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Posted on Sunday, September 3, 2017 at 10:00 am

See how the other half lived in ‘Downton’ exhibit

Kali Bradford


In 2011, novelist, actor and screenwriter Julian Fellows took us back in time to 1912 post-Edwardian England, where we fell head-over-heels for the aristocratic Grantham family in the period drama series, “Downton Abbey.”

We followed the Grantham family and their servants over 12 years of gripping drama that included, but was not limited to, sweeping change, scandals, love, ambition, heartbreak, war and hope.

Led by an all-star cast that included the brilliant Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle and Michelle Dockery, just to name a few, for six years we had the privilege of enjoying some of the best period drama ever produced by PBS’ Masterpiece Classic collection.

While there are so many things that make the series great, attention to the time period’s detail stands out as one of the best.

The sets and costumes required detailed research into how they would have looked in that time period.

According to production designer Donal Woods and costume designer Anna Robbins, months were spend researching set designs and clothing.

The series has received awards and nominations for its outstanding costumes, production design and sound design.

An evening outfit worn by actress Maggie Smith, who played Violet, or Dowager Countess Grantham, is a black Edwardian-style gown and tiara probably handed down for generations. Smith’s character is very dedicated to this style of dress.

With all the recognition, one might wonder what it would be like to see these period creations up close and personal.

Well, ask and you shall receive. The beloved British drama is touring its wardrobe in an exhibition showcasing 36 period costumes from the show.

To make things better, Downton Abbey lovers can hop into their cars right now and head to Nashville to view these creations for themselves. Cheekwood Botanical Gardens is hosting the exhibit, “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times” through Sept. 10.

The exhibition, produced by Exhibits Development Group in collaboration with NBCUniversal International Television Production and Carnival Films/PBS Masterpiece’s Downton Abbey, will tour North America through 2017.

According to the exhibit’s press release, Dressing Downton traces the events that uprooted British society on the eve of World War I and ushered in the Roaring ’20s, the Jazz Age and a new way of life.

Pictured is a dress worn by actress Shirley MacLaine in her role as Martha Levinson, Lady Cora Grantham’s American mother. Her clothes are expensive and extremely fashionable compared to Isobel (Crawley) and Violet (Dowager Countess Grantham). MacLaine’s character tends to overdress according to British standards.
-Staff Photos by Kali Bradford

The costumes were created for the show’s aristocratic Grantham family and their servants who inhabit the fictional English country estate of Downton Abbey. The costumes range from country tweeds, riding outfits, servants’ uniforms and footmen’s livery to lavish evening attire crafted from sumptuous fabrics and decorated with intricate embroidery, lace and beading.

Included are the gowns worn when Matthew Crawley first comes to Downton; the ostentatious outfits of the flamboyant American Martha Levinson; military uniforms from World War I; and delicate afternoon dresses worn by the ladies – Cora, Mary, Edith and Sybil.

My mother and I recently made the trek to Music City to visit the Cheekwood Mansion where the costumes are displayed.

My mom, who has never seen the show, was amazed by the detail and delicacy of each piece. I, an avid fan of the show, was also amazed by the detail and by getting to see something Maggie Smith wore in such close proximity.

While I’m glad that I don’t have to wear such clothing in everyday life, it would have been amazing to dress

We return to the sumptuous setting of Downton Abbey for the sixth and final season of this internationally acclaimed hit drama series. As our time with the Crawleys begins to draw to a close, we see what will finally become of them all. The family and the servants, who work for them, remain inseparably interlinked as they face new challenges and begin forging different paths in a rapidly changing world.
Photographer: Nick Briggs

up for a day in these “fancy duds” just to see how the other half used to live.

It’s amazing to see the detail that was given to each item in the stitching, beading and such, and how certain aspects of items were influenced by other countries and time periods.

In my 33 years of life, I’ve seen trends return with silly things such as shoulder pads, mom jeans and even bell bottoms, but I don’t think we’ll ever see the return of a flapper dress – at least for everyday wear.

But it is truly a beautiful exhibit that will take you back into time. Also for those of us who were and still are crazy about Downton Abbey, it’s a reason to fall in love with the series all over again.

To learn more, visit www.cheekwood.org.