Attending a Downton Abbey themed event? Well, then you must look the part. Whether you want a formal evening look with all the sparkle and shine of Downton herself or a sophisticated day look for an afternoon tea party, creating a Downton Abbey costume can be done with the right new clothing and accessories. Forget about cheap Halloween flapper costumes. This costume guide will get you into an outfit worthy of wearing again and again. Let’s start with everyone’s favorite – the evening look.
Downton Abbey Dinner Party Costume
I swoon with every new dress the Downton ladies wears to dinner at the Abbey. From the first season dresses set in 1912 to the current season set in 1922, evening gowns were long columns of silk, chiffon, beads and gems. The silhouette has changed from an empire waist with long sleeves to a drop waist and no sleeves. A new formal gown that is around ankle length with a straight silhouette will work for a 1919-1922 style. Your gown can have plenty of elaborate beading or be simple and classy. Some women don’t like the way a sheath cut dress or even a drop waist dress looks on them. Thankfully, the early 1920s still favored a natural waist band — but keep in mind, curves were out of fashion. The boxy look was in. If you order your dress a size up from your normal choice, it will fit looser and be in style with the early ’20s. Shop my handpicked section of new 1920s style Downton Abbey dresses (with a dedicated page for UK shoppers here).
Read more about how to choose a modern dress with a 1920s Downton Abbey look to it.
While the most common evening dress was sleeveless, there were plenty that had long sleeves. To be sleeveless yet still covered, women would wear a silk shawl in summer or a fur wrap in winter. Adding a beaded, embroidered, fur, or fringe shawl is the perfect accessories for modest arms.
Besides the dress, the most important part of an outfit is the shoes. Shoes in the wrong style can quickly make a gorgeous gown look out of place. In the 1920s, the favorite shoe styles were single, double, or T- strap shoes. Evening shoes had 2-3 inch French or Cuban heels and thin straps that often had sparkling buckles. Smalls gems were sometimes added to the heels, too. Black was the most versatile color but silver and gold were also popular. They didn’t have to be solid colors either. Heels in gold with tops in black or Art Deco patterns or hand painted designs on the vamp were ways to make shoes stand out.
For your costume, finding a pair of black T-strap or single strap (called Mary Jane) pumps will be the easiest. In a pinch, a basic pair of black, no strap pumps will also be OK. Avoid open toe shoes and sandals with straps. Exposed toes and heels were not in vogue yet. Learn more about the various styles of 1920s shoes and shop for new 1920s inspired shoes:
In the 1920s, stockings were always worn. Evenings were for the best, most sheer, nude colored stockings a woman owned. Conservative women, however, still wore black in the evenings (look at the older female characters at Downton.) All stockings had seems in the same color as the leg and were thigh high held up with garters or rolled down to just above the knee. No one will see your legs under a long dress so fee free to skip the garters and wear full pantyhose instead.
Later in the 1920’s it was very popular to wear colored stockings to match a dress. Fishnet tights are mostly a 1920’s myth, Downton Abbey ladies would NOT have worn them. Learn more about 1920s stockings and shop for seamed stockings too.
Bling! A sparkling dress needs a splash of jewelry to go with it. The most important piece is a headband or tiara. Sparkling rhinestones across the forehead or a cluster on one side was one very common early ’20s look. The tiara is a favorite with Mary Crawley, and is certainly more of a royal look appropriate to her rank. Learn and shop for 1920s headbands.
A long necklace is the next most important piece of jewelry. The stereotype of ’20s women wearing very long pearl necklaces is true. Pearls were common, but real ones were very expensive. Fake pearls, glass beads, and black onyx were more affordable choices. Many long necklaces came with tassels at the end. If a dress had a low back, it was quite pretty to wear a necklace backwards, hanging down the back to draw attention to the skin. A coordinating bracelet and long drop earrings were welcome additions to evening wear. In general, 1920s jewelry was minimal and sleek. The beauty was in the dress and in the face of the wearer. Learn about or shop for 1920s style or reproduction Downton Abbey jewelry from 1912-1920:
Downton Abbey Daywear Costume
Many occasions call for less formal attire than a dinner affair at the Abbey. From running errands in town to visiting family over tea or hosting a garden party, semi-formal afternoon dresses are better suited for day time themed events.
Day or Tea Dress
A dress for afternoon parties lacked the sparkle and sexiness of evening attire. Instead, the early ’20s day dress was a loose fitting, modest sheath dress with a sash or belt at the natural waist. Lengths were still long, ending about mid shin at the highest. Sleeves were long too with the half length elbow sleeve or longer mid arm sleeves being the most popular. Summer sleeves were, of course, a bit shorter but never sleeveless. The favorite neckline of the day was a large round boat neck often with a long sailor tie dangling from the center. Alternatives to dresses were 2-piece suits or simple skirt and blouse pairings.
Finding a tea length modern dress that is also a 1920s style can be difficult. I usually find many shorter dresses, but not long ones. One quick fix is to wear a longer slip under your short dress. The two layer was vogue with the dresses of the decade. If you are a little crafty, consider buying a long maxi dress (with sleeves) and hemming it shorter, adding a sash band (long thin scarves work great), and adding some pretty embroidery to the neckline. A long skirt and blouse will be easier to find find new or from the thrift store, too. Here are some links that may help you:
- 1920s Style Skirts for sale,
- 1920s Style Blouses for sale,
- My 1920s dresses upcycled from thrift store finds,
- My handmade 1920s day dress using a modern pattern (and a dress for my toddler too),
- 1920s Style Day Dresses:
Downton Abbey Hats
A day look is the time to bring out a vintage hat. The iconic tight-fitting 1920s cloche hat was becoming more popular, but was not quite there yet in 1922. Instead, hats fit round and close to the head but still had moderately sized brims (larger ones for summer hats). They were also more simply decorated than in previous decades. Instead of a full head of flowers, now only one cluster was on the side, or maybe a single brooch instead. Simple and easy was the style of the day. Colors of hats were also simple. Hats did not have to match dresses but they usually coordinated with one accessory like a purse or pin.
Cloche hats are the easiest hats to find today for your Downton Abbey day time costume. By all means wear one, just try to choose one with the largest brim you can find. Add your own personality to it by adding some ribbon, flowers, a feather and jewels it. Look at the 1920s Pinterest hat board for ideas.
Shop for 1920s style hats here
Shoes and Stockings
Shoes and stockings for day wear were much more practical then evening styles yet they were similar enough. Shoes were black, tan or white in summer. Two tone combinations were popular with the sporty look. The T-strap shoe was still the most common but with a lower, chunky Cuban heel. Oxfords, also with a low thick heel, were another common house or day wear shoe.
Black stockings were the only option for day wear. Some women who were bored with plain black chose stockings with clocked patterns on the sides or up the front. For the sporty look, a pair of plaid or argyle thigh high socks or stockings was really making a youthful statement! Learn more about fun 1920s stocking styles and shop for them too.
Jewelry was often left at home for day wear. If a lady wore some jewelry, it was usually a simple pair of pearl or bead earrings and a long necklace. Minimal jewelry is best. A pair of gloves, however, is a must for traveling into town. Gloves often coordinated, but did not match, hats and jewelry. For daytime, they were wrist length leather gloves that button at the wrist. Since gloves have not changed too much over the decades a vintage pair of wrist length gloves should be easy and affordable for you to find in an antique or thrift store. Try Etsy if you don’t have any locally. I have a few links to costume gloves online here.
Create YOUR Downton Abbey Costume
Well that wraps up 2 different early 1920s looks for authentic Downton Abbey costumes. The best part about dressing up is creating something you love. Feel free to put a modern spin on your costume for a Downton Abbey Inspired look or go all out and buy all genuine vintage clothes for a one of a kind experience.
More 1920s outfits
- 1920s Outfit Inspiration- Women 20s Costume Ideas
- Non-Flapper 1920s Outfit Ideas
- Trending 1920s Style Dresses (Not Flapper)
- 10 Easy 1920s Outfits for Women
Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.