If you’re going to exhibit the detailed turn-of-the-century outfits used in PBS’ “Downton Abbey” than there can be no better place than the elegant Driehaus Museum.
“Dressing Downton™: Changing Fashion for Changing Times” fits like an Edwardian-era glove inside the lavish Nickerson mansion that is the Driehuas Musuem. With more than 35 costumes on display from the first four seasons of the popular period production, surely fans of the show will be lining up to see the exhibit, but it serves all audiences from fashionistas to history lovers.
“Downton Abbey” covers the fictional, aristocratic Crawley family who live on a British country estate as they go through one of the most transformative eras starting in 1912 after the sinking of the Titanic through World War I, the Roaring Twenties, and the Jazz Age. While the family and the drama is fictional, the series does its best to portray the period as accurate as possible and their best representation of that is in the costumes. As you walk through the exhibit you’ll learn that many of the costumes come from original pieces of the era, and some are created using vintage fabrics but to the untrained eye you’ll never notice the difference.
One thing you will notice is the drastic transformation and the struggle between tradition and modernity. When you compare the length and the tight structure of Violet Crawley’s two-piece day dress to the shorter and looser silk,velvet evening dress from Lady Rose MacClare during the early ’20s it is literally night and day.
You might also attribute that distinction to the vast difference in age, but that goes away when you look at the fox-fur trimmed silk coat work by Martha Levinson during season 3. This is also a great example of how much the actors themselves had an input in the design process. Where originally Levinson’s style was going to be more traditional despite her being an American, Shirley MacLaine, who plays the wealthy American, thought it would be better to put her in a more modern and gaudy outfit as with her exorbitant wealth she felt her character would be more interested in progress and modernity than tradition.
Along with the breathtaking evening and dinner clothes, you also get a look at the more everyday and utilitarian outfits of the era that the cast wore. Men won’t want to miss the impeccable tweed wool suit that Robert Crawley wore on his country estate, which has a detachable collar so it could be starched separately while the rest of the outfit is laundered. You can also see some wartime outfits like the wool cord breeches, brushed cotton blouses, and linen jacket that Lady Edith Crawley wore during season 2.
This is just a taste of what the exhibit has to offer. You’ll also get to see many of Lady Mary’s eye-popping outfits along with the uniforms and clothes of the help. For their third exhibit the Driehaus Museum has shown again that they can not only serve a niche rarely covered by many institutions but they do it well.
“Dressing Downton™: Changing Fashion for Changing Times” is on view at the Driehaus Museum until May 29. The Driehaus Museum is located at 40 E. Erie St. Tickets to the exhibit must be purchased ahead of time at driehausmuseum.org or by calling 312-482-8933. An audio tour and exhibition guide are included in the price of admission. For more information on the exhibit visit driehausmuseum.org/exhibitions/view/dressing_downton.