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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

January 10, 2012 at 9:38 AM

And oh, those ‘Downton Abbey’ costumes

I try to mix things up a bit on this blog, frequently writing about things that I hope will be of general interest. But every now and then, something comes up that’s so utterly absorbing to me that I have to write about it, even though I suspect only a very small handful of you will share my interest. You have been warned; those who don’t consider themselves period-movie-costume geeks can stop reading now, and go discuss “The Hunger Games” or something. I’ll be back with you soon.
(To establish my geekdom on this particular subject, let me note that it bothered me for years — well, not bothered, maybe haunted is the word — that the same blouse appeared to be worn by Emma Thompson in “Howards End” and Uma Thurman in “The Golden Bowl.” Was it really the same blouse, I wondered? Did it need to be altered? How was it stored? Many years later, I found myself interviewing Jenny Beavan, the costume designer for the Merchant-Ivory movies — including the two in question — and a recent Oscar nominee for “The King’s Speech.” Seeing the opportunity to finally lay this burning issue to rest, I asked her about the blouse, and if it was indeed the same one. “Oh, probably,” she said.)
Had I known about the website recycledmoviecostumes.com (“Because you know you’ve seen that dress somewhere before” is the site’s tagline), perhaps I could have resolved the question sooner. I just spent far longer than I should have this morning perusing the site, noting many of the “Downton Abbey” costumes — such as this blue gown, worn by Maggie Smith on the series and earlier by, yes, Uma Thurman in “The Golden Bowl” (though note that, for Dame Maggie, the neckline has been filled in). In this Daily Mail article, “Downton” costume designer Susannah Box is quoted as saying that only about a third of the show’s costumes are newly constructed, due to the potential expense; the rest are vintage or borrowed from costume houses.
Have a favorite “Downton Abbey” costume? I love the black tiered dress Mary frequently wears to dinner, and a black-and-gold ruffled dress worn by Sybil, and everything worn by the Dowager Countess of Grantham, because that lady really knows how to wear a hat. And I love that Sir Richard, in Sunday’s episode, found himself caught wearing the wrong sort of tweed. You know Matthew would be wearing the right sort.
artsdowntonabbey08.jpg
See what I mean? (Photo courtesy of PBS)

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