Downton Abbey is a phenomenon. Is it because of the acting? Perhaps. What about the storylines? Possibly. Those are important factors into my decision to watch this PBS Masterpiece Classic penned by writer and creator Julian Fellowes. However, the main reason I tune in is for the costumes. Who can resist those fabulous hats, dashing tails and tophats and elegant evening gowns? Admit it. You’ve pictured yourself in at least one of those outfits.
In my position as director of the Fairport Historical Museum in Fairport, New York, it is my job to draw attention to the wonderful resources the museum has to offer. We have an excellent research facility for those genealogists itching to learn more about their Fairport ancestors. Multiple files extol the beauty of the local architecture, and the displays will tell you everything you need to know about businesses and inventions that came from this area. What people haven’t seen is a selection of the hundreds of costumes and accessories from the museum’s collection…until now.
On April 16, 2013, the Fairport Historical Museum welcomed costume consultant Mary-Ellen Perry to present a program about the new costume exhibit opening that night, Fashions Inspired by Downton Abbey. Ms. Perry’s credentials are impressive. She holds a B.A. in Art from West Maryland College, and received her Masters in American Folk Culture from SUNY Oneonta. After interning and working as curator at the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey, Ms. Perry became director at the Arnot Art Museum in Elmira, New York. She served as guest curator at the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut and followed that up as curator of clothing and art at Rochester’s own Strong Museum. Impressive is an understatement. You can imagine how thrilled I was when I approached Ms. Perry to speak at the Fairport Historical Museum and she graciously accepted. She also took the time to come into the museum several times to discuss the eras and details of the costumes that were to be in the exhibit. I have learned so much from her.
After Ms. Perry’s wonderful presentation discussing fashions from the 1880s through the 1940s, the program attendees were offered the first glimpse of the exhibit which features costumes chosen to represent eight of the characters from Downton Abbey. The gown representing the elegant Lady Grantham is an exquisite ivory tea gown dating to about 1913. Lady Sybil’s white and blue day dress dates to the same period. Lady Edith’s black silk crepe afternoon dress with a modesty panel springs us forward in time to the mid-1920s, while Lady Mary’s long black dinner dress with removable jacket seemed to be the hit of the show. Matthew Crawley, Lady Rose MacClare and Mrs. Hughes are also embodied by appropriate attire. Everyone’s favorite Dowager Countess is represented by an amazing black silk taffeta day dress. The dress, circa early 1900s, sports a double row of buttons down the front and back and split sleeves of netting over silk. Two additional gowns, two capes and a cloak round out the costumes. The exhibit also features a selection of vintage hats, gloves, hair combs and hat pins, purses and shoes.
Fashions Inspired by Downton Abbey runs through September 15, 2013 at the Fairport Historical Museum. The museum, located at 18 Perrin Street, Fairport, New York 14450, is open Sundays and Tuesdays from 2:00-4:00 p.m., Thursday evenings from 7:00-9:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 9:00-11:00 a.m. Admission is free, and there is free parking on the street and in the Village Landing parking lot directly across the street from the museum. I invite you to come view these exquisite fashions from days gone by and to support the Perinton Historical Society, a not-for-profit volunteer organization which maintains the Fairport Historical Museum. Please consider membership in the Perinton Historical Society in order to support our educational programs, special exhibits and operation of the Fairport Historical Museum. For additional information about the PHS, please visit the website, www.PerintonHistoricalSociety.org.