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'Downton Abbey': Lady Mary's Most Memorable Costumes

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Kaycee loves period dramas and historical fiction. She writes for Screen Rant, where she talks about fashion and costume design.

Lady Mary Crawley's clothing spoke volumes about her personality and character throughout six seasons of Downton Abbey. A traditional woman caught up in a rapidly changing world, Mary had a harder time adjusting to the new normal of the 1920s than her sisters and cousin. Her wardrobe centered her firmly within the estate she loved so much, with a classic simplicity that would look a tad on the conservative side in London. To her disappointment, women were not allowed to inherit property in the early twentieth century, but she did her best to secure the future of Downton in memory of her late husband and their son—all in style, of course.

downton-abbey-a-look-back-at-lady-marys-most-memorable-costumes
downton-abbey-a-look-back-at-lady-marys-most-memorable-costumes

Season 1 - Signature Style

The first season of Downton Abbey established the basic principles of Mary's signature style. Costume designer Susannah Buxton used color to reflect the individual personalities and relationships between the Crawley sisters. She dressed Mary in strong, definite colors like black and red to convey her dominant personality and fiery nature. She also designed Mary's summer party dress with stripes to show that she is strong and direct, in contrast to Edith's basic white dress with pointed collar and Sybil's more modern print.

Season 2 - Last Season's Dresses

Season 2 of Downton Abbey began during World War I, when the Crawley sisters would have re-worn their dresses from their last season before the war. Mary's rotation of fine eveningwear included a somber black dress, a red dress with sheer sleeves and art deco paneling, and a beautiful champagne dress with a sequined starburst pattern. It wasn't until after the war that she debuted a navy dress with spaghetti straps and a ruffled front for a dance with Matthew.

downton-abbey-a-look-back-at-lady-marys-most-memorable-costumes
downton-abbey-a-look-back-at-lady-marys-most-memorable-costumes
downton-abbey-a-look-back-at-lady-marys-most-memorable-costumes

Season 2 - The Engagement Dress

Every one of the Crawley sisters has THE dress--the one that becomes a part of the character forever. For Sybil, it's obviously the harem pants. For Edith, it's probably the peacock dress she wore to the Criterion.

For Mary, it's this burgundy dress with a tiered skirt, which she would later recall wearing without a coat when Matthew proposed in the snow. The delicately beaded dress was inspired by the designs of Lanvin and proved to be a gorgeous choice that did not distract from the emotional weight of the scene. The dark red color complemented Michelle Dockery's alabaster complexion, while the beading caught enough light to help the dress stand out in the night scene.

downton-abbey-a-look-back-at-lady-marys-most-memorable-costumes
downton-abbey-a-look-back-at-lady-marys-most-memorable-costumes

Season 3 - Wedding Dress #1

As Mary was the eldest daughter marrying the heir, her wedding had to be a big society affair. The costume designer for Seasons 3 and 4, Caroline McCall, used silver-threaded lace in Mary's wedding dress so the fabric would glisten when she appeared at the top of the stairs. ("Will I do, Carson?") She chose a straight-silhouetted style called a tabard for the dress and designed a train encrusted with Swarovski crystals. She completed Mary's wedding look with a bouquet of elegant calla lilies and the family tiara.

downton-abbey-a-look-back-at-lady-marys-most-memorable-costumes
downton-abbey-a-look-back-at-lady-marys-most-memorable-costumes
downton-abbey-a-look-back-at-lady-marys-most-memorable-costumes

Season 3 - Wedded Bliss

Mary continues to wear her signature blacks and reds but adds some lighter, brighter colors into the rotation as she softens with marriage. Take, for instance, the cheerful floral print on the lapels of her blue traveling coat. Her clothes are also more mature and stylish to reflect her new status as a married woman and future countess.

Mary and Matthew are color-coordinated in the scenes they share, with Matthew's tie often reflecting the color of Mary's clothing--perhaps to show that they bring out the best in each other.

Season 4 - In Mourning

Sadly, Mary and Matthew would only have a year together before a car accident takes Matthew's life. Mary mourns her late husband for much longer than the rest of the family. She spends the first part of Season 4 barricaded in her room, dressed all in black. Mary eventually decides to be strong for her son's sake and begins appearing publicly in greys and lavenders that signify her move into half-mourning.

Season 5 - The Modern Haircut

Mary spends much of Season 5 courting two men, Lord Gillingham and Charles Blake. That could explain why her clothes were all over the place with no consistent style or theme. Not that she didn't have some stunning pieces in her closet, such as the beautiful fur-trimmed coat she wore to meet Tony Gillingham for a tryst.

Now in her thirties, Mary is beginning to worry about looking frumpy. Her fashion conundrum comes to an end when she gets her long, brunette locks cut into a very fashionable bob. This changed the overall aesthetic of her wardrobe, which was now defined by angular shapes and geometric patterns.

downton-abbey-a-look-back-at-lady-marys-most-memorable-costumes
downton-abbey-a-look-back-at-lady-marys-most-memorable-costumes

Season 6 - Suited Up

Season 6 saw the development of Mary's interest in managing the estate, which was still an unusual role for women in the 1920s. Designer Anna Robbins wanted to show that Mary was working in a man's world and experimented with fit and tailoring modeled after men's suits. While Edith added feminine touches to her clothing, Mary's aesthetic was rooted in menswear, with pinstripes, vests, and bow-ties coming together to create an androgynous look.

downton-abbey-a-look-back-at-lady-marys-most-memorable-costumes
downton-abbey-a-look-back-at-lady-marys-most-memorable-costumes

Season 6 - This Old Thing

Mary shows up to dinner at the Criterion wearing a stunning bias-cut gown with lace filigree over the bodice. The seafoam green fabric is cut at a 45-degree angle, which allows it to drape beautifully over the body in a mermaid silhouette. Mary also dazzles in a gold bandeau headband with a floral applique that echoes the shape of the gold lace. It is a rare instance of Mary wearing the organic, natural shapes that usually belong to her sister, Edith.

downton-abbey-a-look-back-at-lady-marys-most-memorable-costumes
downton-abbey-a-look-back-at-lady-marys-most-memorable-costumes

Season 6 and Beyond - Fortuny

Mary wears so many gorgeous dresses in the final season of the show that it's impossible to talk about them all. Two pieces that stand out are the Fortuny dresses, marked by the textile house's signature fine pleats. Staying true to her bold, vibrant color palette, Mary appears in a red "Delphos" dress in the series finale, as well as a navy blue "Delphos" with a modern plunging neckline in the movie.

downton-abbey-a-look-back-at-lady-marys-most-memorable-costumes
downton-abbey-a-look-back-at-lady-marys-most-memorable-costumes

Season 6 - Wedding Dress #2

Having already had her grand ceremony with Matthew, Mary's second wedding to Henry Talbot is a much simpler affair. She skips the white dress for a demure ivory suit with a dropped waist, accessorized with a simple strand of pearls, a corsage of white flowers, and butterfly appliques on the brim of her hat. Although not the show-stopper Mary wore to her first wedding, it is very much within her style wheelhouse and an elegant beginning to her second shot at love.

Comments

Rachelle Williams from Tempe, AZ on February 23, 2021:

I loved Lady Mary, and I especially loved her wardrobe! Boy, do I miss Downton Abbey... Thanks for the memories...