(This is the second of a three part series on the elegant accessories of Downton Abbey)
The first half of the 20th century was a time when both men and women dressed exceptionally well. In particular, the first three decades brought bespoke suits and fine tailoring in menswear to the acme of fashion. Of course, the sleekly lined styles and perfectly pressed informal and dress suits required the finest of accessories.
Art Deco Moonstone, Diamond and Sapphire Dress Set
The dapper gents of Masterpiece’s “Downton Abbey” perfectly embody a range of early 20th century styles. From the elder Lord Grantham’s traditional and often highly formal clothes (arranged to perfection by his valet), to Matthew Crawley’s progressive and more informal looks, to the classic blacks of Grantham’s valet, Bates, the costuming of these gentlemen brings out the best in bijouterie for the on-trend chap.
Standing at the juncture between ancestral heritage and the pressing concerns of a rapidly changing future, Lord Grantham represents the best of the English aristocracy. A kind and caring gentleman, he tries to be as progressive as possible but is still somewhat entrenched in the antiquated regulations and mores of his legacy.
Art Deco Dress Set
This square crystal and diamond dress set from the Art Deco era is a perfect combination of classic style and modern design that manages to be elegant yet avant-garde – just as Lord Grantham is. Also featuring a pair of cufflinks, this dress set is meant to be worn as accoutrement to a gentleman’s formal wear. The studs act as buttons to dress shirt, as well as vest (which, at the time, was always formal white for evening), and the whole would add a subtle yet noticeable shimmer that emphasizes a gentleman’s affluence and style, no matter how understated.
As the scion of the house, Matthew Crawley seems set to inherit the estate following the death of Lord Grantham. A favorite with the ladies of Downton Abbey, Matthew had been elevated from his firmly middle class existence as a lawyer with the discovery of his future inheritance. Raised without the stiflingly regimented codes of an aristocratic upbringing, Matthew brings a strongly modern influence to the Abbey and with it the most contemporary of styles.
Art Deco Diamond Cufflinks
Matthew’s far less formal style is perfect evidence of the rise of the youth culture in the early years of the century. Fashions which had previously been strictly enforced and codified, even for the gentlemen, were beginning to relax and develop a greater variety of style and structure. What we now consider to be modern business attire became the norm for a larger percentage of men as a greater number of men entered the corporate and professional spheres which had been on the ascent since the mid-19th century. These simple cufflinks, adorned with a single diamond each, are the perfect example of modern chic during the late Edwardian and through the Art Deco eras. Unassuming circlets of platinum are elegance on a smaller scale that would be appropriate for virtually any venue and, furthermore, easy to use with or without the aid of a valet. The coming obsolescence of domestic help would further shape the futures of both men and women’s clothing and it is fascinating that the struggle between tradition and modernism was elaborated in the conflict between Crawley and his valet in the first season of Downton Abbey. Matthew, having been raised in the middle class, finds it odd that there would be a servant to dress him (the valet — a traditional and honorable domestic position where a man was the direct servant of a peer, or wealthy man, and had charge of most of his personal issues… especially clothing). The valet, seeing himself as useless and unable to complete his job, remained strongly offended by Matthew’s behaviour until Crawley finally began to allow him to serve his duty. This disconnect between modern ways of living and the ancient acts showed the coming social clashes that would mark later decades.
John Bates is Lord Grantham’s valet on the show. He is widely seen as a hero — steadfast, loyal and honorable to a fault. His romance, and later marriage to a housemaid is one of the highlights of the show and his dramatic storyline has emerged as one of the major plot points. As a domestic, Bates occupies the strange limbo between upper and lower classes. As a de facto member of the middle class, but not the bourgeoisie, and as a representative of the larger Downton estate, Bates’ style is sleek, fashionable but not showy.
Bates is often pictured wearing a pocket watch with the accompanying chain. Though wristwatches were rapidly coming into fashion, pocket watches remained de rigeur for the well-dressed man. More ornate versions featured large charms or fobs and intricate chains with engraved watch-cases and, sometimes, dials.
Be sure to check back again next week when we discuss the ultra-luxurious fine jewelry of Downton Abbey!