The Costumes of Season Three
The third season of Downton Abbey is rather infamous. It starts on the highest high and ends on the lowest of lows. It’s still hard to rewatch certain episodes of this season, namely episode five and the Christmas special.
Unlike the first two seasons, season three’s pacing is slower. Instead of years being covered it covers a shorter period of time which sets the pacing for the rest of the show. Season three covers early spring of 1920 to September 1921. For this reason the costumes do not change in styles and silhouettes much but there are still many lovely examples of very early 1920s fashions.
As with all looks of any decades, the 1920s looks did not just happen right as the clock struck midnight of New Year’s Eve 1920. It evolved and was refined through a long period of time. World War I had a great impact as the 20s saw a simplification from the ornate looks of the Victorian and Edwardian periods. The dropped waist which became the hallmark of the gamine look of the 1920s was the epitome of the 1920s freeing sense of style.
The iconic drop waist of the decade can be traced back to 1914, when a mother daughter look by fashion designer Jeanne Lanvin featured the new waistline. Also prior to the 20s Coco Chanel used the dropped waist with a belt chemise dress in 1916.
The 1920s saw many fashion designers rise from Chanel, Patou, Norman Hartnell, Madeleine Vionnet, Edward Molyneux, Lucien Lelong, Callot Soeurs to name a few. Many of these names help change the refined simplicity which marked the early part of the decade.
As is excepted from Downton Abbey the costumes are all stunning and alway suit the characters that don them. But which costumes stand out the most in season three? Which ones are the most memorable all while being beautiful and suiting the character and the scene?
Like any and all lists those are subjective questions even for a list with a narrow scope. This list is admittedly very subjective and not everyone will agree 100% but it does try to rank the costumes worn by the ladies of Downton Abbey Season three. There are 11 in total but that could always change.
The costumes for season three were designed by Caroline McCall.
List is subject to change.
Also there are spoilers for Season three so watch out
Lady Grantham's Pink Evening Gown
The Countess of Grantham never shies away from the current styles. She embraces the modern new and changing times with keenness. Cora always dresses impeccability with a great mix of elegance and youthfulness and this gown suits that aesthetic perfectly.
This pink beaded gown is one she wears a few times throughout season three. Most notably in episode two when during a dinner party Mary and Violet scheme to get money off Cora’s mother, Martha, in an effort to save Downton.
This gown has a rather demure look as it has a soft pink color with soft fabric and subtle drape especially in sheer flutter sleeves. The silver beading is also very delicate along the bodice front.
It still keeps to the new loose cuts of the times and the lower waist that were gaining popularity. The hemline is also shorter as it appears to hit at the mid calf.
Lady Edith's Green Velvet Evening Gown
Season three we see an uptick in Edith’s fashion sense. She is still not as glamorous as Mary or as daring as Sybil, not yet anyway but the changing styles suit her much better than the opulence of the late Edwardian period.
This green velvet gown does not have any grand embellishments. The interest comes from the lovely green color of the fabric which looks beautiful on Edith’s actress Laura Carmichael. Other points of interest are the double straps, the seams and the asymmetric drapery.
Edith wears a near identical gown in the season two Christmas special. That version has flower details at the straps on the bodice. More than likely it’s the same costume just altered.
Lady Mary's Picnic Outfit
As the threat of losing Downton looms over the Crawley family in episode three, the family take a picnic to the house that they will move after they sell Downton. The plan to call it “Downton Place” once they take up residence. Fortunately this doesn’t happen as at the last minute they are saved. At this picnic, which also serves as the last family get together before Edith marries Sir Anthony, Mary dons this charming champagne color dress.
The dress has long sleeves with a dropped waist and modest tiers on the skirt. The fabric has a weave pattern with a sheen. The edges have a taupe trim and there is a tab like detail on one side one the shoulder with two buttons. She pairs this with a taupe straw hat that has a shape that looks very similar to the cloche style of the 1920s. There is a wide pink ribbon on the hat that compliments the dress.
It’s a softer look for Mary as Matthew’s love makes her a softer and kinder person to a point.
Lady Edith's White and Green Suit
After getting jilted at the altar, Edith comes more into her own as she takes up the mantle of journalism. This brings her to meet Michael Gregson, her editor and eventual paramour. There is one issue with him, he is already married. This very modern suit is the outfit Edith wears where she confronts him for being flirtatious and where she learns the nature of his marriage which is straight out of a Brontë novel.
This day look of Edith's is something that would not look too out of place today. It’s a sharp yet still very feminine look of white and emerald. The white blouse has an emerald color collar with matching nonfunctional buttons on the front of the bodice. This green color makes up the cuff trim of the three-quarter sleeves that have a slight puff. The skirt is the same emerald green and has an accordion pleat.
She styles this look with a matching green beret and a pearl necklace.
Edith looks like the savvy modern woman ready to take some control over her life.
Lady Mary’s Wedding Guest Attire
For Edith's ill-fated wedding to Sir Anthony Stallen, Mary wears a very pretty look which is perfectly suited to a late spring wedding in May.
This costume of Mary's is a light blue dress in a variety of tones. The outer layer has a floral pattern. It could be velvet burn-out fabric but whatever it is, it’s very lightweight. The skirt is open on one side to reveal the under layer which is a greyish light blue. This color makes up the fabric of the flutter sleeves and the waist sash.
This looks highlights the loose structure that fashion was taking on in the early 20s.
Mary pairs this look with wrist length white lace gloves, a tan straw hat with a matching blue ribbon and a double strand pearl necklace. The layering of pearls necklaces was very on trend.
She looks impeccable and quite soft for her sister’s wedding.
Lady Sybil's Wedding Guest Attire
Much like her eldest sister, Sybil wears a lovely outfit for Edith’s wedding.
The under layer is a light lavender and it is sleeveless. The outer layer is white with bold angular flowers and cut-out details. There is a ruffle trim at the dropped waist line The sleeves are short and made from the same lace fabric According to the costume designer, Caroline McCall this piece is vintage.
Sybil pairs this look with wrist length white lace gloves, a white straw hat with white flowers and simple necklace with a white stone pendant.
It’s a very light airy look for Sybil that is a nice homage to some of her looks from season one but more suitable for the 20s and her age.
Lady Edith's Pink Evening Gown
Edith starts the show off with not being the most fashionable one. She wears some dowdy looks but there are hints that she could get on right. This coral evening gown that she wears throughout season three is definitely her getting it right.
She most notably wears this gown during the big dinner party in episode two when she and Sir Anthony become engaged.
This gown is fairly simple but there are some very lovely details. The color is a brighter shade. Prior to this season we see Edith wearing autumnal colors but they are dusty, dark and muted. This coral shade, while still in her color palette, is more spring than autumn. The spring-like aesthetic is carried over to the bright color floral embroidery at the rounded neckline.
The construction of the silk gown is unconstructed with a dropped waist and an ankle length hem. All of which was right on trend but also it has a little bit of grecian inspiration which was also on trend in the early 1920s. The waist features a braided belt made from the same coral silk of the gown. There is also a silver leaf detail one one side. Off this detail is a chiffon swag which gives the gown more movement and grace.
Lady Mary's Red Tabard Evening Gown
Mary is first seen wearing this red tabard gown in the season two Christmas special during New Years Eve 1920 and when she breaks off her engagement with Sir Richard Carlisle. The gown reappears in early season three during the first episode of the season where she is seen wearing it twice. She also wears it throughout the season. She also has a very similar red gown seen in episode seven with a higher neckline and black beading and a beading at the waistline.
As mentioned this gown is in a tabard style which was popular in the 1920s. The look is often a straight silhouette with an open outer layer making up the tabard look. The over layer is a sheer fabric with metallic beading around the neckline and arm openings, front and back. The waist is dropped with a gather that gives the gown movement in the skirt. The hemline is to the ankle. The under layer is a darker red color.
There are some silver metal pieces attached directly to the gown itself below the waistline on both sides of the front. Off these metal attachments are silver metal threads.
She pairs this gown with black gloves and a long beaded necklace during season three. The beads are square in shape and very simple, adding to the art deco aesthetic of this early 1920s look
Lady Mary's Red Evening Gown
This red evening gown of Mary’s is one her stand out looks for season three. She wears this gown most noticeably during her attempt to impress her modern-minded American grandmother into saving Downton. Mary does this by throwing a lavish party that goes awry when the oven breaks down in episode two. Mary’s campaign did not pan out in the end but Downton was saved by the end of episode three.
This gown hits on the 1920s aesthetic of simplicity. The 20s gave fashion a more modern look that embraced simplification from the past ornateness of the Edwardian and Victorian period.
This modern and very fashionable look for Mary is still in her signature color of the first three seasons, red. It's a more purple shade of red, more of a crimson, which she has worn before. The crimson over layer is sheer with a high neckline and asymmetrical hemline that has a handkerchief look which gives the gown movement. The lowest point is at the ankles. At the hemline you can see the under layer which is a lighter shade and is more pink in color. The waist like is not dropped but a natural waist with a sash in a matching fabric to the over layer.
There is an interesting gathering detail starting at the neckline and goes down the bodice to the hem. This gown looks like it was cut on the bias which gives its supple soft movement.
While the neckline is high the back is low, going down to her shoulder blades. Open backs were coming into fashion especially when paired with a sautoir or tassel necklace to emphasize the effect of a bare back. Mary does wear one of these necklaces which does highlight the back. It has a Y-shape in the front and back.
She also pairs this gown with a diamond feather hair piece worn at the front side of her head and white gloves. She does pair this gown with a different hair ornament in episode four with a diamond headband. She does wear the feather-like one with this gown again in episode eight.
This gown is a copy of a design by Madeleine Vionnet
Lady Mary's Wedding Gown
After nearly two seasons of will they won’t they complete with mutual pining and guilt-ridden angst, season three opens with Mary and Matthew’s wedding, though not without some drama.
Costume designer Caroline McCall told Elle UK that Mary’s wedding was the most expensive costume ever created for Downton Abbey. McCall also wanted Mary to catch the light as she descended Downton’s staircase as her father gazed up at her in her wedding finery. McCall wanted her to twinkle so she infused the lace with silver thread.
The gown itself has a column silhouette with a dropped waistline. The lace overlay has a tabard structure. On the lace overlay are pearl beading and Swarovski crystals. This beading combination is also on the edges of her sheer long sleeves that are just slightly wider at the wrists. Like a subtle bell shape.
Her wedding accessories include a chapel-length train with lace and beading. Securing her long veil in place is the Grantham family tiara. The tiara is a 45-carat piece worth $200,000 according to People magazine.
The tiara has a laurel design. Laurel wreath crowns symbolized triumph and victory.
Her bouquet is made of only calla lilies which are bound together with a white ribbon and three pearls. This bouquet compliments Mary’s delicate elegant wedding attire.
Mary’s wedding gown is rather hit or miss with viewers however there is no denying the level of thought and effort that went into this gown as Lady Mary illuminates the scene. She looks perfect as she is about to marry the love of her life and step into the role of the future Countess of Grantham.
Lady Edith's Wedding Gown
While the symbolism of the Grantham Family tiara served Mary well, for a time, it did not have the same impact on Edith’s big day as she was jilted at the altar.
Despite the ill-fated ceremony, the preparations for the events were touch-notch as befitting an aristocrat’s daughter.
Edith’s wedding gown is a contrast from her elder sister though it is still in style. In the show Edith’s gown was a design from Lucille, a prolific fashion designer who was also on the Titanic. Costume designer Caroline McCall was actually inspired by Lanvin for this gown.
McCall also took inspiration from a vintage piece which was an antique wedding train with stunningly intricate silver embroidery and crystals. The details from the train were carried on the shoulder and hips using appliques.
The gown itself has a Grecian influence which Edith has worn in other costumes. It is made from a soft satin that has a lovely drape. The ruching at the hip where the embroidery is adds some interest to the otherwise simple bodice with high rounded neckline.
The back of the gown has a criss-cross seam that echoes the ruching on the front but compliments the drama of the train.
The sleeves are made from a sheer fabric and are long. The edges of the sleeves have a high-low shape at the wrist, almost like a petal shape. This lovely small detail adds a very delicate touch.
In addition to the Grantham family tiara, Edith pairs this gown with a simple silver necklace with what looks like diamonds and a pearl bead. Her bouquet features sweet pink and white roses.
While the ceremony for Edith’s marriage to Sir Anthony ended in heartbreak, she did look amazing, elegant and very on trend. A far cry for her dowdy looks from the last two seasons.