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"Downton Abbey" Costume Exhibition Opens at Mall of America


"Dressing Downton" at Mall of America

Elle Lyons, courtesy TPT

Known as much for its soapy drama as it is for its stunning costume designs, Downton Abbey has amassed a fervent following since it premiered in the U.S. in 2011. Though the hit British television series ended its six-season run earlier this year, the show lives on through a pair of traveling costume exhibitions. Dressing Downton: Experience the Costumes & Collection opens today at the Mall of America, featuring 27 period costumes worn by the show’s actors spanning the series' run. The show, which was originally produced for Princess Cruises before going on to tour the U.S., is a smaller offshoot of Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times, which features more than 40 costumes.

The fashions on display were created London costume house Cosprop Ltd., some using original fabrics and embellishments, others recreated from photographs, paintings, patterns, and magazine pictures. Both shows are produced by Exhibits Development Group in collaboration with Cosprop and will be touring North America through 2018.

The exhibition flows from morning to evening, beginning with Cora and Robert Crawley’s pajamas—a sand-washed silk nightdress with needle lace dressing gown for her, silk pajamas with chenille brocade silk dressing gown for him. The majority of the garments on display are from the wardrobes of the Crawleys, though one look from below-stairs are represented, Mrs. Hughes’ uniform, a black silk and wool dress. Of course, the show’s eveningwear are the most exquisite in the show, including Lady Edith’s velvet halter-neck dress, Lady Mary’s silk crepe dress with vintage silk lamé train and sheer silk shoulders rimmed with clear glass bugle beads.

Helpfully, the history behind the show’s costumes is highlighted with a detailed program, as well as a video introduction and optional audio tour that features commentary from the show’s costume designers.

And just in time for the holiday shopping season, the exhibit—which is housed in a storefront near Nordstrom on the mall’s main level—also features Downton-themed products for sale for the Downton lover in your life. Products include Downton cookbooks, historical books, period-inspired jewelry and accessories, mugs and t-shirts decorated with the Dowager Countess’s iconic quips (“What is a Week-END?”), candles, linens, bar items, throws, and throw pillows.

Because the costumes in the show were owned by the costume house up until its fifth season, when NBCUniversal began owning its costumes, the exhibition is dominated by costumes from 1924 and 1925 (the years of the show’s fifth and sixth seasons). While understandable as a logistical issue, it would have been illuminating to be able to see how fashions evolved on the show since its first season, which took place in 1912, the year the Titanic sunk, into the changes in fashion resulting from fabric rationing from World War I, into the dawn of the Jazz Age in the early ’20s. For a more in-depth experience of Downton’s changing fashions, you'll have to head to South Bend, Indiana, for the larger, original Dressing Downton exhibition, which is currently on view through January 2017 at the History Museum.

Nitpicks aside, Dressing Downton offers an illuminating glimpse into the series’ costumes that no fan of the show should miss.

On view during regular mall hours, 10 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat. & 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Sun. now through Jan. 31, 2017 @ 132 West Market, Bloomington. Purchase tickets at exhibitsdevelopment.com.

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