Monday, January 10, 2011

Downton Abbey and the Edwardians

Monday, January 10, 2011
Loretta reports:

Though the new PBS Masterpiece program, Downton Abbey, is set in 1912, two years after King Edward VII (1841-1910) died, you won’t hear me complaining about descriptions calling it an “Edwardian era” drama.  George V might have been wearing England’s crown, but the Edwardian atmosphere lingered.  Like the Regency period about a century earlier, the term “Edwardian” is often stretched to include some time before and after the specific ruler whose name it bears.

There are some other interesting parallels to the Regency.  King Edward VII’s mother, Queen Victoria, had an interminable reign, like King George III, father of the Prince Regent (later George IV).  This mean that both heirs to the throne had a very long wait to wear the crown.  Both wore their crowns for a very short time—less than nine years for Edward VII, ten years for George IV.  Both were rebellious sons who had difficult relationships with their parents (Victoria blamed her eldest son for the death of her beloved Albert).  Both men were fashion plates, although Edward was more of a fashion leader.  The Prince Regent, when not under the guidance of Beau Brummell, had theatrical tendencies in dress, with sometimes unfortunate results. 

Both men had a lot of girlfriends, though I’m not sure either could compete with their ancestor King Charles II.  However, again unlike the Prince Regent, Edward VII was quite fond of his wife, Alexandra.  I blogged about one of his mistresses, Daisy, Countess of Warwick, a year ago, and plan to gossip about more of his girlfriends during the run of Downton Abbey.

For now, though, let's take look at fashion.  It’s interesting, isn't it? that both eras feature a vertical style of dress, and a reduction in underwear.  Between the time John Singer Sargent painted the splendid portrait of Daisy and her son, and the time of Downton Abbey, women's fashion underwent quite a change.  Instead of the S curves of the turn of the century, the shape of women’s fashion began slimming down, heading toward the boyish look of the Roaring Twenties.

As we all know, styles come and go and come again, and these two eras offer a good example.  Loyal readers of this blog may notice a similarity between the 1912 French fashion plate here and the winter promenade dress I showed for January 1815.


Unknown said...

Always fascinating to learn more about the monarchs. Thanks. I didn't know there were any parellels. Before Downton, I never watched Edwardian drama but it's a lovely time period so I might explore it a bit further.

Juliette said...

That's fascinating, I'd never thought of comparing those two periods in that way. Feeling increasingly frustrated about missing Downtun Abbey when it was shown here in the UK as well...

Chris Woodyard said...

In another parallel to an an earlier royal era, the Edwardian designer Lucile (Lady Duff Gordon, who earned such notoriety when the Titanic went down) drew much of her inspiration from the court of Versailles--she decorated her salon and her home with 18th century antiques. Many of her exquisitely laced and frou-froued clothes and accessories were inspired by 18th century portraits, such as her Merry Widow hats, tea-gowns with engageantes, and long walking sticks. She was said to be fascinated by Madame de Pompadour and owned (to the best of my recollection) a bed or a chaise said to belong to that royal mistress. I think her fashions were the first example of an 18th-century revival.

I also see a parallel in the way that Edwardian society hostesses, who could rarely participate in government directly, used their tea-gowned femininity to influence the events of the day. If one wished to have the ear of a cabinet minister, a quiet chat with his mistress was in order. In the same way an 18th century maitresse-en-titre would advance the causes of petitioners with the King, if properly approached. She couldn't openly rule, but everyone knew her influence.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Certainly Charles II's mistresses were infinitely more interesting than Edward VII's and George IV's. Although both did love their actresses didn't they? I love the silhouette of the Edwardian period. So much more attractive than the mutton sleeves of the late 1890's.

QNPoohBear said...

I don't care for the S-curve look or the 20s look but I just love the Edwardian styles. Even the undergarments were gorgeous!

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket