Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham and her Purple Suit Dress

Photo from here

Glad to read that so many of you are just as excited about Downton Abbey costumes as I am! This is the first in what I hope will be a series of costume close-up posts.

Probably one of the most iconic costumes in the first season is Violet's purple suit.  I definitely think the Dowager Countess is my favourite character.  I always look forward to her witty banter and fabulous expressions.  Dame Maggie Smith really is a star!

Here's a close-up of the blouse and jacket of the suit:


I immediately noticed several things about the blouse by looking at the close-up.  It appears the bodice is gathered to the neck band in a sheer dotted swiss (or voile?) fabric.  The lace bow appears to be separate and simply fastened onto the blouse at the centre front.  

Here is Violet wearing the outfit.  You'll notice that they put an amethyst brooch on the centre of the bow on the blouse and that the character accessorized the blouse with a long waist length necklace:


Photo from here

This is a close-up of the jacket.  It appears as if the pattern in the fabric is slightly raised (it's hard to tell from the photos and unfortunately, I couldn't touch it!)  The fabric is definitely textured:


The jacket features black coiled trim along the outside and beautiful pleated sleeve caps.  One interesting thing that I didn't notice until I looked at the pictures is that there appears to be a collar in black with cream flower shaped embroidery (?) and scalloped edges around the neck.  Do you see it?


Here's a front shot and side view of the suit:
Photos from here and here

The colour on the left is a much better representation of the actual costume than the one on the right.

Here is a close-up of the cummberbund/belt:

It appears to be wrapped?  I think the belt buckle is just for decoration and that the cummberbund closes via hook and eyes or snaps (can you see there is one at the top of the cummberbund that is slightly visible?) The belt buckle itself is in a sort of elongated heart shape and is quite large.  I also love that we can see the trim on either side of the jacket has a small tassle!

This is a good close-up of the blouse sleeve peeking out under the jacket:


I really love the cut of the sleeves on this jacket with the slight flare just before the wrist.  This picture shows the blouse sleeve fabric much better than any of the screen or still shots of Dame Maggie wearing the outfit.  We can see that it is a very delicate fabric with an intricate design.  I'm dying to know if the whole sleeve is made out of that material (which is different to the blouse bodice) or if it is just the cuffs of the sleeves.  hmmmm....

They did have photos of the hat at the exhibit but all my photos came out slightly blurry.  Here's a close-up photo of Dame Maggie wearing the hat:

Photo from here (also check out this link for a funny handmade version of this hat)

Are those shells on her hat?? The best shot I could get of the hat is this one:


What do you think? Do you love this dress?  What about some of the design questions (blouse construction, cummberbund closure, suit material, hat material, etc.)?  Do share!

37 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing these photos from the Downton exhibit! I was wondering, Debi, if you might be willing to offer some suggestions on places to go in Endiburgh. My husband and I are taking a trip in May, and I'd love to have some insider information! 

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  2. Thanks for sharing! I love the blouse! :)

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  3. Violet is also my favorite character, I think because she is such a character! Thanks so much for sharing the photo's. Somewhere, deep in my closet, I just remembered that I have a charming little (and I mean little) blouse that reminds me of the neckline gathering on this one. Am I the only one who holds on to special pieces of clothing that will never, ever fit again? Such a beautiful suit.  

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  4. Debi_myhappysewingplaceMarch 14, 2012 8:28 PM

    DEFINITELY!  Send me an email at: myhappysewingplace[at]googlemail[dot]com and let me know what your interested in and how much time you have!!!  Oh and there's lots of fabric stores here too if I can convince you to take a small detour :)

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  5. Miss Crayola CreepyMarch 14, 2012 9:00 PM

    I need to watch this show! I feel like I am missing out on so much!

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  6. Did you get to see the fabulous lace duster jacket that Violet wore? I'd LOVE to see details on that...and Thanks for sharing these pics!!!

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  7. I am so happy that you are sharing these photos :)  This is one of my favourite Dowager Countess' outfits and I am looking forward to seeing close ups of Cora's coat.

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  8. I suspect it's not a full blouse.  It was typical in the era to do a false front and given the difference in front and cuffs, this would be a likely candidate.

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  9. It's gorgeous isn't it. I have some braid very like the black, in a pale creamy gold metallic thread.
    Those gold lace undersleeves are either attached to the inside of the jacket sleeve, judging by the way they are sitting, or to an undersleeve of something else that stops above the visible line of sight. On my wedding dress, I attached half length undersleeves to the sleeve lining at the elbow.
    VERY interested to see that another of her lovely costumes is recycled, from of all people, Uma Thurman! http://recycledmoviecostumes.com/victorianedwardian116.html

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  10. I'm looking forward to seeing more close-ups like this. Who doesn't love construction details of fabulous costumes?
    Although I'm no expert, I have some theories about the outfit. I agree with Anne Foster about the blouse: both false fronts and separate cuffs were common at the time, so it's likely that those aren't connected. It seems like the sort of blouse (or combination of blouse-like elements) which was always worn under something, so the covered parts of it are likely to be much more plain.
    And I think you are right about the cumberbund have a hidden closure with hooks and eyes. After all, because an outfit like this would be made-to-measure and fitted over a corset, one didn't need a belt te be adjustable. 

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  11. What a detailed review you have written.  It helped me appreciate  the costume more and whoever did the research for the costuming should be applauded.  Thank you for going to all the trouble to make this a great post.  I am a stalker but a nice one!  xo

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  12. Thankyou so much for this. Such a lot of information and so many photos that I would not have seen otherwise. It is also interesting to read the comments about the false front and sleeves. I did wonder if the sleeves were seperate. The cuff part in some of the pictures appears to be quite long - elbow length I suspect. Absolutely fascinating. thankyou again 

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  13. I love the character of Violet too, and Dame Maggie Smith is
    a delight to watch in anything.  In this, my favourite bits are when she
    is being indignant - she reminds of a pigeon

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  14. Ohmygosh!!!! I adore Dame Maggie Smith! She is the true star of this series! :)

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  15. The hat decoration looks to me to be some sort of artificial grapes, perhaps of silk chiffon in several colors layered, made up simply by gathering edges of a circle of fabric and stuffing quite firmly to achieve a little globe. Blouse cuffs would have been the only embellished bit, as the rest of the sleeve is hidden by jacket sleeve ( blouse would not have been worn without jacket in public by someone of this social stature). It is even possible that the cuff is part of a partial false sleeve attached to the bottom of the jacket sleeve; and that the blouse body is merely a front and back joined at the shoulder, tying at the waist (a sort of dickey). This reduced bulk under a jacket. The half-blouses were easy to wash. You could have a whole wardrobe of half-blouses for each suit, to change up the look of the suit.

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  16. What I love best about this particular suit is the shape and length of the jacket's sleeves and then the longer blouse sleeves. And who doesn't love Maggie Smith as Violet?!?!?! She brings so much to the show. 

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  17. I have to agree, I think she might be my favorite character as well! She keeps it real. I read on the Daily Mail that some of the cast hasn't signed on for the 4th and 5th season yet and that included Maggie Smith! I got a bit panicky, I hope we don't have another Mad Men situation and that they all reach an agreement.

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  18. Debi_myhappysewingplaceMarch 16, 2012 11:10 PM

    I do that too! I've got a few pieces that I'm still holding onto!

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  19. Debi_myhappysewingplaceMarch 16, 2012 11:11 PM

    Oh! You must watch it!  It's fabulous...

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  20. Debi_myhappysewingplaceMarch 16, 2012 11:11 PM

    No...unfortunately, this was the only one of Violet's costumes that they had...

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  21. Debi_myhappysewingplaceMarch 16, 2012 11:11 PM

    Yeah...Cora's coat was stunning!

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  22. Debi_myhappysewingplaceMarch 16, 2012 11:12 PM

    Brilliant. Thanks Anne!

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  23. Debi_myhappysewingplaceMarch 16, 2012 11:12 PM

    So true! I like the idea of the false front...at least it would be a bit cooler in the summer months!

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  24. Debi_myhappysewingplaceMarch 16, 2012 11:13 PM

    Thanks Lydia!!! :)

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  25. Debi_myhappysewingplaceMarch 16, 2012 11:13 PM

    I love this sort of thing too!

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  26. Debi_myhappysewingplaceMarch 16, 2012 11:14 PM

    hahahaha...so true! Her one liners are fabulous!

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  27. Debi_myhappysewingplaceMarch 16, 2012 11:14 PM

    Totally agreed!

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  28. Debi_myhappysewingplaceMarch 16, 2012 11:15 PM

    Thanks LinB! That makes a lot of sense about the half-blouses and the versatility for changing up a suit like this!  And really fascinating about the hat trim.

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  29. Debi_myhappysewingplaceMarch 16, 2012 11:16 PM

    I know! Doesn't she?  I love how she interacts with 'new' technology as well (swivel chair, electricity!)

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  30. Debi_myhappysewingplaceMarch 16, 2012 11:17 PM

    Oh no!!! I hope she signs on!  At the pace it's going would the 4th season be in the 30's and the 5th in the 40's??? Soon they'll catch up with Mad Men in terms of decades!

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  31. I love this costume! if only we could wear such outfits today :)

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  32. I love this costume! if only we could wear such outfits today :)

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  33. Ah, the magnificent Maggie Smith, she's so wonderful. Will you ever forgive me if I admit I'm yet to start watching Downton Abbey? I've been meaning to for ages but I'm more inclined after seeing my surname pop up in all these posts all the time (and a little freaked out I have to confess). The costumes look so amazing, I've watched worse for less! 

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  34. Dover Books reprints lots of old fashion plates. In "Victorian Fashions & Costumes from Harper's Bazar, 1867-1898," ISBN 0-486-22990-4, pp 245-247 have illustrations of undergarments common to the late 1890s. The half-shirts are called "chemisettes." Violet's suit is of a style from that era: older people often wear clothing styles popular in their youth. (Seeing a woman wear a suit 20 years out of date is not uncommon in our own time!) Folkwear patterns has a good example of the skirt in this suit. They call it a "walking skirt."

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  35. Why not? Isn't there a whole genre of life-choices called "steam punk?" You'd not look out of place in a suit like this in most major metropolitan areas, if you used a plainer fabric and shortened the skirt a bit.

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  36. Oh my goodness Debi, this was not made for the series, it is also recycled!! http://www.recycledmoviecostumes.com/victorianedwardian125.html
    I am gobsmacked. It is still beyond gorgeous, but knowing it is a hand me down from an earlier series is a bit disappointing :(

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  37. the decoration of her hat is net or some type of fine silk chiffon which is wrapped around bits of stuffing or padding or stuffing. 

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I read each and every comment--thank you so much!

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