Downton Abbey

Sunday evening viewing is full of gorgeous inspiration for anyone who enjoys dressmaking – the costumes for Downton Abbey are sheer joy that brings out the little girl in me who loves to dress up! It is no wonder that the costume designer Susannah Buxton has won many awards, as well as praise from the editor of vogue and the Royals themselves. 
The picture above is from the first season, you can see that the Edwardian style has a defined waist, and I simply adore the accessories: the hats have been wonderful, right through to the lace gloves and pretty little white shoes. What I love about this style is that it is all about line – there are echos of Jane’ Austin with the way the fabric skims the body shape – but the accentuation is at the waist in the Edwardian era rather than under the bust line of the Regency period. 
Looking in more detail at Mary’s dress it is such a wonderful example of clever use of stripes, the framing of the bodice works so beautifully against the lines of the skirt and the bodice sides. I also love the small detail that the sleeves are curving, but the cuffs are completely straight. The stripe effect is then softened by the lace collar – exquisite. 
This dress makes stunning use of both drape and design, the placement of the stars work so beautifully down the body, and I love the way the top and bottom half are in symmetry with the diagonal lines. 
Lady Mary’s riding habit brings to mind some of the opulence of the Victorian era: the full skirt and emphasis on the waist. The photograph on the horse allows us to see it is very similar in scale to the crinolines of the late 19th Century. It is a pity that I was unable to find a close shot of the military style braiding that went over the jacket, it gave a beautiful elaborate detail that was so reminiscent of the victorian era. 

The later riding outfit is toned down more it is a simpler cut with less dramatic line – the skirt does not appear so full yet the quirkiness of these outfits are revealed in the ‘mannish accents’ the top hat, the cravat and the the depth of the collar. I think this is a little glimpse into Mary’s playfulness, what comes across is that while she appears to be well mannered, her style reflects an understated humour. 
Of course what really stole the first series was Sybil’s trouser suit, the colour and the richness of the embroidery were breathtaking, enhancing Sybil’s skin tones. You can see further detail on the daily mail website

I also love the way that the older characters have remained within their own sense of style, the middle white suit is beautiful as is the hat. Her ladyship wears the most exquisite outfits that are more traditional and refined version of the girls and suits her Ladyship very well. While the dowager’s outfit has reminiscence of an earlier style – which reflects her character. You can see how talented the costume designer is – she has created outfits which work with the characters to give us a more rounded opinion – the outfits support the acting rather than working against it. You can see more details of the dresses in the second series on the Downton Abbey Addicts website. 
As we move through the era we see the development of the twenties styling coming through, this is a period of drape. 

I love this outfit and the use of the buttons, especially the contrasting ones across the waistline. I think this would work beautifully on a pencil skirt that you could wear today. 
The elegance of this outfit shows how beautifully the fabrics are combined, chiffon and velvet. This takes us beyond our notion of twenties ‘flapper style’ with fringing – the costumes are elegant and well beyond the simplistic – it is the details once again that fill my heart with joy. 
What epitomised the development were the wedding dresses. Mary’s dress gives very little emphasis, giving an elegance line, where the beauty would have been in the movement, the way the fabric flowed. 

I believe that Edith’s dress just has the edge, the beautiful detail on the hip and the elegance of the satin and chiffon allows Edith to shine out for once. I hope we see Edith get a better deal on costumes, I think she deserves a break poor girl. 
One plea I would like is that Susannah writes a book so we can pour over these details without hogging the TV. Thank you Susannah you really do bring me joy! 
I have written a piece of revamping a hat, Downton style – later in the blog! 
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Changing shape

It occurred to me when I was looking at the designs at the V&A that the desirable women’s shape has altered a lot since the fifties for a more androgynous masculine shape, it was clarified when reading slip of a girl’s blog, where she discussed Vanity Fair’s double page spread on lingerie advertising.

What strikes me the most is that modern lingerie has none of the glamour of previous decades, mostly because the models have very small hips, the style does nothing to enhance the body of anyone who is less than ‘ideal’

 

Compare the two shapes and you will see that the vintage model is more curvaceous. The modern model has a bottom half that cuts across the widest part of her body, which is not very flattering when you are more than a size zero.

You can see this even more in this version there is a small dip in the waist but it is very small compared with the vintage model – you can tell more by the inside curve, the modern model’s body is almost a straight line. The vintage lingerie enhances the shape, finishing at a narrower part of the body, where as the modern version, while the panty line is slightly higher, still does not emphasise the waist. Also the bust is pushed out in the vintage model where as the modern bra pushes the bust upwards.

It is almost as if the female figure has lost its curves and become almost masculine in its shape. This drive for size zero causes a lot of anxiety for women and I am not at all sure that men find it equally appealing. What was noticeable mostly when people watching is that clothing has become androgynous too, jeans and tee shirts are the norm and it seems we have lost our differences between the sexes.

Become sexier than this?
I am not for one minute suggesting that one shape is superior to another, but I think each shape had its decade in the last century. When you consider the first line of women in the picture above they would suit the flapper style perfectly – it was a decade where women minimised their busts, and emphasised the hips, leaving the waist hidden. However, fabrics such as silk and chiffon softened the effects – together with rich embroidery – it was all about drape and flow. 
The next three decades from the 30’s to the 50’s returned to enhancing the waist once again. 
Then the sixties were about showing legs hemlines were high and A line skirts and dresses skimmed the upper body rather than drawing attention to it. It was also when we began to see thinner models such as twiggy becoming the desirable shape. 
The seventies and eighties seemed to nod back to romantic periods, the seventies in particular was looking for a folksy style of dress, with gypsy skirts and smocking. The marriage of Diana and Charles heralded a whole retro victorian/romantic style for the eighties and Laura Ashley with her reinvention of victorian style was extremely popular.  
What is interesting about today’s fashion is that women are free to decide how they want to dress choosing self expression over the high street. Most women want their own individual look, and are having the confidence to put an outfit together themselves. In fact it is all about creating your own style and if necessary making things, or re-inventing the old, to reflect your own sense of style. 
beauty is in the eye of the beholder
While advertising may present an image of the ‘ideal’ woman it delights me that women are now having the option to accept they differ from the norm and love themselves as they are without fighting their natural shape with dieting or exercise. Beauty does begin from within and knowing your body shape and working with it, rather  than trying to fit into a style that just isn’t you, is a whole lot less stressful. 
I believe that glamour is all about emphasising your best features, and we all have them. 
“Why change? Everyone has his own style. When you have found it, you should stick to it.” Audrey Hepburn. 

Let slip

The epitome of femininity is enfolded in silk, satin and lace – past decades women had multitudes of layers, petticoats, corsets and undergarments that were the foundations for the dress or outer garment.

I am a lover of the full slip – it has all but disappeared in shops these days, but you can still purchase them in M&S. What a slip or petticoat does is create a slippery surface on which your outer garment can flow. It covers up the unsightly bump of a waistband – or a bra closure giving a smoother silhouette. Silk and Satin are perfect for reducing the amount of static that can be generated with modern fabrics – (avoid if you can the synthetic satin as this actually increases static). There is nothing more frustrating than having the line of a lovely dress ruined as the fabric clings to your legs.

This picture is of the beautiful Elizabeth Taylor: I feel the picture epitomises graceful femininity of the 1950’s – the fabrics are soft and sensual, enhancing her curves. I think it contributes to the art of seduction. We see sex on our screens all the time, but what we rarely see is sensual seduction – the slow process of a man discovering a woman’s body, of allowing him to be the explorer – peeling back the layers of softness – the sensuality comes from process of touch – the anticipation of what lies beneath.

Just look at the beauty of the lace in this slip, wearing something as lovely as that would make me feel like a woman!

There is nothing more sexy for a man to catch a glimpse of a little bit of lace peeping below a hemline – it gives a small glimpse into what may lie beneath, rather than the overt on display shelf for all to see. A man, I believe, whats to explore unchartered territory, and have something for his eyes only – which is why peeling back the layers feels like a flower opening up  at his fingertips.