Thanks to a never-ending parade of beautifully lavish costumes, hit ITV period drama Downton Abbey has also found favour in fashion circles, particularly the current series, which sees the action unfold in the enduringly stylish era of the 1920s.
More importantly, series three has given us not one but two Downton weddings, offering a wealth of inspiration for brides hoping to channel a hint of vintage glamour on the big day. As the season finale draws closer, we catch up with Downton’s Emmy award-winning costume designer, Caroline McCall, who talks us through each of the wedding gowns and shares her tips for brides hoping to recreate the look.
‘When you think of the fashions of the 1920s, you immediately think of the Jazz Age and flapper girls. I think we will see a lot of that in The Great Gatsby remake, but the 1920s of Downton Abbey has a very different mood’, McCall explains, ‘it’s much more ethereal and romantic; a soft, draped silhouette that actually lends itself very well to weddings’.
For Lady Mary, played by Michelle Dockery, McCall designed an elegant silk long-sleeved gown, layered with a tabard of ivory lace. ‘The tabard sits quite high on the front of the neck, but then drops into a V shape at the back’, McCall reveals, ‘with tiny buttons positioned at the waist, before it falls into a long train at the back.’ The most expensive Downton Abbey costume ever made, the gown was lavished with intricate details: the tabard trimmed with ‘scallops of lace and edged in tiny rice pearls and Swarovski crystal beads’, with the lace sleeves also edged with delicate Swarovski crystals.
Viewers first caught a glimpse as Lady Mary floated down the grand staircase, her proud father looking up at her – an impactful shot that was at the forefront of McCall’s mind as she was designing. ‘I knew how the light would come through the window and where her father would be standing as he gazed up at her. I wanted her twinkle in the light, so I infused the lace with a delicate silver thread to create a subtle iridescence. My goal was to make her look really ethereal and romantic.’
But of course this wasn’t the only Downton wedding this year, with a certain Lady Edith also treated to a moment in the bridal spotlight, albeit with very different consequences. For this wedding gown, McCall opted for soft, draped satin, another key look of the era – a ‘Grecian style that suited Laura Carmichael’s [the actress who plays Lady Edith] figure perfectly’.
An antique wedding train with intricate silver embroidery and crystals was the starting point: ‘we carried through the details from the train onto the dress, on the shoulders and on the hip, using appliqué, embroidery and crystals’, McCall explains. And, in a brilliant stroke of luck, ‘we managed to source a beautiful wedding tiara with a motif that perfectly echoed the embroidery on the train’. It was important to McCall that on her wedding day she was not ‘awkward Edith’. I wanted everyone to see her and say ‘wow, she looks fantastic’'.
For brides hoping to achieve a similar look, McCall suggests that the fabric of your dress should be your main consideration, as ‘often the fabric used to make wedding dresses can be quite heavy, which in turn can make the dress feel very stiff and structured. The key to both Lady Mary’s and Lady Edith’s wedding dresses is that they are so soft, they drape so beautifully.’
Pictures: Carnival Films How to have a Gatsby-inspired wedding