Of Downton Abbey's many pleasures, its gorgeous period costumes—from Lady Rose's fabulous flapper frocks to Lady Mary's androgynous tailored suits to the Dowager Countess's Victorian finery—rank among the highest. Now the show's costume designer Anna Robbins has revealed the secrets behind how they are created.
Around 60 percent of Downton's costumes for the "upstairs" ladies are made from scratch, Robbins told Britain's Daily Mail, with the rest created from existing vintage items, some costing as much as £1,000 (about $1,554), which are then painstakingly restored.
Lady Rose's beautiful silk tulle wedding dress, seen in Season 5, was sourced from the private collection of a vintage trader in North London. Amazingly, it fit actress Lily James perfectly without any alteration.
To find Lady Rose's 1920s party dresses, Robbins scours vintage fairs in Paris and London and cultivates relationships with vintage traders in Scotland to find the perfect outfit.
She'll then hand the dress over to a beading specialist, who will take around three days to make it look box-fresh, while in-house tailors take another two days to make the slip that goes underneath. Making one of Lady Mary or Lady Edith's tailored suits from scratch takes even longer.
But it is the Dowager Countess's dresses that require the most dressmaking time due to their many layers and elaborate detail (she would be pleased!) By the time the entire cast's wardrobe has been created for a season, Robbins's team of 12 has gone through "thousands"' of safety pins, about 20 pairs of scissors, and "endless streams" of thread.
The attention to detail extends to underwear, with actresses playing younger "upstairs" characters fitted with period lingerie, like 1920s bust-flattening bras, recreated in more comfortable modern materials.
Meanwhile, art imitates life in that the plainer outfits of the downstairs staff require less work and fewer fittings. "The women who plays the servants downstairs are very envious!" Robbins said. "I catch them looking longingly at the "upstairs" wardrobes."