Downton: The Return of Roaring 20s Fashion


The fashion world is once again shaping itself around the glamour associated with the Sunday night period-drama ‘Downton Abbey’, with Ralph Lauren’s 2013 fall collection reflecting timeless elegance through modern takes on English heritage luxury.

The Edwardian costumes have pushed forward lavish period fashion, from runway to high street, but the first place to find authentic luxurious clothes are Vintage boutiques. The costumes brim with embellishment, silks, velvets, furs, leathers, spandex, lace, and feathers. Sequined and feathered veiled caps are reflective of the chic Edwardian elegance that is more refined that Victorian adornment, and yet decorative enough to boast glamour.

Downton Abbey’s women are radical. Season 4 (airing currently at 9pm every Sunday on ITV 1), dramatises the post-World War One period, and introduces ankle-revealing skirts, women wearing tweed, and the plunging neckline in diamond-dripping evening dresses.

The age of elegance is therefore also an age of radical change; fashion is beautiful and sophisticated yet also questioning of the boundaries between what is considered to be male and female. The introduction of trousers for women, for example, is dramatized in ‘Downton Abbey’ as being shockingly daring yet bohemian and exotic. The new comes with both concern, and approval – modern clothing concepts bring about dichotomous reactions.

Such head-turning reactions to classic items (such as the mixture of Edwardian and post-war costumes in the TV drama) are positive – fashion is not about conformity, but about breaking away from the ‘norm’, and looking both backwards and forwards.

Fashion is constantly returning to previous eras (note the current 50s peplum style, leggings from the 80s and Victorian Gothicism).  Looking back to the glamour associated with ‘Downton Abbey’s’ depiction of high-society luxury is, in fact, to push forward, in the fashion world. To break modern stereotypes by taking inspiration from the past creates a clash of eras and a fresh outlook on a previous trend.

When looking at the ‘Downton’ costumes for inspiration, focus upon the wardrobe of Lady Mary, who combines sweeping jewel-toned evening gowns with tight-fitted netted sleeves and gothic chokers, and also note the use of hats as fashion statements. Cloche hats, straw hats, veiled hats and caps are all utilised to create a sense of mystique and draw attention to the face.

Tweed jackets also give an air of English luxury heritage; maintaining a practical charm as well as glamour. Lace, embellishment and flapper-esque fringing give a sense of timeless romanticism, and when paired with tweed blazers, are instantly wearable.

Finally, think pastel shades; pale pinks, lavenders, mint greens and buttercup yellows when looking at accessories. Pastel shades were a relief to the black velvets and tweeds of the era – they provided an air of flirtation and playfulness (and, at the time, fashion was one of the only ways that sensuality and flirtation were allowed to be expressed).

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