Tonight is the final episode of Downton Abbey, and many people will be gathering for watch parties–I’m going to one hosted by our public media station! If you want to dress up, but don’t have a 1920s costume shop in your closet, this is a ‘lookbook’ for gettin kitted up in clothes you already own! The show covers a long period of time and a range of class and activities, so you have a great deal of wiggle room. This post is focused mostly on season 6 styles (~1925). No plot spoilers!
Remember, this is for fun! Also, since you are not the actual costume designer(s) of the show, you don’t have to be historically accurate, just historically inspired. Now, if you’re going to see it in the evening, you might want to lean towards evening wear, but I’ve included a number of daytime inspired looks, which are a bit easier to manage. Hair tutorial at the end!
Historical note: the preferred body type of the 1920s was ‘boyish’–streamlined and thin–in part a result of increased physicality and athleticism for women. The clothes were built for these bodies, and so I don’t think the 20s silhouette is particularly flattering for me. But it does point to the constructedness of beauty ideals: the historical variation demonstrates the lack of absolute value (ditto ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’). I’m more of a Joan than a Mary, but the fashion of both eras inspire me, and I hope this post inspires you whatever fabulous shape you are! (My byline photo today is what I wore to the Mad Men finale!)
For those who want to dress like the male identified characters:
- do you have a tux!? do that!
- suiting hasn’t changed that much, but you can play with tie shapes
- go hunting/sportsman inspired with a sweater under a blazer
For those who want to dress like the female identified characters:
- long outer layers (also big in 2016!)
- drop waist: this means the seam on a dress or meeting place in a skirt and shirt ensemble is below the natural waist, usually at the hip bones or mid thigh
- ‘tea length’ skirts, which is now called midi: below the knee but above the ankle
- cloches and headbands, pearls and tassels (it might be rude to wear a hat while actually watching, depending on where you’re going)
Most of the pictures in this post come from Fashionista.com’s Downton coverage
Some 20s inspired looks I’ve worn to teach, bottom inspired by Dr. MacMillan on Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, another fantastic show set in the 1920s.
L: “tea dress” I got from Macy’s sophomore year of high school–note drop waist, light fabric, sheer and layered fabrics. With short gloves and less dramatic pearls for ‘day.’
Below: day looks mostly layered over a midi cotton dress from H&M. If you don’t have a tie-neck shirt, use a skinny scarf or a ribbon, and tie a bow or knot under the collar. Long jackets and shirts over skirts achieve same ‘drop waist’ silhouette.
Accessories for daywear included cloche hats (Urban Outfitters) and shorter necklaces (gift). I got this jacket from a night market in Taipei, and the lilac short sleeve jacket is silk, hand me down from my mom. “Oriental” influences were strong in the 1920s as trade and archeology boomed under colonialism. (I use ‘oriental’ intentionally as a period-specific term and to denote the Orientalism which underlay the aesthetics.) The style we know as Art Deco is characterized in part by the geometrical influences of ancient Egypt and art in the Islamic world, as well as floral motifs from East Asia.
Sportswear and ‘Menswear’-inspired
Watch the episode celebrating Henry Talbot and all the other shooting, driving, and riding characters. Any button-up, tie, and sports coat will work! Wear with pants or a skirt in a similar weight material. This jacket was my grandmother’s and lived in our dress up chest growing up. The hat is Italian wool, and was my grandfather’s. And Yes, that is a skull and cross bones on my driver’s cap.
If you don’t have a tux, any dark suit will be lovely. I don’t have a hack for the white vest of very formal wear, but here I layered a buttoned-up black cardigan under my velour tux-style jacket. A black bowtie is ideal, but a plain black tie or a cravat would be lovely. I approximated a white tie with a plain handkerchief, but by season 6 black tie has become acceptable!
Check out this channel for tie tying tips!
Evening collars weren’t standard pointy collars we have now. Try these two re-styles.
Evening Wear and Hair
Lots of great hair accessories! See the video below for two quick hair styles and some ideas for accessorizing with what you have.
If you’ve seen Anna undress Mary, you know evening dresses were often a slip and an over dress. This dress (H&M, hand me down from sis) came with a black slip–I replaced it here with my nude full slip, and layered it over a black pencil skirt to get extra length. If you have any sheer or sequined items, see what you can do with layering! ‘headband’ is a bracelet bobby-pinned in! Black leather gloves were my Gma’s.
This is a $15 H&M cotton stretch sleeveless dress, which I wore as a ‘skirt’ in many of the daytime looks. If you have a simple dress, you can still dress it up! This scarf was my maternal grandmother’s and my sis gave it to me this summer. I’ve draped it here to mimic a coat. With white cloth gloves and white pearls tied into lariat shape. Technically evening gloves are satin and go above the elbow, but I don’t have any! If you do go with gloves, the Crawley rule of thumb is black with darks and champagne with pastels and metallics, so approximate accordingly!
Me with finger waved hair from last year! It’s not very hard, just try it! You may need to use a dryer since I’m posting this so late…You can use any kind of gel/mousse, and I’ve done it with regular bobby pins!
A great wave tutorial: Hayley Jones
Mini buns for faux-bob: Lilith Moon
1920s makeup: Zabrena
If you don’t want to wave your hair, here’s me showing you two styles you can do in under 5 minutes! Both work for either curly or straight hair of almost any length.
If you dress up for the Downton finale, or use any of these ideas for a 20s gathering of another kind, please tag us! #SartorialScholars