ASHEVILLE, North Carolina — The Biltmore Estate will play host to an exhibition that highlights fashions from the popular television series “Downton Abbey.”
“Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times,” opens February 5 and continues through Memorial Day, May 25. The exhibition features more than 40 costumes from the popular PBS series. The clothing will be showcased in rooms throughout Biltmore House in groupings inspired by the fictional show and by real life at Biltmore, the grand Vanderbilt estate of the same era.
Although “Downton Abbey” is fictional, the show depicts an era of great change. The period costumes in the exhibition act as a window into history beginning in 1912 with the sinking of the Titanic, moving into the tumultuous years of World War I, and finally through the dawn of the Jazz Age in the early 1920s. The waves of social change felt abroad also had lasting impact on the Vanderbilts, their servants, and Biltmore as a whole. New stories will be shared about George Vanderbilt; his wife, Edith; and their daughter Cornelia, who lived in the 250-room Biltmore House.
The Vanderbilts’ home bears striking visual resemblance to the show’s setting at Highclere Castle, making it easy for visitors to blur storylines and experience for themselves a bit of life a hundred years ago.
“The day-to-day running of the house was surprisingly similar to that of Downton Abbey,” said Biltmore’s director of museum services Ellen Rickman. “Just like Downton has Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes, Biltmore had its own cast of fascinating characters. Displaying these fabulous costumes from the show gives us an unparalleled opportunity to delve into Biltmore’s stories.”
Themes in the exhibition include the evolution of fashion, nuances of etiquette and the changing roles of women. The life of service staff will also be explored, including the role of British citizens who worked at Biltmore. Costumes on display will range from country tweeds, to servants’ uniforms, to lavish gowns and evening attire cut from fine fabrics and decorated with intricate embroidery, lace and beading.