The Downton Abbey Exhibit at Biltmore Estate

Costumes from Downtown Abbey The Movie

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I took a little road trip into the mountains to see the Downton Abbey exhibit at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. The full exhibition consisted of a multi room costume display and a separate large gallery with portions of the sets.

Hand applied lace appliqués

The Costume exhibition was (of course) fantastic! The intricate detail work of the garments was exquisite. Many of the costumes were extant pieces (or parts of extant pieces) and those that were not looked so close it was difficult to discern. Although modern fabrics have a distinctly different look and feel than 100 year old textiles, one had to look very close to distinguish the two. For example, Lily James’ Robe de Style was definitely a 21st century creation but Edith’s wedding gown was an original garment.

Lily James’ Robe De Style- a 21st century adaptation of period garment
Hand appliquéd ribbon work on Lily James’ reproduction gown
Edith’s wedding gown is an extant garment
100+ year old lace! Veiling is modern.
Detail of original lace

Aging (or what I lovingly call “vintaging”) is always a fascinating process and adds an undeniable level of texture that does not always transfer blatantly onto the screen- but is OH SO important. Multiple layers of delicate hand dyed fabrics, trims, and overlays gave the garments an ethereal quality. Vintaging also adds depth and character to a garment making it look less flat and one dimensional.

Sybil’s Poiret dress with multiple layers of hand dyed chiffons, georgettes, and lace
Many layers of texture in this garment
These three garments are reproductions
Gorgeous Bead work

In the main exhibition hall, A LARGE portion consisted of larger than life film photos, episode clips, and fabricated “history” such as fictional correspondence between Anna and Bates, Sybil and Branson, etc. This was a bit odd to me (as these are characters in a fictional world) but it was interesting to see just how much effort the creators of this series have gone to to create for its fans the world of Downton.

Lady Mary’s bedroom

The most engaging portion of the exhibit (besides the costumes) were the actual production sets. I was curious to see how many props (or objects made to look real but were fabricated) were employed. I was surprised to find most of the pieces from the sets were indeed antiques that had been curated to reflect the opulence of the early 20th century. Even the crystal goblets were real (no shatterproof plastic there….) The only fakery I detected were the foods in the main kitchen and the paintings in the main dining hall. Pretty Fantastic!

Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen
The grand dining room complete with real crystal and faux paintings

Random side notes: Michelle Dockery (Mary) is really quite tall! As is Jim Carter (Carson)! Mrs. Hughes’ dress has a gorgeous antique lace insert. ALL of the garments incorporate some type of TEXTURE- whether is be damask fabric, layering, or hand stitching. NOTHING is plain. Everything is delicate and flowing. The millinery is exquisite.

Dame Maggie Smith’s mix of vintage and reproduction gown. Skirt is black damask.
Mrs. Hughes’ standard with lovely vintage lace insert.
Variety of bridals
The gorgeous millinery of Downton
Beautiful hand dyed velvet flowers

The Downton Abbey Exhibit at Biltmore Estate runs now through April 7, 2020.

About Susan

My interest in historical costume began at a very early age. I knew by age 5 I wanted to be a costume designer. Over the years I have been fortunate enough to turn my passion into a full time business. You can find my costumes onstage in NYC, on the big screen, and in museums around the globe.