Dressing Downton, Season 5 Episode 1

JS46046547A fair bit happened in this episode: we got Farmer Drew going above and beyond to help keep Edith’s babydrama a secret, more chatter about Mary’s and Isobel’s love and sex lives than I cared to hear, Thomas acting super creepy, Sarah acting like a supreme asshole, Violet meddling, a predatory aristocrat, Baxter’s big secret, and a fire. Whew!

And, of course, lovely, lovely clothes.


It’s 1924 (presumably the winter, since everyone’s talking about the election of the new government as if it’s recently happened) and the arrival of the first ever Labour government (as well as some personal matters) have cast a bit of a pall over the Abbey. It’s most noticeable in the costuming of Robert, who sees his traditional role of local leader slipping away, and Edith, who couldn’t care less about the government but is super depressed over the separation from her daughter.

In both cases, we get kind of a lot of fairly drab browns and blues to reflect their rather downcast state:

Downton51-7 Downton51-31 Downton51-54In Edith’s case, when she’s at the Abbey, she often ends up in clothes that actually make her fade into the background:

Downton51-38 Downton51-52Downton51-72She just can’t be bothered (although that last dress is really amazing from the back–see the picture at the top of the blog). Compare this to how she looked this time last year, in that incredible peacock dress slit up to here. She was in her glory and dressing to be noticed back then. Now, she’s fading away, for the most part. Though she does get off a nice zinger when Mary bitchily tells her to cheer up, so maybe there’s  hope for her yet. It’s also notable (again, considering how she was costumed last year) just how covered up she often is.

Downton51-16 Downton51-33Granted, it is winter, but still. It serves as a nice contrast to the moments when she’s super vulnerable, like when she speaks with Farmer Drew and sets up a meeting to discuss the situation with her daughter:

Downton51-22And breaks down over Michael’s German primer and the photograph of Marigold:

Downton51-76On to other (but still somewhat Edith-related) matters. Last year, I noted that the colour blue showed up quite a lot in situations with a lot of conflict, and this episode was no exception. You can see above that Edith wears it several times, and so does Rose, perhaps most noticeably in the scenes when she’s interacting with Sarah, who’ll cause quite a bit of conflict in the episode:

Downton51-25Baxter finally comes clean with Cora, and those two scenes are the only times in the episode Cora wears blue:

Downton51-55 Downton51-74Violet, when she plants the suggestion of a romance with Lord Merton in Lady Shackleton’s head:

Downton51-35Lady Anstruther, who’s come to the house to seduce Jimmy:

Downton51-51And, of course, there’s Sarah, who wears blue exclusively throughout the entire episode. We’ll get to her a bit later. First, let’s have a quick look at Lady A up there. We don’t even need Robert’s earlier line about how she’s a silly woman: it’s all there in the costuming.

Downton51-53 Downton51-50There’s a fair bit of frivolity in that outfit. That tassel is ridiculous. She’s also overdressed–the silly hat, the coat with that extravagant fur collar, that overly dressy dress–it’s all just a teensy bit too much. That is not a dress you travel in (though what we see of it suggests it’s lovely). She’s trying too hard here, grabbing for attention. The other ladies are all dressed in pretty subdued clothes and accessories by comparison. And this continues with her dinner dress:

Downton51-58 Downton51-59 Downton51-60Again, a bit too much. She’s over-accessorised and appears a little bit sinister, a column of black amidst all the other ladies. She is not a force for good in Jimmy’s life.

Our other guest appearance was Violet’s friend, Lady Shackleton. Not a huge amount to say about her, other than the fact that, like Violet (and, to some extent, Isobel) she tends to dress like it’s still 1914:

Downton51-34 Downton51-47Isobel’s slightly more with the times than Violet, though, as this shot shows:

Downton51-13Isobel’s coat and hat read far more 1920s than Violet’s. There are some class things happening here as well. Isobel’s coat is trendier, but also much sturdier than Violet’s, made to last and also to be functionally warm. Violet’s coat is made from a much softer and very clearly expensive fabric that’s been skillfully tailored (it takes a hell of a lot of talent to make fabric drape that way). It’s the type of fabric that’s meant more to flatter than to keep someone warm in the middle of winter.

Let’s have a quick word about Rose. I love her style.

Downton51-10 Downton51-27 Downton51-29 Downton51-62 Downton51-25 Downton51-38 Downton51-52She tends to favour blue (mostly, in her case, because it’s an amazing colour on her, though this episode it also serves to tie her to Sarah) and rosy pink. I adore the jumper she’s wearing in the first picture–it’s so prettily delicate and the little frill at the collar is feminine without being silly. There’s a certain maturity to her look this season, compared with how she’s looked in the past. She’s moving into her 20s and dressing more like an adult.

And now, Mary.

First off, she’s got a new hairstyle that’s actually flattering! Hurrah! Also, what the HELL took so long?

Second, she’s apparently settled on Gil as her life partner. Maybe. I’m not so sure, because I find it a little ominous that in almost every scene in which he is present or their relationship is discussed, she’s wearing at least some black or a similarly dark colour.

Downton51-3 Downton51-59Downton51-42Downton51-77Man, that robe. That is not a ‘seduce me’ look. At all. Of course, it’s wintertime and those big houses could be drafty, so it’s practical. Plus, she wasn’t expecting Gil to show up in her room, so it’s not like she had any reason to put on some neglige, but still, there is absolutely nothing sexy about that. It’s dark and boxy and covers her way the hell up. But then, that William Morris-esque floral motif all over it suggests some hope. As does the reappearance of this costume:

Downton51-48 Downton51-49Mary’s worn that exact same outfit before, to go shooting with Matthew:

cn_image.size.tweed downtonShe and Matthew got engaged shortly thereafter, so…foreshadowing? Also, the subtle windowpane patterning on her tweed matches his suit’s similar pattern almost exactly. And Gil himself matches up nicely with another man at Downton: Mary’s father.

Downton51-44Many girls wind up marrying men like their fathers (and Mary’s a serious daddy’s girl). Also, I’ve pointed out before that Gil is often costumed in a manner that matches him to the surroundings at Downton, because he definitely belongs in a place like this.

Speaking of matching:

Downton51-45Violet’s trying to scuttle this particular relationship, for entirely petty reasons, but I dunno, these two are undeniably paired off here. His suit matches her hatband, and her dress is picked up in his tie. They almost look like they coordinated these outfits on purpose, like they’re going to get a family portrait done afterwards.

And a quick look at Branson in his office, just because:

Downton51-28 Downton51-30That’s some awesome set design there. Also, Branson’s costuming kind of walks the line between the village folk (which we’ll check out below) and the family at Downton. He’s wearing highly practical, warm brown wool, like many of the local farmers, but the suit’s very obviously high quality and well made and cared for.


Here’s the Drew family, sitting down to a nice tea with Edith, who evidently has made a habit of stopping by:

Downton51-1 downton51-2Eminently practical, unfussy, unfashionable clothing. Pretty much what you’d expect from a farmer’s family of the time, just going about their day.

Here’s another look at Drew in daywear:

Downton51-32Now there’s a study in contrasts. Her outfit is pretty impractical, even a bit frivolous, what with that delicate feather and the cape which is definitely more fashionable than functional. He, on the other hand, is obviously dressed to stay warm while working outdoors or in the barn during the winter. And yet, their clothes are also tying them together. Her browns compliment his (the darker brown of his jacket is picked up in the pattern on her cloak) and their hats are a similar colour. Two people from vastly different backgrounds, united by Edith’s secret.

Downton’s schoolchildren:

Downton51-20Again, practical, a bit dull, really, but these aren’t wealthy people by any means. They’re not going to dress their kids up in clothing that can be easily destroyed or dirtied. Compare how these kids dress to how the hyper-privileged tots up at Downton are attired:

Downton51-11 Downton51-12Adorable, but way less practical. Unsurprisingly, the schoolchildren’s parents dress the exact same way:

Downton51-21Since it’s a prizegiving, the parents are a tiny bit more dressed up than they would be normally (note Drew’s suit and tie), but still quite practical. This sea of rather dull browns makes the Downton lot and Sarah Bunting stand out pretty starkly:

Downton51-25Sarah. Oh, Sarah. As I noted above, she wears blue each and every time she appears on screen this episode, and no wonder, because she seriously brings the conflict.

Downton51-39 Downton51-40That’s a pretty cute outfit, and fairly fashionable. She probably doesn’t make much money, but she’s definitely making it count.

Downton51-61That is a really nice dress for a village schoolteacher. At this time, ready made clothes became increasingly available at affordable prices in department stores, and synthetic versions of previously expensive fabrics, like velvet and silk, brought clothes like this within the reach of working people. So it’s not completely unlikely that she would own a dress like this, but this does show that she’s really pushing the boat out for this dinner. She’s expecting to be looked down on, at least to some extent, and has shown up with a bit of an ‘I’ll show you’ attitude that turns really ugly at dinner.

Although Sarah’s dressed the part, there are subtle signifiers that she doesn’t quite belong. Check out her posture, compared to Mary’s:

Downton51-69Slumping all over the place. There’s also the inelegant way she serves herself the starter, and the hairstyle which looks a lot like what you’d see on a film star of the period (suggesting she copied it from a magazine) than the more uniform ‘I have this set and styled regularly and my maid does it every day’ hairstyles of the other ladies. Unfortunately, like Branson before her, Sarah has come in on the defensive, and when she’s defeated, she sulks like a little girl.

Downton51-70Poor Branson. I think the look on his face here says it all:

Oh, god, is this how Sybil felt the first time she brought me here?
Oh, god, is this how Sybil felt the first time she brought me here?

Yes, Tom, it is.

And as for another character bringing conflict, there’s that lady from the village who’s leading the delegation to put up the war memorial, bypassing Robert (the expected leader) to ask for Carson instead:

Downton51-4Businesslike, but also slightly dressier than what she might normally wear, since she’s going up to the ‘big house’ for a meeting. We also get a glimpse of the literal face of World War I.

Downton51-5The man is missing one leg and has some serious scarring, clearly having been on the wrong side of an explosion at some point. There were many like him in the post-war years. In fact, plastic surgery was essentially pioneered during World War I to put men like him back together and to attempt to give them some semblance of a normal life.

And to end on a slightly more head-shaky note:

Downton51-78It’s the middle of the night, Downton Abbey is on fire, but Anna stopped to get dressed, do her hair, and put on a hat before rushing out to make sure everyone was ok. Priorities!

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