Warning: There are many spoilers ahead!
We've been studiously trying to ignore everything the UK press has been writing about Downton Abbey season three. (The lucky Brits, of course, got to see it months before we here in the US did.) It mostly worked, so we went into last night's premiere with that exciting sense of anticipation that only a soap opera-cum-costume drama with posh accents can bring.
The year is 1920, which means fashion is going flapper. All the younger ladies are proudly showing off their slim, bare arms, and beads and feathers are favorites of the Downton ladies of all ages. And how crazy is it that several plot points revolved around menswear? The mysterious missing shirts! Branson's refusal to wear tails! Wearing the wrong suit to a fancy dinner! It goes on... (And if you doubted Downton's fashion cred, did you notice that Ralph Lauren, whose Fall 2012 collection was inspired by Downton Abbey, is now a sponsor of Materpiece? Yup, full circle.)
From Lady Grantham's crazy American mom (played by Shirley MacLaine) to Lady Mary's wedding gown (!) (and eww, Matthew's scandalous dirty double entendres), click through to see how the fashion contributed to the plot.
Downton Gets the Message that Wine Is this Season's 'It' Color:
Lady Mary alone stepped out in at least three separate wine-colored outfits, ranging from gowns to outerwear. Lady Grantham pulled out a square-necked number at dinner time, too. Nothing like some family color coordination!
On another note, while getting a pedi and flipping through US Weekly yesterday, we learned that the sleeveless, beaded dress Mary wears (at left) is a period rental that Catherine Zeta-Jones also wore in the 2007 movie Death Defying Acts.
It's also worth noting that the costume designer from seasons 1 and 2, Sarah Buxton, has left the show, leaving her former assistant, Caroline McCall, in charge of costumes this season. (Check out the full costume scoop at the Daily Beast.)
Lady Edith's Marcel Waves:
For those of you who had Lady Edith pegged as the dowdy sister, you better think again this season! She is in full-on seduction mode, and is determined to finally make a play for the old and feeble Sir Anthony.
And everyone knows that the best way to catch a fella is with the latest hairstyle. She tells Anna to do her hair,"Slightly new, but not too different." Seriously, isn't that what every woman wants her hair stylist to do?
And it totally worked, too. Sir Anthony told her,"You look very nice. Have you done something jolly with your hair?"
Jolly. The best compliment ever.
Branson Refuses to Wear a Tux or Tails or a Morning Jacket, So Screw You All:
Tom Branson, Lady Sybil's scandalous ex-chauffeur Irish husband absolutely refuses to play by Downton's stuffy old fashion rules (and he can't really afford to, either.) Are morning coats really "the height of oppression?" They sure don't look comfortable.
Anyway, many snarky remarks were made about Branson's suits, which we actually think look pretty dapper. There's Sybil's snobby ex-beau who says, "Did they lose your suitcase on your way over? How maddening for you!" And the Dowager Countess mumbled something about him looking like the Prudential man.
In a way, Tom's refusal to wear fancy duds is a bit of foreshadowing for what's to come. Pretty soon the entire Grantham clan may be clad in overalls due to the change in the family's fortunes. (Seriously, Lord Grantham. Everyone knows you should diversify your investments.)
Not only that, but it's a new era. As Shirley MacLaine's character illustrated, it's totally OK to eat food anywhere in the house and not wear tails. People will still have fun. (As I write this I am wearing sweat pants and eating cookies while standing at my kitchen counter. Fun!)
Lady Mary's Going Away Outfit:
We're not sure exactly what a "going away" outfit is, but we're assuming it has something to do with a bridal trousseau and the honeymoon. How dad-like was Lord Grantham's comment when Lady Mary asked how the outfit looked?
"Expensive!" was the reply. Oh, Dad. Just give me your credit card and hush.
The Mother-In-Law Face-Off:
We could have happily watched Maggie Smith and Shirley MacLaine spar all night long. ("I'm afraid the war has turned us both into old women!") These two are really representatives of their countries at the time, though.
MacLaine, while wealthy, is a modern American woman, and her flashy, trendy fashions make this very clear. The Countess's duds, while regal and super sparkly, are sort of stuck in Edwardian times.
Lady Mary's Wedding Gown
Finally, Lady Mary and Matthew get married! (And get to sleep in the same bed, wink-wink.)
Costume designer Caroline McCall designed the dress, and according to Elle UK, it was the most expensive Downton Abbey costume ever created. "I knew how the light would come through the window and where her father would be standing as he gazed up at her," McCall told Elle. "I wanted her to twinkle in the light, so I infused the lace with a delicate silver thread to create a subtle iridescence." The headpiece Michelle Dockery is wearing is a 45-carat stunner worth $200,000, People is reporting.
If Kate Middleton's wedding gown didn't already seal the deal, this one will: Sleeves are back.
The fashion really was so beautiful in last night's episode. Each sister managed to give the trends their own twist, like Lady Sybil's cute bob topped with a floppy cloche, and Mary's many long strings of beads. Here they're all wearing coordinating day dresses to greet their American grandma.
Oh Here's One More!
OK, we'll stop now. Until next week!