Dressing Downton Abbey Style

How to dress Downton Abbey style: Cloche hats, flapper dresses, pearls — but no stilettos or push-up bras!

Downton Abbey style: How to dress like Lady Mary or Lord Grantham

Downton Abbey Season Five
Downton Abbey dressing can include a cloche hat like Lady Mary wears in this photo from Season 5 and driving/hunting caps worn by her male friends. Photo by © Nick Briggs/Carnival Films 2014 for Mastepiece
Downton Abbey Season Five
For men, a tux or tails always work in the Downton Abbey style; for women long gloves and loose sleeveless beaded dresses. Photo by © Nick Briggs/Carnival Films 2014 for Mastepiece
Downton Abbey Season Five
Tom's daughter sure has grown up and looks adorable in this embroidered smock. Photo by © Nick Briggs/Carnival Films 2014 for Mastepiece
Downton Abbey Season Five
Downton Abbey Season Five
Downton Abbey Season Five

Downton Abbey fans can't wait for Season 5 to begin Jan. 4 on Houston Public Media's TV 8. But several hundred lucky Downton addicts will get to see a free sneak preview of the first episode of the new season on Saturday at three Houston area locations.

 Traces of 1920s style have shown up on 2014 fashion runways, so it's easier than you think to add the Downton Abbey look to today's wardrobe.

Enthusiasts are encouraged to dress in DA style — circa 1920s Britain — with winners receiving two free passes to Manor of Speaking, the locally produced show that dissects each episode of the hit series.

Former British vice consul Helen Mann, a regular on Manor of Speaking, plans to dress for the occasion.

"My dress was made to a 1920s pattern — dark teal silk with a black lace diagonal overlay and beaded half skirt. To it I add black opera gloves, 1920 style shoes and a teal, black and white feather hair ornament, and a small embroidered silk shoulder bag," she says.

Traces of 1920s style have shown up on 2014 fashion runways, so it's easier than you think to add the Downton Abbey look to today's wardrobe.

Here are some suggestions from three Houston fashion experts.

Hats off to Downton fashion

One easy way to get the Downton look is by adding a cloche hat with a jeweled pin or a tight skull cap style with spit curls peeking out for effect, suggests Jeanne Ruberti, who directed all of the recent runway shows at Fashion Houston. Add a dress just below the knee or a loose and flirty skirt and your good to go. A long narrow scarf draped around the neck or a big fox fur at the collar and cuffs can add some Downton flair.

Bobbed hair or a slicked perm and lots of make-up with red Cupid lips completes the look.

How to achieve a vintage style

As Houston's premier vintage expert, Dawn Bell has lots of suggestions. "The 1920s is so fun and easy to achieve because it had a very distinct silhouette," says Bell, the owner of Coronation Vintage.

 "This is not the time to wear your push up bras! No cleavage! That would ruin your look," Bell says. 

Some of the defining features for women are dresses with dropped waistlines and uneven hemlines. They are often sleeveless and V-shaped in the front and back with shimmery and texted beading, sequins, chiffon or lace, Bell says.

"A good place to start is to pick a dress from your closet that has no defined waist. You can create a dropped waist by tying a scarf or long wide satin ribbon around your hips (pin it from the inside). It's important to remember that you are trying to create a look that doesn't show any of your curves so the right undergarments are very important in achieving the overall silhouette. This is not the time to wear your push up bras! No cleavage! That would ruin your look," Bell says.

Accessories are the fun part, Bell adds. Among the items that can likely be found in area vintage stores are:

  • Shoes should be round toe — A Mary Jane with T strap will work. But no stiletto  — they weren't even around yet! — or peep toes that would spoil the look. Instead think something that looks like a tap shoe.
  • Cloche style hats — Local thrift stores like Replay and Retropolis have some.
  • Headbands — A thin scarf will do. Tuck in a feather or something sequiny.
  • Skull caps beaded or crocheted — They fit like a swim cap.
  • Wide brimmed hats embellished with flowers or feathers.
  • Gloves — The longer the better; above the elbow is best.
  • Stockings — Roll them down just below the knee.

And yes, pearls — either single strand or several at different lengths — complete the look, along with dainty dangling droplet earrings.

Hair and makeup can be done pretty easily, too, Bell says. Bobs, of course, were the big thing, but someone with longer hair can put it in a ponytail and tuck it under, securing with bobby pins. If you're really adventurous, curl your hair into finger waves — either book an appointment with Cara Crafton at Craft Salon or watch a tutorial on YouTube.

Makeup should be a darkish smoky eye and a Cupid bow lip in a dark shade. "If you have thin eyebrows already then this look will work great for you," Bell says.

Don't forget the men

Don't forget the men, says uberstylist Summar Salah. She suggests a three-piece suit with a fedora or driving cap for gentleman.

 "Many men's stores and designers are showing current suits that have a vintage flair," Salah says. 

"Many men's stores and designers are showing current suits that have a vintage flair. Suitsupply and Neiman Marcus have some some great three-piece suits. Designers like Billy Reid have pieces that can work. A stripe or herringbone is good. Maybe a round collar could be a nice detail," she says.

Or wear a tux or tails with a single button and white vest for an impeccable evening look. If you really want to make a fashion statement, add a top hat and cane.

For the ladies, Salah agrees with our experts that a drop waist, longer dress with details like elegant beading, delicate lace or ribbon help achieve a beautiful feminine look.

A long necklace with tassels or jet beads or pearls are great accessories, as well as long ivory or cream gloves and perhaps a lace fan.

"I would also suggest head bands and a beaded ribbon that can be worn on the forehead," Salah says. "The best places to find these are at bridal shops like Mia Bridal, Now & Forever, Weddings by Debbie and Joan Pillow. These are also good places to look for feminine beaded jackets, too."

Screenings

Screenings of the first episode of Downton Abbey Season 5 will take place Saturday at the Palladium AVX in Richmond, Santikos Silverado IMAX in Tomball, and at The University Center Theater at the University of Houston. For information about times and to reserve a free seat, go to www.houstonpublicmedia.org/downtonday.