Thursday, March 8, 2012

Dressing Downton: Deconstructing an Outfit

Trying to figure out what's going on in a costume can be pretty tricky. If you're not lucky enough to live someplace that the Downton Abbey costumes are touring, you'll have to rely on other techniques.

You'll want to start by finding lots of pictures. Watching on tv can be helpful but it's nice to have a still image to look at. If you can't find a good picture online, you can take your own screen caps or check out this website.

Things to look for:
  • full length shots
  • front shots
  • back shots
  • side views
  • detail shots
  • shots where the garment is moving
  • officially released shots
Sisters: Season 2

The piece I'm looking at today is the green skirt. I can tell it's ankle lenght with a belt and has a rather deep, handstitched hem. It's also a very different shape than the skirt Edith is wearing. It's much more aline than pencil.

Mary and Matthew season 2

Movement shots can help you determine a bit more about the fabric used in the garment. This one has lovely movement. This shot also has a nice crisp shot of the belt and buckle. The belt is exactly the right length (no room for post dinner expansion!) and has a square buckle with and oval hole. I don't see a prong. It doesn't look to me like a self-fabric belt but it could be a nice green leather.

Mary and Lavinia

This picture is not a good one to use because it's very dark and we can't see much of the skirt.

Downton Skirts  

Backs of garments are the most difficult shots to find. This one is has loads of outfit details available. Mary's skirt has 6 buttons on the back. I suspect they are decorative as I don't see any button holes, but they may be there.

Another difficult thing to discern is closures. Cora's skirt in this shot has an obvious closure in the back that looks like a zipper. It may also be a more period snap placket. If the buttons on the back of Mary's skirt are decorative, her skirt must close on the left. I haven't found a nice shot of the left but front and right side shots show no closures. Edwardian closures are often tricky with each layer having the closures somewhere else to prevent one spot from being too bulky. The other option is to just say forget it and put your closure in where ever you want.

Mary-behind the scenes

Candid shots are great for giving a different view of things. This skirt looks much less full in this shot. (Plus we get to see how they have perfect hair all the time!)

Lady Mary-white lace blouse

Official release photos are nice because they are crisp and often much larger than screen shots so you can zoom in and see all the details. Look at all of the types of lace on this blouse! I must learn some heirloom sewing techniques!

You can apply these techniques to any period (or vintage) movie/show that you like.


  1. *drooling*
    I really love Edith's outfit in the first shot... but Mary's blouse is one I have been after for ages! I am dying to try my hand at heirloom sewing techniques- I have a couple of Martha Pullen's books... and well... I'd just like to have a pretty blouse like that! I also really love the idea of a pretty chemise underneath the blouse... crochet lace yoke maybe? I know theirs are just store bought slips ;)

  2. What a lovely post! I am making both Mary's skirt and white blouse this month. :) My skirt won't be an exact reproduction, though, but the blouse hopefully will.

  3. I have been eying that skirt and blouse combo for ages! I was so excited to see the buttons on the back; it's a great little detail for an otherwise plain skirt. What fabric would you say it is? I was guessing it's a half or quarter-circle skirt rather than a-line, though, based on its movement and fullness at the hem and lack of any darts at the waist.

    1. Hmmm...You may be right that it's a half or quarter-circle skirt. I'm not sure what fabric it is or what would be period correct, but I picked up a crepe backed satin that I'm planning on using.

  4. The thing about heirloom sewing is that it's not hard, it's just time consuming... I picked up a lot of it working at the quilting shop, maybe I'll do a series or something...

    Great shots! Are you making the green skirt, too?