Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey & Huntsman

Lately, we had the opportunity to watch the first season of Julian Fellowes’ period drama, Downton Abbey. It is set mostly in and around the fictional Downton Abbey, a 1,000 acre estate which is inhabited by Robert Crawley, the current Earl of Grantham, his family and servants. In reality, the stately castle is Highclere Castle, in Berkshire, England, which was built in the Elizabethan Style and is, to this day, a personal residence.

Downton Abbey

The season opener commences on April 14th, 1912, with a message in morse code spreading the news of the infamous sinking RMS Titanic. In an equally dramatic fashion, the season ends on August 4th, 1914, in which a garden party is suddenly interrupted by the notice that Britain declared war on Germany.

The idyllic country life of the Crawley family – the Earl, his American wife, mother as well as three daughters, Lady Mary, Lady Edith and Lady Sybil – is irreparably altered when the news of the fate the Titanic reaches the household. Unfortunately, the Earl’s heir Patrick Crawley, his oldest daughter’s future husband, was among those 1517 passengers aboard the ship who were not rescued. As a consequence, it is now unclear who will inherit the estate and the existence of the family at Downton is at risk.

Today, we want to focus solely on the Earl of Grantham and his outfits.

Originally, Hugh Bonneville gave an interview in which he stated:”For my Downton Abbey costumes I’m spending quite a lot of time in H Huntsman on Savile Row, which is a great privilege; I intend to camp there for the rest of my life.” Moreover, The Savile Row magazine reported that Hunstman tailored the clothes for the male characters, and so we took this information for granted. However, after we became aware of certain doubts about this theory on costumes incarnate, we inquired more thoroughly. Consequently, we contacted Huntsman and received the following reply:”We only made his white tie outfit for series two which has just commenced filming now. We did not have any involvement in other clothing for either series one or two.  We worked closely with the costume designers on Downton Abbey to ensure that the outfit was as historically accurate as possible in terms of the cut and finish of the waistcoat and the line of the shoulders on the coat.” Given this, we think it is safe to assume that only the white tie outfit for the second season was tailored by Huntsman.

Robert Crawley – Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)

Robert, personified by Hugh Bonneville, was born into to the typically impoverished aristocratic Crawley family. He inherited Downton Abbey through the traditional patriarchal line of succession, but since the family was in need of money, he married a rich American from Cincinnati in 1899 in order to secure the estate. Although his sole motive for marrying his wife, Cora, was her money, he later fell in love with her and they are now enjoying a happy marriage.

Interestingly, before Robert and Cora could get married, Robert’s father initiated a deed of transference with Cora that would lock her money to the estate. His intention was to secure the estate with Cora’s money in case she should later divorce Robert. Of course, he assumed that Cora would give birth to a male successor, who would then inherit the title, the estate, as well as her money. However, they did not have a son and now they are in the precarious situation whereupon they will not only lose the estate, with all its belongings, to Robert’s distant cousin Matthew Crawley when Robert dies, but also Cora’s money.

Bespoke suits & outfits

From the very first scene, the drama is a feast for the historically-inclined sartorial eye. In the beginning, the Earl wears a grey pin stripe three piece suit. The jacket is single-breasted with 4 buttons and has a rather small notched lapel and two flap pockets on either side as well as a ticket pocket on the right. In his chest pocket, you can spot a white pocket square, which is probably made of cotton or linen. The sleeves have 3 cuff buttons and, surprisingly, he does not show any cuff at all. The shoulder seam is located further back than on most coats today, but that was rather typical. In his waiscoat pocket, he carries a fob (pocket) watch which is held in place by a decorative chain.  The white day shirt features a detachable collar with little wings, and around the neck you can see a white, black, and silver tie with a discrete orange-red tie stick pin. The cloth seems to be heavier, as was normal for the era.  The all over fit is not great as the sleeves and sleevehead show distinct wrinkles.

Later, he wears a heavy, single breasted, over knee-length overcoat in grayish blue with a black astrakhan collar which I like very much. His head is covered with a Homburg that features curled up brims – another feature that was typical for the 1910s.

At one point in time, we can see him in mourning dress, wearing a black (silk) top hat with a slim mourning band, a 6×2 double breasted paletot topcoat in black with wide peaked lapels, with a elegant velvet collar. With it, he wears striped morning trousers and black gloves, the latter because his first cousin had just died.

In the evening, we see him in different period white tie ensembles, and during the day he often wears his Norfolk jacket. Unfortunately, it has some horizontal lines under the neck, the sleeves have wrinkles and if you look closely, you can spot the collar felt that is usually covered by the collar. For summer events during the day, he likes to wear an off-white three piece suit with an ascot and a Panama hat. Unlike in other TV productions, the actors wear dresses and suits multiple times and not just once–just like they did in real life. You can also see him in his Dressing Gown occasionally.

Generally, the Earl either wears a tie, an ascot or a bow tie; the first two are always accompanied by a tie pin. Moreover, you can spot him quite regularly with the bottom button of his waistcoat undone.

Altogether, Downton Abbey is a marvellously filmed series with a great storyline and great period costumes. The fit of the men’s garments is not always spot on, but maybe that is exactly how it was back in the day.

You can find the DVD of the first series on Amazon.

The pictures were taken from the ITV HD series. Later this year, the second series of Downton Abbey will be aired on TV in the UK as well as the US.

If you enjoyed this article, you should not miss our other Downton Abbey feature about men’s clothing.

12 replies
  1. Winslow says:

    well done. I always wonder who makes the suits in all of the wonderful period dramas. I imagine many are costume, but there are some very nice handmade ones in there too.
    Nice bit of news.

    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Dear winslow, thanks for your compliment. Apparently, every hour of the film cost £1,000,000 per hour to produce! With such a generous budget, they could afford to go to H. Huntsman, I suppose.

  2. Andrew says:

    Nice post! If you’re interested in Huntsman you should read a book called “Bespoke” by Richard Anderson. Most of it is about the tailors during the ’80s and ’90s.

    PS: Highclere Castle is in Berkshire.

    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Dear Andrew,

      Thanks for your comment, I just recently bought Richard Anderson’s bespoke but have not read it yet. From what I know from the internet, the estate is technically in Hampshire just a mile south of the border with Berkshire. The building itself is supposedly in Berkshire but I do not know that for sure.
      Have you been there before?

  3. Andrew says:

    Hi Raphael,

    I’m afraid not. It looks quite similar to a few stately homes in my native Yorkshire, so I thought I might have gone there as a kid!

  4. Brad Ross says:

    Great review! I have yet to see the series, but will enjoy it, I’m sure, when I do. Also, I totally agree with your critical reference to “Boardwalk Empire”. From what I’ve seen, I think the costumer designer should be fired! Too many inaccuracies to mention! Amazes me how somebody can get a job like that and be so far off — I’m sure there are many of us interested in sartorial history as a hobby that could do a better job – me included!

    Another series worth mentioning for its many fashion inaccuracies is the Canadian production of “Murdoch Mysteries”. I even went so far as sending an e-mail to the production company to share my opinion; needless to say, I did not receive a response.

    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Dear Brad,
      Thanks for your comment. It seems like it is related to the other Downton Abbey article, isn’t it? My guess is, that the costume designers learned how to do modern day stuff and the production company simply does not know anybody with a background. They also know, that most people do not have a clue anyways. I have never seen that Canadian series. What is it about?

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