With the final season of Downton Abbey in motion I wanted to re-create some of my favorite looks from the current and past seasons. I have plenty of new and thrifted 1920s style clothing in my collection so these looks were pretty easy for me to put together. Use what you have or can buy online and create your own costumes inspired by fashion in the roaring twenties. There are Downton Abbey costume ideas for all classes, all ages and all occasions day to evening.
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Downton Abbey Costume: Day Clothes
Not all of life at Downton was in glamorous evening gowns. The ladies wore simpler dress or skirt and blouse mixes and sometimes pants (gasp!) In the 1920s, the turn from mostly dresses to sportier casual separates was in full swing. In the final season of Downton set in 1925, we see Edith, Mary and sometimes Cora wearing loose fitting blouses, long thin skirts and lightweight jackets (cardigan style) that have very long lines. The drop waist silhouette was in fashion and everything a woman wore made her figure appear taller. Although clothing was shapeless it was not unflattering. A fabric belt, sash or fitted blouse hem created enough of a waist so as not to look like a sack for potatoes.
This first look I put together was inspired by the ladies at home clothing. Typically they would wear these from morning to afternoon while at Downton, running into town, or in the case of Edith working at her London Office. Casual was the latest fashion.
I started with a button down blouse, which was not common yet, but the buttons are covered by a placket so it is OK. An ideal blouse is one that is long, loose and pullover or buttoned up the back. Most blouse in early 20s did not have collars while the mid to late ’20s took on menswear inspiration and included pointed or round collars. Read about 1920s blouse styles here. Shop 1920s style blouses online here.
For shoes a pair of T-straps or single strap Mary Jane’s are ideal for around the house or in town. A pair of walking oxfords would be good too. I choose a tan pair of T straps for this look to coordinate with the overall light color of the outfit. The only accessory is a simple bead necklace, again fairly long to add length to the outfit.
Downton Abbey Costume : Day Dress
When not in a skirt and blouse ladies usually wore dresses. They were more traditional. This look here started with a vintage cotton dress (70s?) with pretty floral embroidery. It had a natural waist drawstring band which I covered up with a wide sash in contrasting blue. This brings it into the early 20s style where the waist was higher, sashes were wide, and dresses looked very “little girl.” Middle and lower class women (and Downton Abbey’s servants) would still be wearing this look in 1925. Shop 1920s day dress here.
For shoes I went with black Mary Jane’s (not white because lower classes had no need for shoes that dirty easily) with cut out details, a common design in the early ’20s. I also choose a wide brim straw hat to match the dress (again an early ’20s style), and white mesh gloves (blue would have been nice too. ) I didn’t add a necklace because of class status and because the outfit didn’t need it. Perhaps a cuff bracelet would have been a nice accessory.
Downton Abbey’s ‘New Woman’
Men were influencing 1920s women’s fashion and occupations. Mary is managing farmers, Edith running a paper, Isobel is head of the hospital board. These new jobs meant progressive “New Women” were wearing menswear inspired clothing such as a collared blouse and necktie and vest.
For my New Woman look I started with a collar blouse and thin necktie (I had to ask my husband to tie it.) In the picture on the right Edith wore a bow front blouse. Edith also wore a long vest left unbuttoned. I didn’t have a vest like that so I used a menswear style tweed vest and buttoned it up just like in Mary’s outfit. The look is very sporty and still accurate to 1920s. Next I used a blue tea length pleated skirt. The coat is a vintage cape coat with faux fur collar. It was a popular style in the 1920s as well as the 1960s and on trend again in 2015.
For accessories a brown felt cloche hat matched the vest. A pair of black or brown lace up oxford shoes were comfortable and practical for walking in the country. Finally a pair of wrist length gloves were always on hands when outdoors.
I LOVE this look. I think I will wear it to my next 1920s themed event for something a bit unusual.
Some New Women went as far as to wear pants, usually just for sporting outdoors although some designs were worn at private house parties, beach resorts, and at home. They were inspired by Asian clothing and featured semi wide loose legs, a long jacket with mandarin collar, and a wide wash belt. They were made of silk so they flowered beautifully. While we don’t see any of these worn in Downton Abbey, Lady Sybil who wore Harem pants in the first season, would be just the type of woman to wear a pant suit in the 1920s too. Also if you watch Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries you may see her wearing a white pant suit quite often. It was a look for the rebellious forward thinking woman.
For my look I found a white Asian inspired pant suit made of cotton/linen in a thrift store. I see these quite often so keep your eyes out for one. Online they are trickier to find. If you can find wide leg chiffon pants you can wear them with with just a blouse and still be in style. The blouse I found was a silky ’50s night gown top. Lingerie departments are another place to find great clothes with a beachy-resort look. For shoes I choose two tone oxfords because this is a sportier look. A straw or felt cloche hat adds just a little more 1920s style. My favorite accessory in this look is a long scarf with fringe tips tied at the neck to one side. You will see many long, thin, silk scarves worn in Season 6 of Downton Abbey. They were the in accessory of the mid ’20s. I use many of the fringe pashmina scarves and skinny scarves at Bohomonde for my scarves. A large scarf or fringe wrap like these here would also look fancy with a pant suit.
Look at this article for more ideas using scarves to accessorize a simple dress.
Downton Abbey Tea Clothes
Taking tea with friends was a daily event at Downton Abbey as well as hosting afternoon outdoor parties. For these occasions casual day wear was set aside and something nicer was put on, always a dress, but not yet the beaded evening gowns. Dresses were of light airy materials in colors to match the season with a few more accessories than home clothes.
For my first afternoon tea look I found a vintage drop waist navy blue and floral print dress (’80s) with tiered skirt. Very 1920s! I then piled on the accessories with a black cloche hat, long pearl necklace, wrist gloves, and a pair of T strap shoes.
The above look is perfect for a fall or winter’s day while the look below is a nice airy summer tea dress. I found another vintage ’80s dress with a dropped waist and gathered skirt. The top is sheer with a flounced neckline. If I were to be extra picky I would say this look is more in line with the late 1920s and early 1930s. The peachy pink color was popular at this time as well. It is a look that can work for either decade.
The dress is paired with a straw hat called the Edith Hat on Modcloth (how appropriate!) It came with a green or white band so I added a peach colored flower to coordinate with long bead necklace. There were many styles of jewelry in the 1920s but the bead necklace is the most iconic and versatile of them all. Next came again white mesh gloves (they breath well in hot weather) and a pair of light colored single strap shoes with a modest heel height.
High heels were only worn in the evening and indoors. On grass low wide heels were the most comfortable dressy shoes. Completely flat shoes were not worn at all. Small heels were still attached to oxfords and saddle shoes. These were for sporty looks. They would not have been worn with a tea dress. If your feet can’t handle any sort of heel by all means wear single, multi or t strap flat shoes and still look close enough to period correct. Wide shoe wearers you have great options too.
One last Downton Abbey costume, the Tea Party/ Garden Party look. I love this floral print dress. It is a reproduction 1930s dress I found at Unique-Vintage.co. The design is early thirties but still in the overall mood of the ’20s. I wore it recently to my local Great Gatsby summer festival and I had many complements on it.
To go with a summer garden theme I choose a white straw hat with flowers added on. I paired it with white gloves and pink T strap shoes that matches some pink in the dress. On the mannequin I put another long bead necklace only because my tassel necklace broke while dressing the her. Tassel necklaces were another popular style of long necklace at this time and are also in style now.
Downton Abbey Mature Dress
The above looks were all inspired by the young Crawly sisters which isn’t to say they can’t be worn by mature women too. Women like Cora, Isobel and Violet may have chose to avoid the “New Woman” fashion and instead worn more conservative styles from the Edwardian and early ’20s. Here are three Downton Abbey costumes using the same dress but with different accessories that give it a mature aesthetic.
The dress is a lace inset costume dress I found one ebay.com years ago. The lace gives is a late Victorian to Edwardian era feel. In the mid 1920s lace was seen as too “old” although many women continued to wear it (even Mary Crawley wears lace dresses the last season.)
In the first look I added a wide beaded belt in a shape that is very Edwardian but still worn in the early ’20s. The chiffon sleeves are perfect for this in-between decade as they were modest but not full coverage. The hat I choose is a wide brim, tall crown, velvet hat with a feather clip I attached to one side. It was a lucky thrift store find. See more wide brim Edwardian style hats here. With a pair sturdy T strap shoes and wrist length gloves this look is ready for a day time event.
The dress on the right is another style of day dress using the same outfit as the first but adding a matching velvet coat. The coat length is ideal for the 1915-1920 time period while something a little longer would have been seen in 1920-1925. A light velvet coat is an ideal way to dress for an afternoon event where you don’t want exposed arms. A pair of pumps and filigree necklace takes it to a more formal indoor setting. I could easily see the Dowager wearing this look, can’t you?
The middle costume uses the same dress but takes it up a notch to afternoon or evening attire. I placed a black lace shawl over the shoulders and secured it to the body with a thin fabric belt. This belted look was very common in the early ’20s while the lace takes it back a few years earlier in time. With long multi strap heels, long black gloves and a fancy crystal hair clip she is ready for dinner at Downton.
Another look for all ages using the same dress can also be transformed from day to night with the right accessories. The dress is the Nataya Titanic Tea Dress in black and cocoa. It comes in many more color combinations as well. Don’t be worried by the “Titanic” name. It is timeless style that can span 1912 to 1925 very easily.
Downton Abbey Dinner Dress
Now for everyone’s favorite costume- the dinner dress! All those stunning vintage beaded, lace or embroidered dresses the women wore to dinner make me swoon! Thankfully there are plenty of beautiful Downton Abbey inspired gowns for sale online (or locally too.) They range from long, floor lengths or shorter flapper lengths. Both were seen in the final two seasons of Downton Abbey, although the longer dresses were still preferred.
My look begins with a new Pisarro Nights beaded dress. It is the best selling dress on Vintagedancer.com especially for a Downton Abbey theme event. I bought it in silver but in comes in a full range of other colors, plus and petite sizes, and with long or no sleeves. A dress for every body!
Evenings shoes were often matched to the dress or an accessory. Silk shoes were dyed while leather shoes were hand painted. You could paint your own shoes (here is a tutorial) or buy a pair of strappy heeled 20’s style shoes. In this example a pair of sparkling glitter silver shoes seemed perfect. Don’t forget to wear stockings. Lighter colors were worn in the evenings, again to coordinate with your dress. Black was the backup choice. Sheer nude was a bit to risqué. Pastels, tan, white or grey were better choices.
For fancy evening wear a crystal headband is a must. Long pearl or fascinated bead necklaces were still worn in the evenings or a heavier statement necklace for the early ’20s style.
The one thing I forgot to photograph was a 1920s style purse. You don’t see many of these in the show since most dinners were filmed at the Abbey. A woman out on the town would carry with her a small beaded, mesh, or embroidered purse with a few coins, handkerchief, and maybe makeup (gasp!) in it. In modern times purses are necessary to hold our phones. Shop 1920s style purses.
The final bit are long gloves. Very long gloves. Evening gloves were worn up and over the elbow, usually in white, but black was ok with a black dress. Gloves were worn before dinner and taken off during dinner. Look here for some long glove choices.
10 Downton Abbey costumes. What style are you going to wear?
Downton Abbey Style Dresses
Here are some 1920s style dresses to get you started on your Downton Abbey costume: