There’s a lot of relationship tension in Downtonland these days. One marriage is coming to an end, an engagement has been called off (or not, maybe), another marriage is veering quickly into troubled waters, and Tom’s friendship or whatever with Sarah is causing way more problems than it’s worth. But on the happy side of things, there was also a proposal, and Violet reconnected with an old flame, so there’s hope yet. Also, there was a dress show!
Let’s talk about the colour red for a bit, because it showed up quite a bit in this episode.
Red has appeared quite frequently throughout the series (it’s pretty much Mary’s signature colour), but I took especial notice of it this time around because of whom it was showing up on. All these characters have something in common: they are, to some extent, people who are not quite fitting with the life they’re supposed to be leading. Edith, of course, doesn’t fit in anywhere, and she’s being shut out of the Drewes’ family life. Tom keeps claiming he doesn’t fit in with life either above or belowstairs at Downton. Isobel constantly has her middle-class background and sensibilities mocked by Violet. Shrimpy, by taking the fairly unusual (for the time) step of ending his unhappy marriage, risks exiling himself from the family circle and the political elite. And then, of course, there’s Mary. Mary has never really fitted in with the life an aristocratic young woman was supposed to want. A woman in her circumstances–young, widowed, with a son who needs a father–should be jumping at the chance to snap up Gil. And yet, she does not. She also didn’t cling too tightly to the virginity that all good girls were supposed to keep before marriage, or stand happily in the background while her husband made all the decisions once she was married. She’s a strong woman (though not always a likeable one) in a time and class that didn’t generally reward strong women, though things were slowly starting to change.
On the subject of strong women, we finally got to meet Mabel Lane Fox, and she pleasantly turned out to be pretty cool.
She also looks fabulous. That dress with the bright print, the amazing coat–it all says ‘I’m young, I’m rich, I’m a city girl, and I’m just having a hell of a good time.’ Next to her, Mary’s dress, pretty though it is, looks rather prim and staid. Mary looks uptight, Mabel looks fun. But Mabel’s hat matches Mary’s dress perfectly, because these two do share a significant connection.
Also, I love the look on Charles Blake’s face in that picture above. And the fact that he was so clearly having a little fun throwing these two together. He’s a bit of a scamp, isn’t he?
On the other end of the scale, the decidedly not-fabulous Edith.
Taking the creepy up a notch by just refusing to give the Drewes some space for even a couple of days. The red she wears here does multi duty. It ties her to the other outsiders, but it also connects her with Mrs Drewe, who, like Edith, is wearing a blue-grey with a hint of red peeking out:
And, when Edith is seeking comfort in the bosom of her family, the red matches her to her surroundings exactly:
You can hardly tell where she ends and the couch begins.
And it’s not just the furniture Edith’s matching: both Crawley sisters had moments throughout the episode when their clothing tied them with their mother.
All three of these women are dealing with serious issues in their personal lives (which they’re all trying to hide). The connection between Cora and Mary is especially notable (that black dress is very reminiscent of one Mary wore last episode), because Gil proved this episode that he is, in fact, a younger version of Robert. I’ve noted in other recaps that Gil and Robert are often costumed very similarly, and that observation finally bore fruit: for all his talk about wanting to simplify their lives and be more modern, Gil is just as backwards about women as Mary’s father. He’s as dismissive, condescending, and disrespectful of Mary’s wants and needs as Robert is of Cora’s. And they’re both going to pay a price for that (we all hope).
Note the woman in pale pink just to the right of Mary in the third picture. We’ll come back to that.
The other person Cora matches:
A little creepily, Bricker is actually costumed almost exactly the same as Robert in this scene. So, Cora actually matches both the men currently in her life.
In happier relationship news, Isobel got another proposal, and this time it wasn’t from a tipsy Clarkson!
Obviously she wasn’t expecting him–she was outside gardening, which is why she looks a bit frumped up. Not that he cares, of course, because he loves her, and honestly this whole storyline is pretty sweet. He’s wearing a green tie, which is a colour that is often associated with hope and new beginnings. Also, see the love-pink bouquet just to Isobel’s left? Those touches were a little bit of a leitmotif throughout the episode, showing up in the same spot in three separate scenes, with three separate couples, all of whom we’re clearly supposed to be rooting for. There was Mary and Blake above, Isobel and Merton here, and Cora and Bricker;
As usual, Rose wasn’t given much to do, but she looked great doing it:
The Japanese-inspired print on the first dress is an example of the ‘exotic’ influences that were coming into fashion at the time. It could also be a subtle nod to her father’s role as an overseas diplomat, in a conversation about him coming home for a visit. Of course, she wears blue in the scene where her father tells her he and her mother are getting a divorce.
Did anyone else notice that after Merton’s proposal, Isobel suddenly stepped it up, fashion-wise?
She is really dressed up just to go hang out with Violet. Consider how Isobel usually dresses during these visits.
Nice, but practical. That velvet getup is what she wore to have tea with Merton a couple of weeks ago. Is she already starting to dress the part of the grande dame? We’ll have to see.
Speaking of grande dames:
Kuragin describes Violet as a great lady, imperious and elegant, and this picture shows us just what he means, doesn’t it? There’s not a great deal to say about Violet this episode, as she sticks to her usual looks and frequently wears her favourite/signature colour, purple. That’s another colour I’m keeping an eye on, since it’s been showing up quite a bit on Mary lately, especially that purple coat/skirt combination she often wears around the estate.
J’adore the jumper Mary’s wearing under it, with the cute-but-not-cutesy bow at the neck. Très chic.
Are you ready to have a little fun?
A fashion show! Hell, yes! Can we have one of these every week? So much pretty.
To put costume analysis aside for a bit in favour of a little costume history, there’s quite a bit to be said about these few dresses we get to see. Notice the ‘Egyptian’-inspired headdress on the first model. Howard Carter unearthed King Tutankhamun’s tomb in late 1922, and soon afterwards the world was gripped by Egyptmania, which only increased after Carter visited America in 1924. As you can imagine, Egyptian influences on fashion, particularly in patterns and headdresses, was considerable.
The menswear-inspired getup on the poor man’s Angelina Jolie is another trend (though a less popular one than Egypt). A lot of the social upheaval of the 1920s involved women breaking out of what were considered their ‘traditional’ roles, rejecting the notion of merely being the angels in the household and going out to vote, party, casually date, and take up jobs that had once been considered unsuitable for them. As they embraced the freedoms once nearly exclusively reserved for men, they also started to wear clothes that aped menswear. During this period, Chanel started to become massively influential, in large part because of her more practical and often masculine designs. It’s not really a flattering design, but check out the tailoring on the lapels of the jacket. Gorgeous.
That unbelievable grey dress is the epitome of the heavily beaded look that became popular around the middle of the decade. Must have weighed a ton, but that thing moves beautifully.
And finally, of course, there’s the wedding dress. What’s striking about that is just how much fabric had retreated in a few short years. Compare that to the wedding dress Mary wore just a few years back to marry Matthew:
That’s practically puritanical by comparison. She’s covered head to toe. Our 1924 bride, however, has a short skirt, bare arms, no defined waist to speak of, some interesting embroidery down the front, and a bobbed haircut. Things were changing fast.
How great is that one audience member, in the orange? You almost notice her more than the clothes on show!
Poor, poor Mrs Patmore. All she wants is for her nephew to receive some recognition for the fact that he volunteered to go fight and got shot by his own side as punishment for his horrific PTSD. But she knows she’s up against impossible odds on that one.
Could she possibly look more overwhelmed and out of place? This is most definitely not her area of the house. It was quite unusual for the master of the house to summon the cook–usually the lady dealt with meals and such, so actually having to go talk to Robert must have scared the hell out of her. But she handled it really well and spoke eloquently on Archie’s behalf.
Check out her costume. Like most of the older servants (Carson, Mrs Hughes), Patmore doesn’t change her look much.
Daisy, like the other (read: younger) maids wears a more 1920s-style apron with a looser cut that aped the curve-hiding dress fashions of the day. Patmore’s uniform would be right at home in the Victorian period. I noted before, in the Christmas special, that Patmore’s not in any way trying to be fashionable. She’s an older woman, set in her ways, and she’s not going to try dressing like the younger girls, even when it comes to her work uniform.
Haven’t you always wondered what Piccadilly Circus looked like in the mid-20’s?
Now you know. Against all the other women in the shot, Anna looks stark and kind of depressing, which is fitting, considering the circumstances.
Sarah is, unsurprisingly, dressed exactly the same as the first time she ruined dinner, right down to the styling. Historically, this makes sense: as I’ve mentioned before, she’s a schoolteacher with limited disposable income and probably only has one really seriously dressy dress, just like many people nowadays only have one very, very formal suit or gown (if we even have that). On a costuming/story level, it acts as a reminder of the last dinner and a sign of things to come.
Bonus: Downton’s mums do the school run