Costumes of Downton Abbey

downton abbey lead image people and castle

March 1, 2014–January 4, 2015

downton abbey cooks

Photograph copyright Nick Briggs, Carnival Film & Television. All Rights Reserved.

Costumes of Downton Abbey was an original exhibition of exquisite designs from the award-winning television series. Forty historically inspired costumes from the television show were displayed and supplemented by photographs and vignettes inspired by the fictional program and by real life at Winterthur so visitors had the chance to step into and experience the world of Downton Abbey® and the contrasting world of Winterthur founder Henry Francis du Pont and his contemporaries in the first half of the 20th century.

The line between the fictional world of Downton Abbey and the real world can become blurred as we get close to the characters week after week. Costumes of Downton Abbey gives us the opportunity of a behind-the-scenes look at their costumes and reminds us that we are looking at costumes and not actual historic garments. They are, of course, historically inspired.

downton abbey dress and tv projection

Gown worn by Lady Rose, Downton Abbey. Cosprop Ltd., London. All Rights Reserved.

In real life, costumes often look different from how they appear on screen. Television cameras have a way of changing their color and even texture. Similar to how actors are slathered with cosmetics to appear natural on screen, costumes are often embellished with details and texture to achieve more light or movement. Part of the pleasure in viewing them up close is seeing evidence of use and construction. The intimate look that Costumes of Downton Abbey affords us reveals the vintage fragments such as lace, pleating, and beading that costumers incorporated into new fabric. Such additions are not uncommon and are meant to both add authenticity and enhance the costumes for dramatic effect on screen. For example, one costume featured in the exhibition is that of the character of Mrs. Hughes, who wore a heavily beaded and appliquéd, black-on-black patterned dress—which would be an unlikely work dress in real life.

Seeing the various costumes of the fictional characters who wore them on the show makes us think of their real-life counterparts and the roles that they played, the lifestyles they lived, and how their dress reflected their activities and responsibilities. The costumes therefore set the stage for one of the most interesting aspects of the exhibition—the contrast and comparison between the fictional but historically accurate British country estate in the period drama and the real-life American version of the same era—Winterthur. Supplementing the costumes are photographs and vignettes inspired by the television show and by life at Winterthur, that illuminate the similarities and differences in the etiquette, traditions, activities, and environments of each.


Hear what visitors said about Costumes of Downton Abbey and Winterthur…

“This was fabulous…Downton brought me from Maine, but Winterthur captured my heart.” (Note to the Director)

“We went to Winterthur see Costumes of Downton Abbey. It was so worth the trip…” (TripAdvisor Review, VA)

“Loved the Downton Abbey exhibit.” (TripAdvisor, NJ)

“This was our first visit to Winterthur and WOW!” (TripAdvisor Review, New Jersey)

“The Downton exhibit is great!” (TripAdvisor, PA)

“Can’t wait to go back!” (TripAdvisor review, New Hampshire)

“An unbelievable museum…this is a museum which MUST be visited multiple times.” (TripAdvisor Review, Maryland)


downton abbey group shot with baby

Photograph copyright Giles Keyte, Carnival Film & Television. All Rights Reserved.

A co-production of Carnival Films and Masterpiece, Downton Abbey depicts life in an aristocratic household of the fictional Earl and Countess of Grantham and is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed period dramas ever produced. It has won a Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries and seven Emmys including a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries. It was the most watched television series in both the UK and the U.S. and became the most successful British costume drama series since the 1981 television serial Brideshead Revisited. By the third series, it had become one of the most widely watched television shows in the world. The Guinness World Records recognized Downton Abbey as the most critically acclaimed English-language television series of 2011.

The costumes were lent by Cosprop, the world’s leading costumier to film, television, and theater. Winterthur’s most popular exhibition, Fashion in Film, which attracted more than 42,000 people over its three-month run, also featured costumes by Cosprop.

County Lines' Magazine Social Scene page covered the Opening Gala for Costumes of Downton Abbey.


The exhibition at Winterthur is presented by


With support from the Glenmede Trust Company

Downton® and Downton Abbey®. A Carnival Films/Masterpiece Co-Production.  

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Carnival logo © 2005 Carnival Film & Television Limited. Masterpiece is a trademark of the WGBH Educational Foundation. All Rights Reserved. 
Photograph ©Nick Briggs, Carnival Film & Television. All Rights Reserved.

All Rights Reserved