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The Downton Abbey Effect: Have the Crawley Sisters Inspired a New Generation of Vintage Shoppers?

We make no apologies for our obsession with Downton Abbey, the amazing British import that is loved by critics and viewers alike. We freaked out a lit
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We make no apologies for our obsession with Downton Abbey, the amazing British import that is loved by critics and viewers alike. We freaked out a little bit when a bootleg trailer for the third season leaked online last week--Mary and Matthew drama! Mr. Bates and Anna! The Dowager Countess's zingers!

The second season of the hit show ended up garnering an amazing 16 Emmy nominations, including Best Costumes--though we can't exactly say we were surprised. No one can deny that Lady Mary gets to rock some pretty enviable dresses, and between the stars of the show appearing on the Love's latest covers and designers like Ralph Lauren and Ruffian finding their fall inspiration at Downton, we're all thinking of adding a little of that Edwardian English countryside vibe to our own wardrobes.

Of course, we'd never think to add authentic Edwardian garments into rotation, but a recent article in The Guardian noting Downton's influence on the fashion set cited a vintage boutique owner who told the paper that she was seeing more sales from that time period. We had to know if we needed to rush out and buy a cloche hat for ourselves before the third season premieres on PBS's Masterpiece on January 6, 2013 (why so far away?!), so we reached out to some vintage dealers to see if they had also seen an uptick in sales of Edwardian-style clothing.

Buying Vintage So, are vintage dealers raking in the dough on Edwardian finds thanks to Downton's success? Well, that depends on who you ask.

Cameron Silver, owner of famed Decades Inc (Rachel Zoe is a fan), tells us he's seeing more interest in late 1980s-early 1990s clothing [Ed. note: The '90s are vintage now!?], while Deborah Burke, who sells online at Antique Dress, said that the show has had an impact on sales--but a small one. "There is always a slight additional interest in certain era's clothing depending on the most popular movie or TV show, but it's so fleeting, that it's not perceptible," she said.

Janet Schwarz, on the other hand, owner of Woodland Farms Vintage, tells us she hasn't seen this kind of demand for Edwardian clothing since the film Titanic. Schwarz tells us that shows like Downton Abbey, Boardwalk Empire, and the upcoming Great Gatsby film have been the strongest push to get non-collectors interested in vintage pieces. She points out that Downton Abbey is moving into the 1920s, territory already being covered by Boardwalk Empire (and Ralph Lauren and Gucci and Anna Sui...), and as such she expects that time period to stay strong on the vintage market so long as those shows run. Silver agrees, adding, "I think as Downton Abbey forges ahead into the 1920 and Deco style, clients [will be] interested in both flapper dresses as well as more exotic Poiret-inspired fare, such as burnt out velvet kimonos and intricately embellished and beaded pieces."

So there are actually people other than collectors and reenactors are buying these pieces, but how can you wear them without looking like you just stepped off set?

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How to Wear It

While we think the Crawley sisters always look great, we have a hard time imagining saddling up to the bar on a Saturday night in full Edwardian regalia. Silver agrees that if you take the trend too literally, you could wind up looking like you're going to a costume party [Ed. note: Still, that would be awesome, and we are totally anticipating Downton-themed viewing parties now]. However, he added, "I do think certain Edwardian dresses can look very fresh if worn with a modern shoe, especially if the fabric of the dress has an unusual texture."

Janet Schwarz tells us a surprising number of her clients--she estimates 60%--are buying Edwardian to wear (as opposed to merely archive). Like Silver, she says that the women who are buying a bustle gown will wear it to a re-enactment or a costume party. But she also tells us that a lot of girls in the Asian and Southern Hemisphere markets buy a blouse or a jacket and mix it with contemporary clothes. Silver is also a fan of mixing the old with the new, adding, "Some antique bags can look very chic when worn with jeans and a tank top, and I am totally down with a hat."

As one might expect, accessories are the most popular way to wear vintage. Much older clothing is sized incredibly small--14 inch shoulder widths and waspish waists are not uncommon--because they were meant to be worn with corsets. And, as Schwarz puts it, "How many women do you know that want to put on a corset?"

Accessories, Schwarz tells us, are an easy way to get the look: "A lot of the women think if a friend is going to have a Gatsby party, if they can approximate the bottom half but they've got the real deal on their head, they've got it." Hats, jewelry, and bags are the easiest way to work authentic pieces into a modern wardrobe.

But also problematic to wearing a vintage garment is the shape it's in. Ken Weber of Vintage Martini tells us, "Women don't realize that the dress will be off their body by the end of the party because of how fragile [the dresses] are." Vintage clothing, especially from the 1920s and 30s, were made of delicate but heavily beaded or adorned fabrics that were often stored incorrectly. So, head's up to all you ladies planning on getting your Daisy Buchanan on to fête the Great Gatsby movie (when/if it finally comes out) - make sure that flapper dress you bought will hold up longer than the champagne flow.

Edwardian Lawn Blouse - Woodland Farms Antiques Minnie Pant - J Crew Charles Albert Obsidian Arrowhead Cuff - ShopBop YSL Evalyn Suede and Metal Loafers - Net-a-Porter