For four seasons, fans of the period PBS drama, Downton Abbey, have followed the lives of the fictional Crawley family and their staff. In keeping with the popularity of the show, the conservators at Winterthur have brought an exhibition of more than 40 of the costumes and accessories from the show to Wilmington, Del. entitled “Costumes of Downton Abbey.”
Curators from Winterthur were allowed access to Cosprop, the world’s leading costumier to film, TV and theatre, which provides most of the costumes for the show. Maggie Lidz, one of the three co-curators of the exhibition, went to London in July 2013 to pick the costumes for the exhibition and commented, “The first time I looked at the costumes up close, I was amazed at the incredible detail. They are surprisingly ornate.”
What the exhibition does is to compare the fictional life at Downton Abbey with real life at Winterthur in the first half of the 20th century. I was lucky enough to get a first-hand look at the exhibition in June 2014. As a fan of Downton Abbey, it was even more spectacular than I had hoped. It is a not to be missed opportunity for anyone who loves the show.
The exhibition is set up by time of day. Outside the entrance you are introduced to all of the characters from the show in a wall collage. This is followed by a display from below stairs where you will see costumes worn by Anna, Mrs. Hughes and Carson. Most of the scenes feature photos taken from the show behind the displays, as well as plaques to read in front. TV screens throughout the exhibition also play some of the most memorable moments from the show.
As you walk through the exhibition you get to take part in a typical day at Downton Abbey. The numerous dress changes, the work that the staff is responsible for and how the life of the English aristocracy differed from that of the wealthy American industrialist. It makes the differences between Cora and Robert much more understandable.
One of the many interesting facts imparted by the curators is that the costumes are a mix of new and old. Vintage fragments of lace, pleating and silks are incorporated into new fabric that is dyed and distressed to match. You are given the opportunity to see the construction and how this was accomplished. You will also notice the color of the costumes is not exactly as you remember from TV. Colors flatten and change on screen.
Some of the most iconic costumes from the first three seasons, including the controversial haram pants worn by Lady Sybil and Lady Edith’s gorgeous wedding dress, are on display. My favorite was the proposal scene and costumes worn by Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley.
The exhibition is wildly popular and reserving tickets in advance is a must. It is running from March 2, 2014-January 4, 2015. Tickets are available online and the exhibition is included in the general admittance price. Tickets are timed for entry but you are allowed to spend as long as you would like within the exhibition.
As expected, the last stop is the gift shop which offers a wide selection of special items relating to the show.