Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Downton Abbey fashions coming to Oshkosh March 3, 2015

WHEN MY WISCONSIN RESIDENT daughter recently informed me that Dressing Downton: Changing Fashions for Changing Times will be on exhibit in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, beginning in late June, I got giddy with excitement. Oshkosh is only a 4 ½-hour drive from my southeastern Minnesota home and on the way to my daughter’s place in Appleton.

A film still of Maggie Smith's character, Violet Crawley. This costume will be featured in the exhibit. Photo credit: Carnival Films/Masterpiece and courtesy of the Paine Art Center and Gardens.

A film still of Maggie Smith’s character, Violet Crawley. This costume will be featured in the exhibit. Photo credit: Carnival Films/Masterpiece (courtesy of the Paine Art Center and Gardens).

If you’re a fan of the Public Broadcasting System Masterpiece series Downton Abbey, and especially the fashion showcased on this British drama, you understand my enthusiasm. The traveling exhibit wending its way through seven American cities from now into 2017 features 36 period costumes (including jewelry) and a fashion overview from the first four seasons of the show. That covers 1912 to the early 1920s.

From maid Anna Smith’s (Bates) apron-covered black dress to Robert Crawley’s light cream suit to Violet and Cora Crawley’s lovely dresses and more, you’ll see costumes up close. Bustle to flapper style. Simple servants’ attire to elegant attire of the rich.

This artwork comes from a Hamilton Garment Company ad published in the February 1925 issue of Needlework Magazine. I recently purchased the magazine at my local Salvation Army.

This artwork comes from a Hamilton Garment Company ad published in the February 1925 issue of Needlework Magazine. I recently purchased the magazine at my local Salvation Army. Fashion styles similar to these were featured in Season 5 of Downton Abbey. That season ended at Christmas 1924.

I’m no fashionista, preferring comfort (think jeans and a cotton shirt) to fashionable clothing. But the fashions of this time period intrigue me as does the aristocratic lifestyle. There’s always an appeal to seeing the other side, to imagining a life of wealth and privilege. I fit more with the downstairs servant standard of living.

The Paine Mansion. Photo by Eric Reischl and courtesy of the Paine Art Center and Gardens.

The Paine Mansion. Photo by Eric Reischl and courtesy of the Paine Art Center and Gardens.

That the Wisconsin exhibit will be held at the Paine Art Center and Gardens, a Tudor-Revival country estate style mansion and grounds, seems especially fitting. Nathan and Jessie (Kimberly) Paine of the wealthy Paine Lumber Company and Kimberly-Clark companies had the house built between 1927 – 1930. Their English ancestry influenced the architectural and interior designs and furnishings.

According to Laura Fiser, the Paine’s Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, staff first became aware of the proposed exhibit in early 2013. The Paine immediately contacted the organizer, Exhibits Development Group of St. Paul. A review and negotiation process followed. The setting, the beauty and artistry of the costumes, and the passion for the television series are cited as reasons for bringing the fashion exhibit to this historic Wisconsin location.

I agree. This should prove an ideal, elegant setting to display Downton Abbey costumes throughout the more than 24-room mansion. I expect I will be as impressed by the location as I am by the costumes.

“Fans of the series may feel as though they are actually walking on the set of the show and getting a behind-the-scenes look at the costumes,” Paine Executive Director Aaron Sherer said in a press release announcing the exhibit.

And then there are the 19 gardens from shade to rose to woodland and more that certainly will draw my botanical interest.

Touring Dressing Downton: Changing Fashions for Changing Times should reflect life at Downton Abbey from many facets. Fashion. Setting. History. Only the drama will be missing.

FYI: The Downton exhibit at the Paine runs June 20 – September 20. Hours are 10 AM – 5 PM Sunday – Thursday and from 10 AM – 7 PM Friday and Saturday. Admission is $14 for adults and $7 for youth. Click here for more information. Advance tickets are not available; visitors need simply show up to tour the exhibit.

Currently, the traveling exhibit is in Asheville, North Carolina. Other scheduled stops are in Richmond, Virginia; Chicago; Cincinnati; South Bend, Indiana; and Nashville. Click here for more information.

Exhibition produced by Exhibits Development Group in cooperation with Cosprop Ltd., London. Downton™ and Downton Abbey®. ©2015 Carnival Film & Television Limited. All Rights Reserved.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The copyrighted mansion and Violet Crawley images are used here courtesy of the Paine Art Center and Gardens, sources attributed.