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Step back to the Gilded Age with St. Augustine's Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times

Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times

Photos Credit: Roger Fasteson

Downton Abbey fans who were fascinated by the lives of the 7th Earl of Grantham, his family and staff will be pleased to know that there is still time to see “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times” in the United States. Quite fittingly, it is in St. Augustine, a city that epitomizes Gilded Age splendor. The exhibit features 36 of the series’ costumes and accessories, from servant’s uniforms to elaborate gowns. The exhibition began in February, 2017, at the Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. The final showing runs through January 7, 2018 in St. Augustine.

 Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times

St. Augustine is where Industrialist Henry Flagler, co-founder of Standard Oil. began developing Florida as a winter resort, an American Riviera, for the rich and famous of the Gilded Age. His flagship Ponce de Léon is now part of Flagler College, the Casa Monica was restored in 1999 as a luxury hotel, and the Alcazar Hotel houses both City Hall and the Lightner Museum. Opened in 1948, the Lightner Museum was built to showcase Chicago publisher Otto C. Lightener’s collection of turn-of-the-century fine and decorative art and furniture. 

 Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times

Flagler built the grand Alcazar Hotel with the finest amenities of its day. Once the place to see and be seen, it was hit hard by the Great Depression and was vacant when purchased by Lightener, who came to St. Augustine for health reasons. Many of Lightener’s acquisitions, from antique mechanical musical instruments to Tiffany glass, are from Depression-era estate auctions in Chicago. Lightner donated the museum to the city of St. Augustine in exchange for their maintaining it.

 Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times

Who wouldn’t enjoy reliving some of Downton Abbey’s scenes while being immersed in the splendor of this unique time in history? The Lightner Museum was the site of the former casino, steam baths, salons, bowling alley and a swimming pool that was the largest in the world when it was built. The American Brilliant Cut Glass Room once served as a room in which to lounge after an exhausting day at the spa. 

 Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times

The Downton Abbey costume exhibit is in the Lightner Museum’s Grand Ballroom Gallery and is paired with some of the finest examples from Lightner’s contemporaneous collection, some on view for the first time. The fashions change with the times From the Dowager Countess’ S-shaped form from the corset and bustle beneath her opulent post-Edwardian costume to Lady Rose MacClare’s beaded and free-flowing flapper-style dress. The clothing ranges from a footman’s livery, Lord Grantham’s country tweeds, and Matthew Crawley’s World War I uniform to the red dress Lady Mary wore when she risked her reputation by spending a night with a Turkish diplomat. Some of the costumes were made from elaborate original-period fabrics, beading, embroidery and lace. Others were recreations based on old photographs, paintings and patterns. Costumes were created by London-based Cosprop, a costume company that supplied the apparel for 29 Academy Award-nominated films.

 Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times

The Grand Ballroom Gallery overlooks the Café Alcazar, which is in the Historic Swimming Pool area. The Hotel Alcazar’s indoor swimming pool was the largest in the world when it was built. An elegant Traditional English Tea is served there daily. 

The parallels between Downton Abbey and the lavish Alcazar Hotel can be continued with the one hour Upstairs/Downstairs tours of areas usually closed to the public. It is a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the lives of the staff and elite guests of the Alcazar Hotel during the Gilded Age. 

 Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times

Why not complete your Gilded Age experience with a stay at another former Flagler hotel, the Casa Monica? The Casa Monica is a National Trust Historic Hotel of America and the only one of Flagler’s former Gilded Age properties to now serve as a hotel. Add some dazzle by visiting during St. Augustine's award-winning Nights of Lights, when three million lights brighten the city’s historic district. It runs from November 18, 2017 to January 31, 2018.

 Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times

World War I attire in the collection includes Matthew's World War I uniform, Lady Mary’s crepe blouse and skirt worn at the concert for convalescing soldiers, and Lady Sybil’s nurse’s cotton dress, apron, and head scarf worn while tending the wounded.

 Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times

Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham, wore this beaded dress with a green velvet jacket at the hospital’s Charity Concert. The Earl of Grantham’s dress uniform with red jacket was based on a 1912 Indian Guides officers uniform. 

 Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times

Country attire included Lady Edith's wartime breeches and jacket (far left) for working on the farm, the riding habit and hat Lady Mary wore (far right) when she first met Matthew Crawley. Sir Richard  a winter hunt costume (left) and the Earl of Grantham's suit for a walk in the country (right). 

Linda Fasteson

Linda Fasteson is an award-winning food and travel writer whose favorite tangible travel souvenirs are the foods and wines that can be shared at home with friends and family. Her cultural and culinary adventures have taken her underground to little-known wine cellars in cobwebbed medieval passageways and up to palatial alpine banquets. She shops local markets, travels country roads, and goes b...(Read More)

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