Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Flappers, the jazz age, and Downton Abbey couture

If there's one thing Downton Abbey has done spectacularly well, it's the costumes. As Season 4 draws to a close, Lord Grantham heads to America, the place where hot jazz and the new flapper styles originated. "Your niece is a flapper; accept it" says Lady Mary to her father re her jazz-dancing, nightclub-loving cousin, Lady Rose. The term flapper is supposed to have derived from the movement of women's handkerchief-type hems as they danced energetic new dances such as the Shimmy, Black Bottom, Turkey Trot, and Charleston.
"Look Ma, no corsets!"

It's the mid-'20s: curves are out; dropped waists are in. Bustles and corsets are horrid things once worn by your mother. Fussy furbelows are for Granny (a.k.a. the Dowager Countess). Dresses are straight and sleek, with opulent beadwork or embroidery upping the ante for more formal events.
The costumers have lavished Lady Edith in particular with stunning attire in Season 4 of Downton. I can't get enough of her ensembles—and she wears them so well!
With both her sportswear and her evening wear, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel liberated women to move their bodies freely and yet remain chic. Below, Chanel dresses from the mid 1920s in the collection of the Phoenix Art Museum, photographed by Ken Howie.
For more on the couture of the era, delve into Fashion in the Time of Gatsby, and for the changing tenor of society, see Bright Young Things: A Modern Guide to the Roaring Twenties.
Profiling Chanel, Clara Bow, Zelda Sayre, Louise Brooks (left), and other female celebrities of the jazz age is Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern. Male fashions are included in the Gatsby book, needless to say. Below is a vintage magazine illustration and a photo of Yale's a cappella group the Whiffenpoofs from 1927 (dig the saddle shoes!).
We'll conclude with the cloche hat, an iconic item of 1920s apparel.
Don't miss the Daedalus Books "Roaring Downton" Forum—a nexus of books, DVDs, news videos, quizzes, fan chats, and other fascinating items relating to the series!


  1. On the last advertisement, the woman two down on the right looks a lot like the teacher trying to court Tom.

    Perhaps I watch too much Downton Abbey.

  2. yeah, we've all got Downton on the mind! it's so addictive; what will we do about the withdrawal symptoms?