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Downton Abbey: Style Ranking

By Cláudio Alves

Since its first season, Downton Abbey has been the delight of every costume drama fan. Starting in 1912 and ending in 1926, the show featured an astounding portrayal of changing styles. We all watched the characters go from Edwardian finery to the glamour of the 20s.

Every actor in the Downton Abbey movie is perfectly dressed by costume designer Anna Robbins. Sometimes the perfection is even a bit too emphatic  --no one ever looks even slightly rumpled! At the end of the day, though, this isn't a realistic view of the past but a romantic dream of a bygone era. For such nostalgic reveries, a bit of fairytale immaculateness isn't out of place. To celebrate such beauty, let's rank the Downton Abbey ladies, from worst to best dressed. For the sake of brevity and fairness, we're only looking at the upstairs crowd. It would be cruel to compare Mrs. Patmore's humble clothes to the literal crown jewels...

8. Princess Mary (Kate Phillips)
During the run of the show, Rose (Lily James) defended some of her more fashion-forward choices by saying Princess Mary wore similar styles. We expected to understand Rose’s sartorial inspiration onscreen, but what we get is a rather boring vision of cream and beige, non-descript lace confections and an unmemorable ballgown. At least her tiara game’s on point.

7. Isobel Merton (Penelope Wilton)
I love Isobel, always have, but her style leaves something to be desired. There’s a hint of modernity to her modest attire, a bit of 20s injected into an Edwardian model, but this is a woman clearly uninterested in the affairs of fashion. Her clothes make sense for the character but are easily overshadowed.

6. Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton)
As a companion of the Queen, Maud Bagshaw has a wardrobe to fit her place in society. Her costumes are rich, full of heavy beading and jewels. In some scenes, she seems to have jumped right out of a historical photograph. It's period-appropriate fussiness but too fussy for a high ranking. 

 5. Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith)
Violet is, naturally, always a few steps behind current fashion. When the series started, she was still sporting Victorian silhouettes and now her style has only advanced to the late Edwardian period. Still, I truly love her mix of démodé cuts with up-to-date textiles, like Egyptian inspired patterns or a hint of Art Deco embroidery. What's more her accessories are always the best, be it the masterpieces of period millinery or the real diamonds she often wears. Robbins had a positively astronomical budget for the jewelry and it shows.

4. Queen Mary (Geraldine James)
Another character covered head to toe in luxurious fabrics and spectacular jewelry is, of course, the queen. In her pursuit of historical accuracy, Anna Robbins studied the real-life garments of Queen Mary and copied some of the construction. The detail is truly impressive and she nailed this real person’s iconic, fairly old-fashioned, style.

3. Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern)
The American born Countess of Grantham is a middle point between the Edwardian stylings of the older generation and the modernity of the younger women. Her costumes are always beautifully draped, featuring flowing capes, trains of lamé embroidery and a lot of exquisite lace. Her blouses fashioned from period scarves are particularly gorgeous and some of the best pieces featured in the whole film.

2. Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael)
There was a time when poor Edith was the ugly duckling of the Crawley family but she has since evolved into a modern woman. Of the returning characters, she’s the one with the most new clothes, a testament to her position as Marchioness of Hexham. A lot of her costumes are made out of vintage pieces and she often looks like a 20s fashion plate. Her two best outfits are some luxurious lingerie and an original beaded dress worn with a faux diamond tiara made out of bejeweled stars. She looks like a movie star.

1. Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery)
Mary was and continues to be Downton Abbey’s most stylish character. There’s a delicious sharpness to her attire, some touches of androgyny and a color palette dominated by black, white and the occasional splash of blue. Truth be told, she won this fashion contest from the moment she donned a slinky Fortuny gown. That particular costume represents the best about Downton Abbey, it’s historical nostalgia mixed with the sort of dreamy glamour that only ever existed onscreen. It’s sheer perfection.

Did you love the Downton Abbey fashions? If there's a sequel how much of a time jump are you hoping for fashion-wise?

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Reader Comments (3)

Lady Mary is dressed impeccably, but that Louise Brooks bob is so unflattering on Michelle Dockery...

October 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJeffrey

I enjoyed the movie, but it's peak Downton that one of the movie's conflicts is what Edith will wear to the ball. Will it arrive on time? What about the fit?

October 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

So many well deserved compliments for the amazing Anna Robbins whose work has always been superb. Thanks for this article.

October 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

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