'Downton Abbey' fashion: Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery work their staid silks and subdued tones
At its essence, "Downton Abbey," PBS' biggest hit ever, comes down to Julian Fellowes' mission for accuracy.
Certainly the spot-on acting and seamless directing are critical to the drama, but the reason it never wavers is because not one teacup or glove is off.
"There should not be anything that jars," costume designer Caroline McCall tells Zap2it. "And I would hope that [viewers] just get caught up in it and lost in it. We are trying to create this world as authentically as we can."
McCall ensures that the Dowager Countess' (Maggie Smith) staid silks and Martha Levinson's (Shirley MacLaine's) flashy dresses and feather accessories could never be confused.
"I go through the script and break down for each character and list what each character will require for each episode and see where the gaps are, and go through the costumes and see what is available and appropriate," McCall says. "First of all, you have got to work out what you have."
She keeps in mind the many characters in a scene and how that reads on camera. "You want them to tonally work in a room," McCall says.
This season, with Mary (Michelle Dockery) in mourning, "her entire wardrobe needed to be in half-mourning colors," McCall says. "There aren't too many that are purple or gray or mauve, all those mourning tones."
This was a daring dress for the beleaguered Edith (Laura Carmichael). At Downton, she's more subdued, but in London, where she wore this coral dress, she could flaunt flapper flair. McCall found it at a vintage fair and retained the beaded bodice, fixing some of the clusters. She then found matching material to create a skirt. "It was the fashion then to wear these sort of headbands and to always have something in your hair," McCall says.
"All of the married women are wearing tiaras of some sort. Mary wears hers quite low on the head because that was the fashion. Edith wears hairpieces, not proper tiaras, because she is not married."
Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) wears a custom-made green tweed suit. The tweeds are from Scotland and Ireland. McCall uses a company that manufactures the rounded collars. "They are heavily, heavily starched," she says. "We must go through hundreds in a [season]. Everybody's collars are different sizes."
Tom Branson (Allen Leech) wears a "knickerbocker suit," McCall says. "The trousers are cut just below the knee because we had to change his look somewhat because he now is the estate manager. He is trying to make more of an effort to fit in so his suits tend to be not quite the country gent, not that kind of tweed, trying to retain some of his Irish."
"It is winter, and that jumper was chosen because it was hired (rented) and because of the color," McCall says. "Knitwear was becoming very fashionable, and being the youngest and most fashionable, (Lady Rose, played by Lily James) wears it."
Photo/Video credit: PBS
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