Winterthur, DelawareCostumes of Downton Abbey is an original exhibition of exquisite designs from the award-winning television series. Forty historically inspired costumes from the television show are displayed and supplemented by photographs and vignettes inspired by the fictional program and by real life at Winterthur so visitors have the chance to step into and experience the world of Downton Abbey® and the contrasting world of Winterthur founder Henry Francis du Pont and his contemporaries in the first half of the 20th century.

The line between the fictional world of Downton Abbey and the real world can become blurred as we get close to the characters week after week. Costumes of Downton Abbeygives us the opportunity of a behind-the-scenes look at their costumes and reminds us that we are looking at costumes and not actual historic garments. They are, of course, historically inspired.

In real life, costumes often look different from how they appear on screen. Television cameras have a way of changing their color and even texture. Similar to how actors are slathered with cosmetics to appear natural on screen, costumes are often embellished with details and texture to achieve more light or movement. Part of the pleasure in viewing them up close is seeing evidence of use and construction. The intimate look that Costumes of Downton Abbey affords us reveals the vintage fragments such as lace, pleating, and beading that costumers incorporated into new fabric. Such additions are not uncommon and are meant to both add authenticity and enhance the costumes for dramatic effect on screen. For example, one costume featured in the exhibition is that of the character of Mrs. Hughes, who wore a heavily beaded and appliquéd, black-on-black patterned dress—which would be an unlikely work dress in real life.

Seeing the various costumes of the fictional characters who wore them on the show makes us think of their real-life counterparts and the roles that they played, the lifestyles they lived, and how their dress reflected their activities and responsibilities. The costumes therefore set the stage for one of the most interesting aspects of the exhibition—the contrast and comparison between the fictional but historically accurate British country estate in the period drama and the real-life American version of the same era—Winterthur. Supplementing the costumes are photographs and vignettes inspired by the television show and by life at Winterthur, that illuminate the similarities and differences in the etiquette, traditions, activities, and environments of each.

Whether you are a costume aficionado, fashionista, historian, avid Downton Abbey fan, or dedicated Member, you will truly enjoy this one-of-a-kind exhibition and immerse yourself in a world apart. 

A co-production of Carnival Films and Masterpiece, Downton Abbey depicts life in an aristocratic household of the fictional Earl and Countess of Grantham and is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed period dramas ever produced. It has won a Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries and seven Emmys including a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries. It was the most watched television series in both the UK and the U.S. and became the most successful British costume drama series since the 1981 television serial Brideshead Revisited. By the third series, it had become one of the most widely watched television shows in the world. The Guinness World Records recognized Downton Abbey as the most critically acclaimed English-language television series of 2011.

March 1, 2014 - January 4, 2015. Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, 5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur, Delaware - http://www.winterthur.org/


Detailed view of Edith's wedding dress.


Detailed view of Mary's engagement dress.