A look at the costumes of Downton Abbey at Wilmington’s Winterthur Museum

They say that clothes make the man, or woman. In this case, they make the show. 

This week we get an up-close and personal look at one of the elements that makes the hit PBS program Downton Abbey special: the costumes.

Wilmington is home to Winterthur, an original country estate where life was lived in similar fashion to its fictitious English counterpart. We stopped by Winterthur to check out the costumes and see what went into bringing this one-of-a-kind exhibit to Wilmington, the only place in the country where you can see the full display.

It started with a call

Dave Roselle, Executive Director of Winterthur, is a big Downton Abbey fan. He approached Tom Savage, director of Museum Affairs, about hosting the exhibit.

In turn, Savage called Downtown Abbey creator Julian Fellows. Subsequently, they met, talked, and eventually agreed upon all the details.

The next task: selecting which costumes to display. For that, a trip to London was in store. Winterthur Estate Historian Maggie Lidz was among those sent.

“We wanted not just the upstairs, the beautiful evening dresses, but we wanted downstairs represented, we wanted men’s clothes, so we came up with kind of a shopping list and I went to London to pick out the costumes.” Lidz said. “So that’s what you see here. We’ve got forty costumes.”

The costumes are arranged according to the time of day, beginning with the morning, when the workers made their daily preparations. The exhibit moves throughout the day, demonstrating both work and play. There are examples of the cast’s leisure outfits; even the famous wedding scene is on display, complete with snow.

Bringing it home

The fictional story of Downton Abbey allows Winterthur to tell its own non-fictional story. On display are several items used in the household that visitors can compare with the appurtenances of Downton.

“It’s been one of the only opportunities for us here at Winterthur to really talk about some of the people who worked at Winterthur,” Lidz said. “Victor Swanson, for example, he was the valet, he was born in Sweden. He’s here from 1917 to 1948. He’s one of the most important people at Winterthur. We really haven’t talked about him before. This is giving us an opportunity to talk about some of the Winterthur history that we can finally compare and contrast with the Downton history that people are already familiar with.”

With nearly all of the cast members represented in the exhibit. there are lots of details for visitors to savor. If you are a fan of the show, there is sure to be something at Winterthur to pique your interest.

“The costumes and the settings are fantastic. People love them,” Lidz said. “I think that when you look at the costumes, you really look at them, they’re unbelievably ornate, they’ve got wonderful embellishments and looking at them closely, you see all sorts of beautiful intricacies that you often get a glimpse of on TV, you can really take a good look here in the exhibition.”

The Downton Abbey exhibit is on display at Winterthur through January 4th. You can visit their website for more information.

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