Or, Leimomi find out why bifurcation never really took off in the 1910s…
My Costume College Gala outfit didn’t get a lot of wear at Costume College because I was ill, so I really wanted another excuse to wear it.
The Downton Abbey movie seemed like the perfect excuse – I certainly got enough Lady Sybil comments at CoCo!
And it was a good excuse for the other Wellington historical sewists and I to go out dressed up. Our most extroverted member says that we need to stop hiding in the bushes and start wearing our dresses in public!
We did a little searching, and found out that one of the Wellington theatres had not one, but two Downton themed events: an afternoon tea and an evening red carpet event.
Unfortunately tickets for the one we really wanted: the afternoon tea, sold out before we found out about it. So we had to do the evening event.
At least it would mean my outfit finally got a red carpet!
But first…my outfit needed a little makeover.
I just could NOT get the bodice to a point I was happy with in the run up to Costume College. I spent 4 days working on it, which is 3 days more than I’d estimated it would take, and still ended up ditching most of what I’d done and putting together a whole new bodice in under an hour at 10pm the night before I flew. It was not my best moment (but was also rather impressive, in a slightly insane way…).
The resulting bodice, while better than the overcooked one I slaved over for four days, wasn’t great. My attempt at 1913 droopy bodice just looked saggy on one side, and pulled up on the other.
It also wouldn’t stay in position, and just looked messy and unintentional and generally stressed me out.
I do love the back view, though, which utilises a piece of antique lace.
So, for wear #2, I took the bodice apart again, and replaced the under layer of the front bodice with another lovely bit of antique lace, and re-did the overlap and drape.
(the new necklace is clearly not much better – there is a reason for those knots on really long bead strands!)
The event, alas, was a bit of a damp squib. $33 on top of the film ticket price for one small drink (non-alcoholic in my case) and and a single hors d’oeuvre, (and they had run out of vegetarian options by the time we arrived 10 minutes after the event started). Other than that it was a trio of musicians (nice), one of those horrible photo booths where you do 4 poses in 8 seconds and get a GIF and a print out of (always) the worst one, where at least one person has their eyes closed.
And then a lot of standing around uncomfortably waiting for the film to start.
There was a costume contest, but it was one of those one where they have the audience cheer for each person, so I lost out to the lady in the bathing costume (in the mob cap in the photo below) who was willing to flip her skirt up above her head to show her drawers and wiggle her bum at the audience.
Standing up in front of an audience for something like that is scary enough – I’m never going to win a ‘do something outrageous’ contest!
But afterwards the lovely young man seated just down from us told me I’d been robbed, simply robbed, which, to be honest, I enjoyed a lot more than I would have any of the prizes! And I did win a sweet little headband (which I shall have to find a little girl to give it to) in a random draw, and three people asked me if my outfit was vintage.
So I felt lovely, and did have a lovely time just being with friends, but I did discover the major drawback to my outfit.
Remember that one small drink? It’s a good thing that was all they gave us, because I was wearing the equivalent of an impossible to get-in-and-out-of-by-yourself jumpsuit.
Think about it. It’s the world’s most elegant diaper/loincloth, with holes just big enough for your feet, and a complicated mainly-back hooking opening. And it’s meant to be worn over a corset (though I skipped that for the film).
There is NO way to get in and out it in under 8 minutes, much less by yourself. Which I discovered standing in the (very pretty) bathroom of the theatre. It wasn’t a problem at CoCo because I was so dehydrated, but I was incredibly grateful I hadn’t tried to fight my was to the bar for another drink before the film!
So, now I know why bifurcation didn’t really take off in the teens! In an era of corsets, complicated fastenings, and irregular indoor plumbing, skirts are your friend….
Look, if you loved Downton Abbey, you’ll love the movie.
And, if like me, you gave up two episodes into Season 2, because it was clearly just a soap opera with better costumes, you’ll find the movie slightly less annoying than the show, with all the best bits (Maggie Smith), and none of the worst.
It’s hard to kill off too many characters in improbably ways, send the ones that survive to jail multiple times, have people change personality from storyline to storyline with no reason, and bring back someone from the dead in only 2 hours.
(I tried to watch the whole series in the run up to the movie, got mad about the tedious, frustrating, Bates thing partway through Season 3, read up on what his whole storyline was, and said “Nah, I’m not here for this nonsense”)
That’s not to say the film is sensible. There are no less than 9 different, all slightly ridiculous and overcooked, plots happening in the film in order to give all the characters a look-in. One involves an older cousin who is Lady in Waiting to the Queen, who (for some daft reason) the daughters have never heard of or encountered in any way – stretching the bounds of reason and the English social scene in the early 20th century to the absolute limit.
Weirdly, the only one I found emotionally touching involved everyone’s least favourite character. So, big bonus for making least-appealing character someone you actually rooted for.
Much fuss was made about the extra budget for costumes in the film, but I actually thought what the TV series did with existing costumes, making them look lush and rich and new, was much more impressive.
There were a couple of nice vintage pieces in the film, but I didn’t always feel they were used to best advantage to support the character wearing them. Sadly, Mary’s much-talked about Fortuny gown was mostly shown seated, so didn’t get a chance to shine.
Her final ball dress was quite nice though. (American quite, not British quite. I’ve realised I use both, which is quite, quite confusing). I recognised a couple of the inspiration pieces for it, and wouldn’t mind having one in my wardrobe!
The jewellery was probably where the money went – some of the best pieces were borrowed, but there were some fabulous reproductions.
And the outfits for the older characters, and the royal family, were spot on for what more conservative people were wearing in the 20s.
The one place the movie really failed was the hats. With the exception of one divine cloche on Mary they were awful. Heavy, obvious petersham bindings. Trims that looked like they were tacked on from $2 shop tat at the last minute. Lots of mid century tulle. My costuming students do better on their first millinery project (and I’m not claiming they are millinery geniuses). They just looked heavy and stiff. As soon as the film was over my friends turned to me and said “what was up with those hats!” It was particularly disappointing in comparison to how good the hats were in the TV series. More money is not always better!