Downton Abbey is a show noted for its elaborate period costumes from the 1910s and 1920s. After opening in 1912, the show takes viewers through the horrors of the First World War and the societal changes in its aftermath. Among these changes were new opportunities for women to participate in the workforce and pursue goals other than marriage and children. Perhaps no character embodied the changing times better than Edith Pelham (née Crawley), whose costumes show us her development from overlooked middle sister to successful career woman and highest-ranking member of her family.
Lady Edith is a great example of how costume can tell a character's story. Below are ten hidden details about Edith's dresses, coats, and blouses that you probably didn't notice.
10 Her style was intentionally dowdy early on
When Downton Abbey opens in 1912, Edith's costumes reflect her status in the family as the awkward second daughter living in the shadow of her two beautiful sisters. Sometimes she would hit the ball out of the park with her style, as she did with the purple day dress she wore to breakfast in the pilot episode. Other times, Edith would have a complete miss like everyone does when they're still experimenting with fashion. In the latter situation, she would often become the target of cutting remarks from her sister Mary, who once told Edith, "I'll admit that if I ever wanted to attract a man, I'd stay clear of those clothes and that hat." Poor Edith.
9 The Women's Land Army inspired her
To prepare for Season 2, actress Laura Carmichael visited the Imperial War Museum, where she learned about the women working in the Women's Land Army (WLA). The WLA was a British civilian organization that sent women to farms that needed workers, replacing the men who were away at war. Women who worked for the WLA were commonly known as "Land Girls," and it was Edith who volunteered her services during the war to a tenant farmer on the Crawley estate. She dressed practically for the job, wearing trousers and an old jacket instead of the Edwardian finery of Season 1.
Laura Carmichael noticed that some of the Land Girls wore headscarves instead of hats and asked if she could do the same. Edith did have some gorgeous headscarf looks.
8 She wore a very expensive tiara
As a married woman, Edith is entitled to wear a tiara on special occasions. When King George and Queen Mary visit Downton, Edith wears a diamond tiara from the late Victorian period positioned on her forehead. In real life, the tiara was one of three on loan from jewelry firm Bentley & Skinner, which incidentally holds a warrant to provide jewels to the royal family. The tiara features 15 carats worth of diamonds sitting atop nine fleur-de-lys motifs.
Laura Carmichael previously wore another tiara from Bentley & Skinner on Edith's wedding day to Anthony Strallan. It was the same tiara Mary wore when she married Matthew, and features diamonds set on a floral garland motif. As both Crawley sisters decided to wear the tiara on their wedding days, we assume it must be an important family heirloom.
7 Getting jilted at the altar was a turning point
Edith's life changed dramatically after Anthony Strallan left her at the altar in Season 3. She wrote a successful op-ed advocating for women's suffrage and began regularly contributing to a magazine as a columnist. Writing gave her a sense of purpose outside of the dull, dreary rituals of the aristocracy where she never belonged.
In Season 4, Edith leaves Downton for London and becomes independent. She also becomes more fashionable, almost as if she had previously been dressing conservatively to attract an older man and was now opening up to more youthful styles. Edith's transformation culminated in the green flapper dress she wore to meet Michael Gregson for an intimate dinner at the Criterion supper club.
6 She wore the colors of the 1920s
From the very beginning of the show, Edith has worn plenty of coral, peach, salmon, and pale green. Many of these colors are the more autonomous versions of the bold jewel tones that Mary favors. At first, they seemed to indicate Edith's place in Mary's shadow but later came to represent her independent and free-spirited personality. Edith's color palette tended to make her stand out or look out of place at the Abbey, much like how her character never entirely belonged to that world.
These were also colors that were popular for women in the 1920s when muted and pastels were fashionable. Another popular color was black, a chic staple now that it no longer meant that someone was in mourning.
5 Her costumes were mostly originals
Perhaps because Edith gravitated towards colors that were truly in vogue in the 1920s, most of her wardrobe in Season 6 consisted of original vintage pieces, in contrast to Mary's, which were mostly custom-designed. According to costume designer Anna Robbins, it was especially easy to find original daywear for Edith. Among the many pieces salvaged from antique markets was a reversible coat dress with coral piped trim and a brightly colored embroidered jacket in mint condition. Of Edith's evening gowns, the gold sheath dress she is wearing the night Bertie asks for her hand is possibly couture from the house of Edward Molyneux.
4 Her style purposely contrasted Mary's
Edith's antagonistic relationship with her older sister is well-documented in her costumes. Anna Robbins designed the two surviving Crawley sisters' costumes with a dichotomy in mind, such light/dark and positive/negative.
For a ball scene in the Downton Abbey film, Robbins dressed Mary in a black-and-white beaded dress and Edith in a gold velvet princess dress. In this scene, Mary reads as strong, cold, and remote while Edith is softer and warmer. At the same time, the sisters complement each other with metallic tones. Edith completes her ball look with geometric gold earrings, long golden chains, and a diamond tiara.
3 Her costume design revolved around seasons
Edith was in a bad place emotionally in Season 5. Not only did she learn that Michael Gregson had perished, but there was also the question of how to raise their daughter Marigold. As she was so distressed, Edith wore mostly staid pieces in autumnal colors like browns and oranges, having little interest in fashion.
In Season 6, she landed a job as a magazine editor and began to blossom both personally and professionally. Her primary colors shifted to a springtime palette of greens and golds, gradually lightening and brightening to reflect her new growth. Edith also became more adventurous with fashion, having reached a place in her life where she could do so.
2 She loved vibrant prints and patterns
In Season 6, Edith is much happier and more confident thanks to her blossoming career and love life. She sheds the pared-back clothes she wore in Season 5 and begins experimenting with various prints and patterns. Unlike Mary's penchant for ordered geometric designs, Edith prefers more abstract shapes in a multitude of colors, creating an almost psychedelic effect in some pieces. She also begins to add organic shapes into her wardrobe that complement her springtime palette and highlight the good things she has cultivated in her life. After all the terrible things to befall her, she finally knows who she is and where she belongs — and her costume says it all.
1 She had a London look
Edith's work uniform combined her favorite colors and love of prints into a series of feminine and practical work outfits for the office. While Mary's tailored work uniform is very much rooted in the classic look of the landed gentry, Edith's has a bohemian influence from her time spent with the Bloomsbury Set. She pays particular attention to details like a pussy-bow around the neck or a print that clashes with the rest of her outfit, creating fashion-forward looks that would be too much at the Abbey but play perfectly in her new life in London. We stan a modern queen.