This winter and spring, Biltmore becomes the canvas for an exhibition of more than 40 costumes from the PBS Masterpiece series “Downton Abbey.” Opening February 5 and continuing through Memorial Day, May 25, “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times” juxtaposes elements of the fictional TV series and the real lives of the Vanderbilts who lived at Biltmore during the same early 20th century era. Admission to the exhibition is included in the price of regular estate ticket purchases.
Themes explored include the evolution of fashion, nuances of etiquette, changing roles of women, and the life of service staff. Costumes on display will range from country tweeds, to servants’ uniforms, to lavish gowns and evening attire cut from fine fabrics and decorated with embroidery, lace and beading. The award-winning costumes, created by London costume house Cosprop Ltd., were designed with inspiration from photographs and historic patterns. Some are original pieces from the period, while others incorporate antique decorative elements that inspired the overall costume design.
Biltmore bears striking resemblance to the series’ setting at Highclere Castle, making it easy for visitors to blur storylines and experience for themselves a bit of life a hundred years ago. “The day-to-day running of Biltmore House was surprisingly similar to what’s depicted on ‘Downton Abbey,'” says Biltmore’s Director of Museum Services Ellen Rickman. “Just like Downton has Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes, Biltmore had its own cast of fascinating characters. Displaying these fabulous costumes from the show gives us an unparalleled opportunity to delve into Biltmore’s stories.”