Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Downton Abbey and the Fashionable 1910's

I rented the first season of Downton Abbey and it's my new favorite show! If you like Mad Men or any Jane Austen film, you'll love Downton Abbey!

The show is about the Crawley Family of whom the patriarch is the Earl of Grantham during the early 1900's (also during the reign of King George V, subject of The King's Speech.) The first episode takes place during the aftermath of the sinking of the Titanic. The show is very interesting, witty and it's beaufitul to watch!

My favorite part of the show is the costumes! They are spot on perfect for the era and just gorgeous! I'm also impressed by the repeating of costumes as it seems impossible that people wouldn't wear things more than once in those days.

Lady Mary Crawley, the Earl's oldest daughter, is kind of the main character of the show as the plot mainly centers around her inability to inherit as a female and the lack of husband after 4 social seasons. Mary is played beautifully by Michelle Dockery.

I love that people used to have a dressing gong that they would hear ring to tell them it was time to change for dinner and that they would wear their finest silks and beads to sit at the table. Dinner was an event back then, not a chore, though I suppose it's different that most of us cook our own meals these days. But still, they did this even when there was no one in the house to be entertained. Family dressed to dine with family. I wish some things were still done as they were back then.

Most of us are lucky to dress like this once a year, but in 1912, affluent families dined in this fashion every evening. Evening dresses were made of beautiful sheer fabrics with beads and elaborate jewelry was worn. Men would dine in tuxedos, usually tales. During the day things were more casual. Women covered up even more and wore cotton or linen dresses or suits with hats and shorter gloves. Men would wear something more similar to the suits we are used to now.

Make-up was extremely natural, if any was worn at all. There was something very fun and natural about the women of the early 20th century. Also, when someone died, it was customary to go into mourning, meaning wearing black at all times (as you may remember from Gone With the Wind) and eventually you would go into partial mourning, introducing white and beige, etc. into your wardrobe before going back to wearing colors. There was a suitable time for mourning, depending on who it was that died. Immediate family and spouses would require a longer mourning period than say a cousin. I don't know why we stopped doing this... it seems appropriate to me.

I first fell in love with the fashion of the early 20th century when I saw Titanic at the age of 17. I wanted the dress above so bad for my prom! I just love the look of beaded silk or chiffon draped over a colorful fabric. I also think there's something very beautiful and classy about not wearing a strapless hoochie dress to the prom or anywhere for that matter. Women were very covered up in 1912, but sexy and gorgeous all the same.

Surprisingly, nearly 100 years later, there are frocks making their way down the catwalk resembling the style of the 1910's, an era that is often forgotten in favor of the Roaring 20's or the Fabulous 50's.

Here are some of my favorite looks from the runways that seem to be inspired by Downton Abbey style.

1. Badgley Mischka Fall 2011 RTW
2 & 3. Valentino Spring 2011 RTW

1. Rodarte Fall 2011 RTW
2. Reem Acra Spring 2011 RTW
3. Reem Acra Pre-Fall 2011

1. Rachel Roy Fall 2011 RTW
2. Jason Wu Pre-Fall 2011
3. Elie Saab Spring 2011 RTW

1. Christian Dior Pre-Fall 2011
2. Chanel Spring 2011 Couture
3. Carolina Herrera Spring 2011 RTW

1. Carolina Hererra Spring 2011 RTW
2. Carolina Herrera Pre-Fall 2011
3. Carolina Herrera Fall 2011 RTW

1 & 2. Badgley Mischka Spring 2011 RTW
3. Badgley Mischka Fall 2011 RTW

All runway photos from


One of the things I love most about the 1910's fashion is the hair. Occasionally women, especially very young ones, wore their hair down or in a ponytail of some sort, but most of the time women wore their hair in beautiful updos with braids or twists, even during the day. They often accessorized their hair in the evenings with embellished combs and usually wore hats during the day if they were outside of their home. Basically what I love is no flat irons, no hot rollers... just natural beauty. I obviously love my hair tools, but how nice it must have been to not have needed them?

I didn't get the exact dress from Titanic by a long shot, but I did chose a red satin vintage style dress and I took this photo along with my great grandmother's necklace to the hair dresser and asked her to do my hair like this. She did and it was gorgeous! I wore some periodic looking shoes, white gloves, vintage jewelry and all. I dare say, if I wasn't the bell of the ball, I certainly felt like it. And while some of my friends were more trendy back then, wearing two piece beaded dresses and some short or long hoochie dresses, mine has stood the test of time and the picture doesn't look dated at all. The moral is, go classic or be prepared to have embarrassing moments when you're parents get your photos out!

The hair from the 1910's was soft, usually rolled back at the sides (remember the Topsytail?) and twitsted or braided into some sort of bun or cluster. The front was usually soft and curled around the face or swept back. Here are some stars who've recently rocked Downton Abbey hair on the red carpet.

Photos from


Realistically, I would say if you wore these ensembles as they are you'd probably look a little costumey, however these are all items that are available right now, and it would be easy to incorporate some of the 1910's style and fashion into your regular wardrobe, especially with brands like House of Harlow 1960 making such beautiful art deco jewelry or amazing boots by Guisseppe Zanotti that make me wish I had petty coats and bloomers under my skirt to wear them properly!
First are the day looks. They are lighter in color and much more casual than evening attire of the day. You must remember that often time people took their exercise in their day clothes (which many times was simply a walk around the gardens... can't do much in a corset!).
Also, you'll notice the kimono styles below. They were very popular in the 1910's. Here's what says about the style.

"During the early years of the 1910s the fashionable silhouette became much more lithe, fluid and soft than in the 1900s. When the Ballets Russes performed Scheherazade in Paris in 1910, a craze for Orientalism ensued. The couturier Paul Poiret was one of the first designers to translate this vogue into the fashion world. Poiret's clients were at once transformed into harem girls in flowing pantaloons, turbans, and vivid colors and geishas in exotic kimono."

Another style was simply a long maxi skirt with a flowy blouse, sometimes covered with a jacket or coat.

Women also wore suits in those days (picture the suit worn in the boarding scene of Titanic by Rose), made up of long skirts and matching jackets. Many of these styles even featured ties, similar to the ones worn by men.

There are several events in the first season of Downton Abbey that involve outdoors socializing such as a flower show and a garden party. During events such as these, people dressed as we would now for such an event, in light or white colors. Often the men wore khaki or white suits and the color scheme for such events was never much deeper than a light pastel.

One option for a garden party might be a long white dress with a black belt, a large black and white hat and black and white accessories.

Another option would be a white dress with a bit more color. This would've probably been more suitable for the day. Jewelry would be small and minimal and it would've been perfectly acceptable to sport a straw hat or boater, especially if a) the event wasn't too formal or b) the ensemble is being worn by an unmarried girl of 18 or younger.

People in mourning dresses as such. The more recent the death, the less liberties to be taken with the black clothing. This ensemble would be for a formal day, perhaps the funeral.

And after a while, you can start introducing some white into the wardrobe gradually until it is socially acceptable to wear colors again.

Dinner time! My favorite! Oh what I'd give to be able to wear some of these outfits for dinner!

And if in mourning, the only extravagance spared would be color! Everything would remain just as sparkly and pretty, but it would have to be black!

I think the 1910's and the 1960's are my favorite fashion eras! I'm also a fan of the 30's, 40's and 50's. What is your favorite fashion era?

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  1. i just finished watching season 2 of DA and I am so obsessed with the looks of the time - thank you for such a well written article on the topic! As a fashion blogger myself ( I have noticed that this season more than last is continuing to evolve the style of the 1910s and introduce even more opulence into current trends. Thanks again!

    1. Thank you so much! I love the fashions of that time too! Xo

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