The Sun Is Shining Bright on ‘Costumes of Downton Abbey’


Photograph © Nick Briggs, Carnival Film & Television Limited, 2010. All Rights Reserved.

The momentum is going strong! The original exhibition Costumes of Downton Abbey is receiving national acclaim and breaking visitation records on the former du Pont estate. There are no signs of things slowing down, but for those who have not had a chance to visit Winterthur yet, there is still time; Costumes of Downton Abbey is on view in the Winterthur Galleries through January 4, 2015. In the meantime, here is the next post focusing on the “Leisurely Afternoon” section of the exhibition.

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While the morning costumes featured in the exhibition are primarily centered around the downstairs characters on Downton Abbey, the afternoon activities put more emphasis on the outfits worn by the upstairs characters. It was English custom for the local gentry, like the Granthams, to host village fetes to benefit local charities. The exhibition displays two summer dresses and hats worn in Season One by characters Mary and Sybil to the town’s annual flower show and to the family’s garden party. The contemporary-looking print on Sybil’s Edwardian-style dress shows how designers look to the past for inspiration. Housemaid Anna’s formal dress in the style of 1912 is also displayed. During the afternoon, the downstairs characters would have changed from a morning dress into a formal black dress with apron. Aprons were traditionally worn with dresses by housemaids in the early twentieth century.

The exhibition also features costumes worn to the christening of Sybil’s baby. The lavender dresses worn by Cora, Countess of Grantham, and by Mary are both in the style of 1920. Also featured is Matthew Crawley’s gray suit in the style of 1921. Traditional colors of mourning of the time were lavender, gray, lilac, and mauve. An interesting fact from the exhibition for fans of the show: the costumes are treated as part of the character’s wardrobe, the dress worn by the character Cora to the christening was also worn by Cora to Lady Mary’s wedding.

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Photograph © Giles Keyte, Carnival Film & Television Limited, 2012. All Rights Reserved.







Summer whites and ivory were traditionally worn during leisure hours. Displayed in the exhibition is character Matthew Crawley’s cricket ensemble in the style of the 1920s, including a sweater, sports shirt, and flannel trousers. Cricket, widely considered the national sport of Great Britain, became popular in many East Coast cities in the United States in the 1800s. In fact, many country clubs can trace their origins to cricket clubs. The Wilmington Country Club, which borders the Winterthur property, can be traced back to the 1882 Delaware Cricket Club.

While men and women typically spent their leisure hours in the summer playing cricket and walking, respectively, the fall activities centered on foxhunting and shooting. Each activity required its own outfit. Foxhunting on horseback had distinctive attire, including scarlet coats, while cool-weather tweeds were worn for shooting game birds.

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Photograph © Giles Keyte, Carnival Film & Television Limited, 2012. All Rights Reserved.

A trip to the country was common practice not only in England but also for Winterthur founder Henry Francis du Pont. A three-day house party might require 12 complete ensembles. A large trunk like H. F.’s, which is displayed in the exhibition, would be one essential piece of luggage packed by the man’s valet or the lady’s maid or for the trip.

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Ruth Wales du Pont and her lady’s maid, Juliette Dordonette, had an affectionate relationship; Juliette’s duties included helping to dress her employer and fixing her hair—quite like the relationship on Downton Abbey between the characters Cora and Sarah O’Brien. Another aspect of the lady’s maid duties was to pack for her employer, including the carrying case. Ruth’s traveling case, on display, was custom-made for her by Albert Barker Ltd. of London, manufacturer to His Majesty King George V.

Du Pont and his valet shared a similar relationship. The valet in the United States and Great Britain was tasked with dressing his employer, packing and unpacking, securing hotels, and acting as a courier. Valets, like the character John Bates, did not wear uniforms; Bates’s costume includes work clothes, an apron, and sleeve guards in the style of 1912.

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Afternoon tea was a leisurely activity practiced in England and the United States. The fashion of English tea began with Queen Alexandra asking her friends to come for a cup of tea and an afternoon chat. The practice quickly imported to America. At Winterthur afternoon tea was served between the hours of 4:30 and 6:00 pm. The Tiffany tea service displayed in the exhibition was monogrammed for du Pont’s mother, Mary Pauline Foster du Pont. The tea service stayed in the family and was used until H. F.’s death in 1969, when it was donated to the museum.

Costumes of Downton Abbey shows the parallels between fictional life at Downton Abbey and real life at Winterthur. Many of the leisurely activities the characters at Downton experience are similar to the experiences of H. F. du Pont living at Winterthur.

The next installment will focus on “Dazzling Dinnertimes” and the evening costumes featured in the exhibition. Costumes of Downton Abbey is on view in the Winterthur Galleries through January 4, 2015. For more information, please visit

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Post by Hilary Seitz, Marketing & Communications Department

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