According to the British retailer, John Lewis, “when times are hard, fashion often sees a return to nostalgia and a softer more feminine silhouette so it is hardly surprising that we long to recreate the Downton world.” Not being a Brit, but being interested in Steampunk, I have seen a return to hand-made items of different eras. I’m not sure it’s the soft femininity that people are after, but the interesting item, the slower time of hand-made, the love and rich detail that goes into each piece.  The rest of the article notes a marked surge in the purchases of opera length leather gloves, fur capes, tweeds and long strings of pearls, which are not things usually bought when the times get tough. Do times get tough on the High Street?

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What we do have in the time of Downton Abbey, is an almost modern look. Yes, they are wearing the requisite gloves and hats, high button boots and perfectly coiffed hair, but look at the silhouette of the dresses and blouses. The shapes are often modern: the sleeves may be short, the arm holes are placed to allow for movement, waistlines are coming down and you see less S-curve blousing. Tell me you couldn’t wear Lady Mary’s (center) dress today, though probably without the hat and gloves. That said, the actresses are wearing corsets under there… I think the appeal of Downton’s costuming, and that of The 1912 Project, is the allure to of the past and an elegance we don’t now see in every day wear, but not as a response to hard times, more as a recognition of a time that held many similarities to our own. Those similarities allow for easier incorporation into our own modern clothing and are elegant enough to pique the interest of many a costumer.

Downton’s costumes are designed and the gathering of existing garments is overseen by costume designer ­Susannah ­Buxton. Buxton has just won an Emmy for the series. She has designed for the A&E TV version of Jayne Eyre that first introduced the American audience to Samantha Morton, as well as the British TV series Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet. Only a third of the Downton dresses are made from scratch, with others being recycled, as they would have been at the time. Dresses are made over and laces reused on smaller items as the originals begin to show wear. Some of the existing clothing and accessories had been worn by Catherine Zeta-Jones, Helena Bonham Carter and Monica Bellucci in previous productions.

The Downton Abbey series starts where The 1912 Project leaves off, in April 1912 and the sinking of the RMS Titanic. The first season runs through to the announcement of England entering the First World War in August of 1914. The second season picks up in 1916 with the Battle of the Somme in to the Spanish ‘flu pandemic in 1919. A special that aired on Christmas day 2011 spans the Christmas season in 1919 through early 1920. A third season has been confirmed, but we Americans are only seeing the start of season two tonight.

I am greatly looking forward to both the second season of Downton Abbey and diving into the details for my first pattern for The 1912 Project. I will be detailing the progress the Rogues make with those patterns: providing construction details, researching period fabrics, snapping photos and hopefully making at least one outfit to completion by the end of the year.