Costumes of Downton Abbey Season Two
The upper class lived in dream during the turn of the 20th century. It had its first rumbling to awaken in 1912 when the Titanic sank showcasing the folly of human hubris over the elements. It was World War One, or The Great War, that started 1914 that finally awoke the wealthy out of their Gilded dream world and into the harsh reality of real life.
The second season of Downton Abbey picks up two years after the first season in 1916 amidst the devastating conflict. The residents of Downton all try to do their bit for their country.
Much like the state of the world, fashion changed from its pre-war ways. Women's clothes were becoming looser with less confining undergarments. The cuts were straighter and less ornate. Flared skirts with shorter hemlines paired with blouses were becoming the norm instead of fussy dresses.
The palette was also sombre. There were fewer ladies wearing bright colors as black was becoming more fashionable to wear.
The costumes of season two of Downton Abbey perfectly suit the war period and the aftermath as the world and fashion transition to the 20s. The years season two covers are between 1916 to very early 1920.
So which of the costumes are the best from season two? Which ones are the most memorable? Which ones are the prettiest? Which ones represent the character the most? Like with any list, those are very subjective questions especially with shows like Downton Abbey where each and every costume is on point. But this list tries to provide some ranking of the costumes from season two for the ladies. There are 11 costumes featured on this list.
Poor Edith didn’t have a very good costume run during this season but other seasons will see her bloom in the fashion arena.
There are spoilers so read with caution if you have not seen season two.
Costume Designers for Season two were Susannah Buxton and Rosalind Ebbutt.
List is subject to change
Sybil's Nurse Uniform
Very early in season two Sybil takes up the mantle of nursing as part of the war effort. As a direct result of this Downton Abbey becomes a convulsant home for recovering officers. Another result is that her nurse uniform is her principal costume of the season. More than likely Sybil is seen wearing it with or with the head wrap and it was one of the costumes used in promotional material.
The costume is a grey cotton dress with a red-cross armband. The long sleeves have white cuffs and there is a white angled collar. Sybil sometimes wears an apron and white head covering.
This is a very utilitarian costume. It is neither glamorous or pretty but it speaks deeply to the state of the world and to Sybil’s character throughout season 2. The decision to take on real work made her realize how hollow she viewed her life as the daughter of an earl and how she longed to have a sense of meaning beyond her trappings of the aristocracy. It’s this that prompts her to marry Branson, the chauffeur.
Mary's Floral Blouse and Skirt
Lady Mary has several more casual looks this season as she does her bit for the war effort and for Downton. The styles for women day wear shifted away from lingerie dresses and tea gowns and more to flared skirts and separate blouses.
This floral ruffled blouse is one that she wears a few times throughout the season. It showcases a softer side of Mary this season as she pines for a man that is engaged to another woman and is part of a devastating war. She pairs it with a grey-ish olive skirt which she also wears with a lace short sleeves blouse as well, which also a very lovely look.
What puts this look ahead of the other is that Mary is wearing it during the concert scene in episode four which is one of many highlights of the season and a rather touching scene in general.
Cora's Black Evening Gown with Netting Details
Much like her eldest daughter, Cora embraces the ever changing fashions with great enthusiasm and flair. She takes to the simpler cuts and loose silhouettes of the times but still maintains an air of chic dramatic vibrancy.
This black gown of Cora’s looks simple in terms of silhouette but it has some very interesting details. For instance the netting detail that makes up the sleeves and wide neck collar. The short sleeves are trimmed with fringe. There is a jet black cross pendant attached to the gown at the center neckline.
Sybil's Black and Grey Evening Gown
Sybil makes the comment in episode seven that all her clothes are from her season before the war and that she was trying to wear them out. Which would place this gown that she wears throughout the season as being out of step with the current fashion as it would be from 1914 but that suits Sybil’s character not to be wasteful during a war when she has clothes that are perfectly fine. However this gown is still a lovely and interesting gown.
It’s a bold combination of silver with a draped black overlay over the skirt. The waist band is wide and appears to have either a weave or embroidered pattern. The sleeves are a sheer taupe-like color and appear to open with no seams aside from being attracted at the shoulders. The shoulders have black trim with a tab-like detail that gives this gown even more visual interest.
Sybil does add longer necklaces to the mix with this gown especially after the war and after Downton Abbey reverts back to normal in 1919, so she does add a little bit of the current fashions into the mix with the styling of this gown.
Lavinia's Black and Gold Evening Gown
Season two of Downton Abbey introduces Matthew's fiancée, Miss Lavinia Swire of London. Lavinia is described by everyone who meets her as sweet. While the Crawley family would rather see Mary married to Matthew, they all genuinely like Lavinia. It would have been easy to write this character as a horrible person so that viewers would get on Mary’s side but that is not the route the show went, probably because of Lavinia’s tragic death to Spanish flu.
As for Lavinia’s costumes, they are very in vogue as befitting a girl of London in her social standing. Her evening gowns are mostly black and do admittedly look very similar to each other as they mostly the same color and silhouette.They both speak to Lavinia seemingly delicate nature but also the inner strength she showcases throughout the season.
This black evening gown of her’s stands out a little bit more than the one with capped sheer sleeves because of the extra detailing. The gown is sleeveless but the shoulder straps are made from a sheer outer layer that has some gold beading on the edges. The has gold textured pattern under layer as the black main part comes to a sweetheart neckline. The silhouette is a drop waist with gathers. It has an asymmetrical over skirt. The hemline is higher as is the style of the time.
Lavinia is wearing this gown when it is revealed that Matthew will walk again and they will marry at Downton.
Mary's Black Beaded Evening Gown
Mary has a few gowns in rotation during this season and this beige sleeveless gown with black beading is her most fashion forward of the lot.
There is little form to the silhouette, which was definitely a hallmark of the 20s but the look was burgeoning in the late 1910s.
The bold graphic black beading has an angular pattern that is more concentrated in the bodice and diffuses outward towards the hemline. The hemline is higher than previously seen in Mary’s looks, which is to the ankle with a pointed hemline which compliments the beading. There is also a tulle train-like detail on the black of the gown.
She styles this with minimal jewelry which adds to the modernity of this look.
Sybil's Black and Gold Evening Gown
Another one of Sybil’s pre-war gowns. This black and gold gown does seem to be more in the fashion step than her other gowns that she wears during this season.
The fabric has a slight sheen and has a large gold rose pattern that use a metallic thread. The neckline is wide and comes to a V shape. The skirt is tiered and the hemline comes to the ankle. There are also black tassels at the shoulders that hang over the back.
She styles this gown with different necklaces that get longer in length as the season draws to a close.
She wears this gown during many memorable scenes in season two, like Matthew standing again, her first Kiss with Branson and when she announces to her family she will be marrying Branson in Dublin. She is also seen wearing this gown in season three.
Mary's Evening with Sheer Sleeves
As the Great War rages on, Mary’s costumes take on a more sombre simpler quality. That does not mean however Lady Mary doesn’t look like the fashion icon she is, she always dresses to impress. This black and blue gown is her signature look of the season.
The gown consists of a black lace overlay with a floral pattern. More than likely the overlay is a vintage as many costumes use pieces from the era and are restored or a costume is designed around the vintage article. The under-layer is a dark blue though on screen this color reads more black.
The hemline is longer than most of the gown this season giving it a more traditional look but there are some tier layers.
Lavinia's Green Velvet Evening Gown
When we first meet Lavinia in episode one she appears in a stunning green velvet gown. It’s one of the brighter looks of the season.
This chiffon and velvet gown showcases Lavinia to be on the cutting edge of fashion. The gown itself is made from original pieces from the 20s. It’s quite formless in terms of its shape but that only adds to the forward thinking of this costume.
It is decorated with a gold floral motif and has a higher hemline than previously seen in Downton.
Lavinia styles this with very minimally but with purposeful accessories. She forgoes a necklace but has a 1920s style headband. The costume designer said this was liberty taken but it suits Lavinia as she is young and at the height of fashion.
Clips from Season 2 Episode 1
Mary's Blue Evening Gown with Black Lace
After the war ends and the changes in fashion are becoming more apparent, Mary adds a new gown into her rotation. The cut of this gown is a straighter cut with a slighter loose fit. Mary does however add her hints of drama and as typically does drama follow this gown.
The gown is dark blue and has thin double straps. The color looks amazing on Mary’s actress, Michelle Dockery. On the front and back of the bodice is a thick lace panel that is in all likelihood is a vintage piece. The skirt has a sheer black overlay with three wide horizontal bands. The delicate sheer overlay gives this look an air of romance that is a rarity in Mary’s costumes.
Mary wears in this gown one of the most romantic scenes in Downton Abbey when she and Matthew dance to “Look for the Silver Lining," by Jerome Kern, from the 1919 musical Zip Goes a Million. It is during this dance scene that they steal a kiss despite being engaged to other people.
Mary wears small diamond drop earrings with a glitzy hair pin. She wears black gloves as gloves are standard with all the evening gowns. The lack of a necklace adds to Mary’s vulnerability in this very romantic scene.
Mary's Proposal Gown
After the success of season one, the world was treated to an episode of Downton Abbey that aired on Christmas Day, in the UK. The Christmas specials, which then became a staple of the show for better or worse, served as longer finale to the season and in effect were longer episodes often with big events occurring in their feature length runtime.
One such event was at the end of the Christmas Special that closed out season two, when Matthew proposed to Mary in the snow after the annual servant's ball. If you’re keeping up with the timeline then it was January 1920. This was the second time he proposed to her, the first being in 1914 during season one but this time Mary said yes.
Everything about this scene is romance at its finest. From the dreamy light snow, to the soft glow from the house, the music, the dialogue, the acting and of course the costumes. Given that they just attended a ball they are dressed to the nines. Matthew is in white tie and Mary dons a burgundy gown which looks exquisite against the falling snow.
The gown is very similar in cut and silhouette to Sybil’s black and gold gown as it is sleeveless with a wide V-neckline and skirt has multiple tiers. While these gowns are very similar, the vibe of these costumes could not be more different. Sybil’s gown is more bold and assertive which compliments her rebellious spirit of character in season two, Mary’s is more traditional and romantic which fits both the scene and her character.
The gown is simplistic in its details. There is some delicate trim along the neckline with a diamond pendant attached to the gown itself, much like Cora’s black gown with the netting. The Pendant has an angular shape. The accessories are minimal for this look. Mary opts for smallish diamond earrings with two smallish hair accents one in front and the other in the back. The tiers on the skirt have scalloped edges which add to the softens of the gown adding to the airy romance of the scene.
This scene is one of the most romantic moments in television.