Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Costume Contest: Dress-Up Downton Style

In just a few weeks - we'll be gathering at the Inn at Essex for the long awaited VPT's Experience Inspired by Downton Abbey. It's an unique opportunity to celebrate the style and grace of the Downton Abbey family or their household staff. You're invited to re-create the era with your own versions of period dress, evening gowns, riding attire, black tie, white tie, 'tea gowns', or if it's more your style, a footman's or house maid's uniform. Put your best foot forward and try to capture the mood and elegance of a proud English country house, its family, guests or its staff in Downton Abbey and the 1920's.

Costume categories will include:

Best General Embodiment of a Downton Abbey Character – Upstairs
Best General Embodiment of a Downton Abbey Character – Staff
Best Crawley Sister
Best Robert, Earl of Grantham
Best Cora, Countess of Grantham
Best Lord & Lady Crawley (couple)
Best Matthew Crawley
Best Dowager Countess Violet

The Judges:

Karen Augusta has purchased, sold and appraised antique clothing, laces, textiles and fashion accessories for almost four decades. She is the owner of Antique Lace & Fashion, a historic costume and textile business geared to museums and serious collectors. Karen has curated or acted as consultant for many costume and lace exhibits in the United States and has appraised collections for public institutions and private collectors throughout North America. She is a member of The Costume Society of America and The Textile Society of America and serves as a fashion and textile appraiser on the popular PBS series Antiques Roadshow. She is also the owner of Vermont-based Auction house Augusta Auctions. Her auctions draw crowds of up to 125 people, with an additional 200 phoning in from around the world. For more on Karen Augusta, click here.

What she's looking for:

Karen's advice for tackling the Downton-themed fashion competition is to embrace the spirit of the 1920s. She is less interested in what the outfits look like, and more excited to see how people embody the characteristics that marked the changing times. It is about the authenticity and representing the feeling of what women were going through socially.

Jen Karpin and her husband are the owners of Morning Glorious, an online vintage clothing business in Southern Vermont that sells men's and women's vintage and designer garments from the 18th century through the 1980s. Jennifer has been wearing and collecting vintage since she was about 14, and has been a professional vintage dealer for well over a decade; she has worked with museums, historical societies, theaters and television dramas, and is a proud juried member of The Vintage Fashion Guild. She has an affinity for the 1920's as an era when fashion changed so radically, especially for women: skirts rose, the ubiquitous corset disappeared and the whole profile of the body changed. Women donned trousers, bobbed their hair short, yet wore stunningly beautiful beaded silk and chiffon “flapper” dresses to go out dancing.

What she's looking for:

Jen is looking for the best embodiment of a Downton Abbey character, whether it’s male or female, young or old, upstairs nobility or downstairs staff.  She says that there is a lot of room for creativity and personality to shine through. People will want to keep in mind that they can create their look with authentic vintage clothing, with a smart mix of vintage, modern and second-hand; with things they make, sew or alter; and with great accessories such as their hats, gloves, boots, jewelry and so forth. She recommends to focus on the details as well as the overall look, and she will be on the lookout for guests who have clearly done some research, who carry themselves “in character,” and who embody the authentic spirit of that period in history. 

Edward Maeder is a historic dress and textile consultant from South Deerfield, MA who has been sewing since the age of three. He is the former curator of Costumes and Textiles at the L.A. County Museum of Art and later at historic Deerfield.His work with fashion and art spans from a restoration project in the Sistine Chapel, to lecturing at colleges around the United States and Canada, to writing numerous books on clothing through history, and most recently, creating a collection of intricate paper dresses  While he is technically retired, he is busier than ever, doing consulting work and lecturing at universities. He has been a fan of British costume dramas since studying the history of dress at the University of London in the 1970s.

What he's looking for:

Edward will be looking for more than a pretty dress. In his own words, he is concerned with things like "scale, embellishment, silhouette, 'shine' or lack of it, and of course the two 'book-ends' the hat (or hairstyle) and the shoes.  Perhaps this latter is the most difficult, as shoes are the most personal item of our clothing.  And they are what is most often overlooked." His advice for a successful costume: "Underpinnings, underpinnings and underpinnings.  If a corset is required for the shape of the dress and the restriction of the movement, try to wear one.  Again it is the way a person walks, sits, dances, responds to others that are the attributes of a 'truly' period character."




  • Etsy - an enormous selection of vintage clothing and accessories from all over the world. Search in vintage categories. There are also excellent handmade reproductions on the general site.
  • 1920's Silk Dress from Morning Glorious Vintage on Etsy
  • Ruby Lane - a more selective, curated assortment of vintage and antiques. Search under Vintage Clothing and Accessories.
  • Morning Glorious Vintage on Ruby Lane
  • The Vintage Fashion Guild - a juried international group of reputable, knowledgeable sellers.
  • eBay 
  • Vintage Textile - High end vintage clothing curated by Linda Ames.
  • Blue Velvet Vintage offers period reproductions as well as authentic vintage
  • Re-Mix Shoes makes modern reproductions of Edwardian and 1920s shoes in wearable sizes.
  • Retail Vintage Shops in Vermont
    • Twice Upon A Time, 63 Main St., Brattleboro, VT, 802-254-2261
    • Who Is Sylvia, 26 Central St., Woodstock, VT, 802-457-1110
    • The GetUp, 27 Langdon St., Montpelier, VT, 802-279-5942
  • Costumes may be rented from the Costume Ladies, Walpole, NH
  • If you need an excellent seamstress for tailoring: Alice Fogel of Lyric Couture
Do you have any tips for dressing up Downton Abbey style? Please share with us below!

1920' Chiffon Dress from Past Perfect Vintage

Tickets are still available,
get them while they last! 

1920's Black Silk Dress from Dorothea's Closet Vintage


  1. This looks like the best time! I do so wish could be there to see all the entrants. And thank you so much for featuring one of our 1920s dresses!

  2. Just letting guests know that Who is Sylvia? in Woodstock (listed above) currently has A LOT of reasonably-priced Downton Abbey period clothing in stock. In addition to the phone number listed above, you can also contact us via our facebook page at I will post some pictures soon; we do offer shipping for those that can't make it to the store in person.

  3. Thanks for sharing such kind of nice and wonderful collection......Nice post Dude keep it up.

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