Who Wore It Best: The (Almost) Roaring Twenties Fashion of 'Downton Abbey' Season 3


Here we are, three episodes into our favorite Edwardian-no-more soap opera, and we’re barreling headfirst down the radical Roaring Twenties rabbit hole. Dubbed les années folles — aka the crazy years — by the French, the headstrong decade, among other things, gave women the right to vote. It also — fittingly — gave women shorter skirts and the bias cut in sensually simple, revolutionary crêpe de chine, gabardine, and satin. The famous French couturiers, Jeanne Lanvin and Madeleine Vionnet, became almost single-handedly responsible for the mass shedding of corsets and the modern female figure.

Historically on point, this season’s lead costume designer, Caroline McCall, cites the two fashion houses: Mary owns a Vionnet dress and McCall took inspiration from Lanvin’s back catalog for her wedding dress. That being said, some of the characters are still decidedly stuck in the past. In anticipation of this week’s episode, we thought we’d go all Joan Rivers and rank our beloved upstairs uppities by how they’re taking to the dawn of a new era in fashion. Click through to see who we think is wearing it best.

8. Tie: The Dowager Countess of Grantham and Lord Grantham

Image credit: bcliving; Radio Times

Dear Dowager Countess, how we love thee, but — not surprisingly — you’re not really embracing the freedom and fun of a brand new world. Case in point: the dramatic difference between what you and Mrs. Martha (aka Cora’s rich mom) are wearing in this photo. That fussy old lady hat. That brooch on a (ugh) lace choker. Be inspired by your American counterpart. Think about fur. Long layered lariats. Comfier, free-flowing fabrics. Try out a turban. You never know, you might like a little less structure.

Lord Grantham, we love you too, but a lot has changed in three seasons. One thing that unfortunately hasn’t: your look. You’re a handsome man. Take some cues from your new son and co-Lord, Matthew, and do it up a little. Maybe try a slimmer cut. Maybe even a little color?

7. Mrs. Crawley

Image credit: Jane Austen’s World

Appropriately understated and ever-so-slightly matronly, at least Cousin Crawley went for an au courant cranberry, and somewhat modern — although — ill-fitting cut.

6. Lady Grantham

Image credit: fanpop; PBS via Entertainment Weekly; Fabulous Girls Wear Vintage

Lady Cora, you are the picture of posh perfection. Pretty? Decidedly. Appropriate? Always. Do we obsess over your outfits? Not really. Well, maybe that cream ensemble …

5. Lady Sybil

Image credit: fanpop; Jane Austen’s World

Sybil, dear, you were the first lady to wear pants in the family. That spectacular cornflower blue confection was our favorite fashion moment of last season. We know you’re pregnant and that makes getting dressed in the morning a challenge, but are all the gloomy colors really necessary? I mean, sure, you married a chauffer turned Irish revolutionary who almost got you cut-off from all the money and then (most recently) left you to fend for yourself at a very vulnerable time, but somber shades just aren’t that pretty, even on the loveliest of ladies.

4. Matthew Crawley

Image credit: fanpop

A big thumbs up to our favorite handsome leading man with a conscience. Not only have you adjusted so well to your white (and black tie), but you’re also giving contemporary fashion a try. Even modern men should take note of that grey suit, blue tie combo. Well done.

3. Lady Mary

Lady Mary, you are divine. Resplendent. Would we expect anything less? You obviously have a keen sense of fashion and you wear it all so beautifully. It was hard for us to put you third, but, well, a few leading ladies are outshining you this season.

2. Mrs. Martha Levinson

Image credit: Ramblings TV; Carnival Film & TV via The Telegraph

The first one being: Mrs. Martha Levinson, Cora’s over-the-top rich American mother. Those furs! Those feathers! Those jewels! Modern, mature and marvelous.

1. Lady Edith

Image credit: fanpop; Elle UK

And, our (probably surprising) pick for best dressed just 3 episodes in is: Lady Edith. For one, her wedding dress was prettier and decidedly more fashion forward than Mary’s. And that tiara! But the real reason is the stunning peach dress that is perhaps the best, most elegant representation of all that the shifting sands of fashion in the 1920s represented. Surely modeled after Jeanne Lanvin’s trademark use of intricate trimmings and virtuoso embroideries in light, floral colors, this ensemble is a stunner. And it suits Edith to perfection.

If the last episode was any indication, Lady Edith may just become the most modern woman on the show. Adding fuel to what’s got to be a burning inner fire, the Dowager Countess aptly remarks: “You’re a woman with a brain and reasonable ability. Stop whining and find something to do.” If that doesn’t sum up the roaring decade to come, we don’t know what does. Well said Violet. And, well played Edith.