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Warning – spoilers below the jump.

I would be remiss if i didn’t mention last Sunday’s first season 3 episode of Downton Abbey. The whole cast is back for more drama, a wedding, a lost fortune, a May/November romance, the shock of the aristocracy having a political Irish chauffeur in the family, tensions below stairs, an illness, another difficult matriarch (played most entertainingly by Shirley MacLaine), a wrongly(?) imprisoned man, more class conflict in a changing world, raising hemlines, hobble skirts, fabulously finger-waved hair and possibly the (dare I say) most shockingly dowdy and epitomal 1920s wedding gown.

Yeah, I said that. The gown is waistless, breastless, minimally decorated, completely covering and yet, somehow still elegant.  But oh dear, what’s this? I’ve just spoilered myself with the following image:

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I think Edith’s wedding dress may be even more plain than Mary’s. What I really want to know is, where did they get the lace for Mary and Sybil’s dresses?

Back to the story, which is certainly what sucks most of us in. We’ve got some continuing drama, some new drama and some awkward drama. The themes of money troubles possibly being averted by the old story of an inheritance. I don’t know how it’s going to play out, but it is sure to give Mary and Mathew something new to fight about. Some may feel that it’s all getting a little soap-opera-ish, but I will admit that the last regular episode of season 2 and the Christmas episode that followed it struck me that way. I think that a little new life has been breathed into the chin-up Brits. And if they keep interjecting lively IRA-leaning Branson into the stodgy Crowley family, things will continue to be interesting.

From the start of the series, it’s been fascinating to get this little peek into the private lives of the above and below stairs groups, see how they interact and how their varied opinions and traditions affect each other. The first episode of season three left me with the odd feeling that, as we learned more personal things about those below stairs (the airing of Bates’ dirty laundry, Mrs. Hughes’ health scare, the forward and “fast” behavior of the American maid), the staff almost becomes more formal with the family, who are, sometimes despite their own intentions, stepping into the modern world. People of lower standing throughout the ages have often been many years behind in fashion but you might assume that they would adopt new ideas when they were able. It seems an interestingly conflictual idea that the servants almost seem to be holding on to the traditional roles when their “betters” begin to shift their own places in the world. It’s something interesting to ponder…

Well, OK, before i sign off, here’s one more very 1920s bit of costuming from the season – fabulous 20s fur:

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If you’ve missed the first episode, it can be found on PBS.org

Images via Esquire.com, FanPop.com, and PBS.org, respectively.

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