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Originally published Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 6:15 AM

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‘Downton’ fashions: refined to frivolous in 1922

An interview with “Downton Abbey” costume designer Caroline McCall, and a gallery of her sartorial creations for the popular British TV series.

Seattle Times movie critic


‘Downton Abbey’

9 p.m. Sundays on KCTS.

More costume photos with commentary by designer Caroline McCall, at


‘Downton Abbey’

9 p.m. Sundays on KCTS.

For more costume photos with commentary by designer Caroline McCall, go to

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You may not recognize Caroline McCall’s name, but you may well covet her job: She’s the costume designer for “Downton Abbey,” the British television series set nearly a century ago. McCall and her department are responsible for dressing the show’s nearly two dozen main characters, plus numerous supporting characters and extras — all in a manner perfectly appropriate to the current season’s time period of 1922.

In a telephone interview last month, McCall explained that the show uses a mixture of newly created clothing, rented costumes and vintage pieces — though the latter aren’t without peril.

“Quite often, we’ll hear the sound of beads dropping from dresses, from the originals,” she said of the vintage treasures sometimes worn on the set. “Sometimes you’ll use something that’s very fragile that’s got such impact, it’s worth getting it through the scene.”

Not all of the “Downton Abbey” characters are high-maintenance; most of the below-stairs characters have just one or two costumes per season. And the upstairs men’s styles have changed only subtly. In earlier seasons, waistcoats and jackets were higher, with very little shirt and tie visible. Now, as in womenswear of the era, “everything is coming down — as ladies’ waists are going down, so do the cut of the men’s jackets, with a deeper V.”

It’s the female members of the Crawley family who are the greatest challenge and, for McCall, the most exciting. These women are well-off and “would never have worn the same dress twice in company.”

McCall said 1922 was an interesting, transitional time in fashion. “You think of flappers and the Jazz Age, but that didn’t come until the mid- to later ‘20s. The early ‘20s were all sorts of different designers, creating all kinds of different looks.”

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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