her and Violet’s clothes are. Comparing the two ladies in their coats and these outfits, Isobel comes across as a bit frumpy, which makes Violet a bit more attractive by comparison. I’m not saying Violet is interested in a romance with Lord Merton at all, but I think she’s pulling every trick she has in her sack out to make sure Isobel doesn’t end up as a Lady of the Manor.

Quick bonus: a radio, circa 1924

Downton52-39Think about that the next time you fire up your iPod.

Also, this is what people used to do when the king spoke:

Downton52-43Show some respect, people! It’s the king!

Downstairs

Before he goes, one last look at Jimmy:

Downton52-3I noted last season that Jimmy dresses very well for a servant. His suits seem to be pretty good quality and are well tailored, which isn’t usually the case with the non-upper-class men on this show (which is historically accurate). The sharpness of his suit is in marked contrast to that hat he’s wearing. It’s unfashionable, doesn’t really match, and it’s fairly worn. Considering all we know about Jimmy, I think it’s fair to assume that either his suits have been bought for him by one of the wealthy ladies he’s romanced, or he bought them himself with cash he got from one or more of those ladies. And he hasn’t gotten around to replacing the hat yet or his human piggy bank was more interested in fitting him for a suit than a hat.

At the Drewe household, clothes continue to be plain and serviceable:

Downton52-7In this particular scene, the colours in Mrs Drewe’s outfit line up with the colours in Edith’s, drawing a line between the two mothers:

Downton52-8Sarah Bunting continues to wear her blue (which makes sense both from a costuming standpoint and from a historical standpoint. She’s a teacher and probably couldn’t afford more than one coat), but now she’s introducing some love-pink as well:

Downton52-12 Downton52-22Softens her up a bit, doesn’t it? Also, I noted in the past that she’s fairly fashionable for a small-town schoolteacher, which is driven home if you compare her with Mrs Drewe or the woman Robert and Carson speak to next to the cemetery:

Downton52-33That is quite drab. The browns, the sad hat. Oof. We quickly learn that this woman’s a war widow, and unless she’s got a job herself, that means she’s probably living on a widow’s pension, which was not much. Hence, the unappealing, unfashionable, but very practical wardrobe.



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