Starting in 1912 we have watched the characters on Downton Abbey dress in the finest of fine Belle Epoche gowns and Edwardian lawn dresses. Now as we move into season 3 it is time for a radical change in fashion with the 1920’s. I love the 1920’s. Both the culture and the fashion are fascinating to study. No matter how much I read on the subject I can’t get enough. Watching Downton Abbey certainly aids my 1920’s fervor.
Let us take a look at the history of ladies fashion in the 1920 and how Downton Abbey demonstrates its simplicity and beauty.
Downton Abbey Day Fashion in 1920
1920 is a great year. The clothing was in transition into the new “boyishh” figure that was to dominate the next 10 years. Abrupt changes to the fashion world would come soon enough with new short dresses and bobbed hair. In the year of 1920 hair was gathered and pined to look short, without actually cutting any length off. Dresses lost their conforming hour glass shape and become shapeless sheets of fabric. Out went tight undergarments too and in their place simple slips and chest squishing braziers. The overall look was free, loose, and comfortable which isn’t to say they were unattractive. Watching the sisters in Downton Abbey season 3 you can see that what was left out of dress construction was made up for in elaborate decoration. All over beading, clusters of crystals, feather plumes, and exotic Asian motifs added a level of finery that reflected the wealth of many in the 20’s (those who were not wealthy acted as if they were by increasing spending on clothing. Clothing budgets nearly doubled in the 20’s in the USA and gradually in the UK too.)
The costumer for Downton Abbey did an excellent job dressing the crawly ladies and in the correct dresses for the year.
Day dresses we simple in design and materials favoring cotton, wool, and twill in plaids, checks, and stripes. Silk taffeta was also popular for indoor activities. Embroidery or hand painted designs added interest to plain fabrics. A thin fabric belt or long wide sash tied around the waist added what little shape there was to the dress. Ruffles of fabric on the hips was one interesting style of dress that was popular in the early 20’s although very unflattering for most figure types.
Blouses, worn under jumper dresses or with skirt separates featured round oversized eyelet lace collars and long sleeves that bagged a bit at the wristband. They buttoned up the front making it easier for women to dress themselves. More formal blouses, like Mary’s (pictured left) still buttoned up the back and were inset with lace panels around the collarless neck. I LOVE 20’s blouses. So refined and so comfortable looking.
Another common day outfit we see a lot in Downtown Abbey is the two piece walking suit. Ideal for going into town for all classes of women, the suit featured a very long torso jacket with side fastening buttons. Jackets had round necks in an open collar form or tall muff for cooler weather.
Suit skirts were one, two, or three tiers at the hip with the hem tapering slightly above the ankle. Wool for winter, silks for summer and minimal decoration throughout.
Edith and Mary sported many fine walking suits in season 3. Their hats, gloves and purses always accessorized beautifully.
Hats were not yet the helmet shaped cloche of most of the 20’s. Instead they had wide side brims, short crowns, and simple decorations. Large brim picture hats were still enjoyed during the summer months and by older generations who embraced change slowly.
Downton Abbey Evening Fashion in 1920
Formal evening dresses were light and airy in rich metallic tones and fine silk that had shine to it. Gowns were heavily decorated with jewels and bead work. The dress length was still quite long- coming down to the ankle although slightly shorter tea length gowns were entering the picture in America. Dresses were usually sleeveless for evening wear. Necklines too were simple with wide boat neck openings or large V neck cuts. If the dress featured gathering at the waist it was in the form of sashes that pulled to one side and tied low on the hip. The blurring of semi formal and formal dresses had begun. A formal afternoon dress could now be worn at dinner! Gasp! Maybe not at Downton but certainly by most family’s.
Evening head wear was just as elaborate as the dresses. Rhinestone headbands, hair combs, tairas and clips were placed in the hair to add ornamentation. Plums of feathers were also popular although we don’t see them in Downton Abbey. For many, an evening hat, shaped as a turban, was preferred. Global travels and the discovery of the eastern world such as Asia, Egypt, and Indian influenced everything from head wear to jewelry and dress design.
Dressing in 1920 Downton Abbey Fashion
If looking at pretty stills from the show isn’t enough to quench your thirst for Downton Abbey fashion then perhaps you need a 1920 outfit of your own. I have a number of articles and shopping resource pages to help you find new clothing with plenty of 1920s style:
- Downton Abbey Dresses: Read more about then shop for 1920 Inspired Downton Abby dresses.
- Dowton Abbey Inspired Clothing– From dresses, to hats, to shoes, and headbands I show you where to buy 1920 inspired fashion.
- Ladies 1920 Shoes – Shop for vintage style 1920’s shoes. Read more about the different styles of 1920’s shoes.
- FREE ebook 1920’s Fashion or Your Body Type– A must read before you shop for 1920s clothing. Choosing the right dress and hat using fashion rules written in 1920.
- 1920’s Accessories: Learn a bit about the different accessories needed to complete an outfit. Hats, Jewelry, Stockings, Hairbands, etc
- Pinterest- Fashion in the Downton Abbey Era – Some picture inspiration for you.
- Downton Abbey costume guide– Infographic and guide to dressing like the ladies of Downton Abbey.
- 10 Downton Abbey inspired costumes– 10 examples of women’s costumes for a 1920s theme event.
If you need any help finding something to wear please don’t hesitate to contact me. Otherwise if you liked this articles please share it with your friends: