If you reacted to Lord Grantham’s vomiting blood in Season 6 with worries about possible splatters on Lady Mary’s dress, then I have the exhibit for you.
Even if you are less obsessed with the fabulous clothes on the Sunday night PBS series that has captivated the TV watching public, you’ll want to hot foot it to Chicago to see “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashions for Changing Times,” a collection of 35 garments from the show on display at the elegant River North Richard H. Driehaus Museum.
The beloved British period drama set in a fictional Yorkshire estate has dominated Sunday night TV for six seasons and for good reason.
If you watch, you know why.
The clothes—a crash course in high end fashion progressing from 1912-1923—beaded gowns, tea dresses, elbow length gloves and festive hats enthralled me.
I especially enjoyed the fabulous layers of bling that the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) dons for dinner or tea. Who could forget some of her fabulous zingers like, “What’s a weekend?” or “Stop whining and find something to do.”
You get to see her battleship of a garment, the great purple two-piece day dress she was seen in frequently along with the lovely and less dominating attire of the men, staff and major characters.
The clothes are displayed in grand settings in the museum where you can get up close to see the detail. A nice touch are huge photographs from the Downton series as backdrops to the costumes revealing when and where the costume was worn.
I was particularly fascinated to follow the audio guide that described the creation of each garment and how it was authentic for the time. Some of them started with just a swatch of beading. One of my favorites began its life as an embroidered tablecloth.
The Driehaus gives the exhibit plenty of room to breathe and to appreciate the Gilded Era decor—elaborate paneling, gorgeous ceramic tiles, Tiffany lamps and over-the-top details. Clearly clothes in this era had to be standouts to compete with the layer-on -layer ornamentation.
You learn about the history of the era and how it impacted the clothing, especially significant during WWII and, of course, the difference between upstairs and downstairs social order.
If you have any thoughts of going, get your tickets now. The exhibit in Chicago ends early May but it does travel to several more locations. When you buy your ticket you select a specific time to enter. This is great because the exhibit never gets really crowded. You might also consider turning off your smart phone and having tea in the adjacent auditorium. It’s a lovely getaway without going far away.