Dressing Downton

Lady Mary Crowley's Evening Gown-tangledpasta.net
Lady Mary Crowley’s Evening Gown-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

This weekend we viewed the exhibit, Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times. 36 stunning costumes from the BBC’s production of Downton Abbey transport viewers of the exhibit back in time to a British era of incredible wealth and the gilded mansions of its aristocracy.

The intricate stitching of the costumes, particularly the elegant gowns of the Lady Mary Crawley character riveted my attention. I could not take my eyes off of a delicately spun black lace over pale green silk with black beaded tassels at bracelet length filmy sleeves topped off with the long, thin strand of a black jet necklace made me wish I had been a member of that affluent born-to-the-manor’s ilk.

Detailed beadwork on Lady Cora Crawley's Gown-tangeldpasta.net
Detailed beadwork on Lady Cora Crawley’s Gown-tangeldpasta.net

The clothing on the mannequins each had a backdrop from a scene of the characters wearing the costumes on display. In some instances, a belt or a buckle differed slightly from the backdrop scene. I attributed this to the fact that throughout the exhibit viewers are told that most of the costumes worn on Downton Abbey’s characters are originals, based on designs of the times, but that certain pieces were borrowed from archived costumes and private owners. There is even a replica of the famous pearl and diamond crown of Mary of Teck, who visited the fictional Downton Abbey, although my guess is Queen Mary likely was a guest at Highclere Castle where the television series was filmed. Several of the costumes had a mirror angled so that the back or the front of the clothing could be seen. I found myself walking as far behind the mannequins as possible because the detail of the back of the costumes proved as intricate and artistic as the front of them. Even Matthew Crawley’s formal dinner attire intrigued me with its pearl shirt buttons and fabric covered waistcoat buttons. My interest also piqued with the gown by Lady Cora Crawley to a ball for the character of Rose. The intricate beadwork on the cap sleeves and their heavily beaded tassels riveted my attention, as did the perspiration lines under the arms of the dress Rose wore!

Mary and Matthew Crawley's Evening Attire=tangledpasta.net
Mary and Matthew Crawley’s Evening Attire=tangledpasta.net

As we strolled through the elaborate exhibit and backtracked more than once to see it again, I reminded myself that the author himself is an aristocrat: Sir Julian Fellowes, who walks among this élite set’s descendants. His Downton Abbey captured a decaying lifestyle of the rich that effectively ended with World War I. Seeing and reading how the evolution of the clothing reflected the times from the end of the 19th century, to the “war to end all wars”, to the Flapper age. Whalebone corsets gradually gave way to less confined dresses, and as hemlines rose, we have a bird’s eye view of the falling away of the rigid social protocol. We have observed this in other BBC series such as The Pallisers, The Forsyte Saga, and Upstairs, Downstairs. Perhaps these British series create nostalgia for a way of life in which we can participate from afar. Maybe these are the stuff of dream weavers beckoning us to inhabit their world in 50-minute weekly increments. For me, that is enough.

I am living the Downton Abbey dream!-tangledpasta.net
I am living the Downton Abbey dream!-tangledpasta.net

Ciao for now.



Songs My Mother Taught Me

Here's to my mother, a protean woman of  strength!-www.tangledpasta.net
Here’s to my mother, a protean woman of strength!-www.tangledpasta.net


By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli 

On this sunny Mother’s Day, I think of how much I miss my mother. She died in June 2002, yet not a day goes by that she is not somehow present in my thoughts. Had she had been one of those scary mothers one reads about in unnerving headlines, my memories would be troubling ones. However, she was a larger than life persona who imbued my character in valiant and courageous ways.

Her baptized name was Anna Catherine, but all who knew her called her by the childhood name her father bestowed upon her: Kitty. My parents had longed for children, but I did not arrive until they had been married for 13 years. Prior to my blessed birth, they delighted in their nieces and nephews, of which there were many since my mother had come from a family of nine children, and my father from a family of six. I remember relatives around me, lively and full of chatter. Dinners, though, were sacrosanct times with my parents, later with brother, and my maternal grandparents [my fraternal grandparents resided still in Italy].

What remains vivid in my mind is love, for my parents loved me dearly. They had waited so long for children, and when I was born, they were overjoyed, so the relatives and my parents told me. More than the homemade snacks that met me on the kitchen table as I came through the back door after school, more than her listening to the stories I penned, more than the travels we took together, more than the delicious home cooked meals, more than the Barbie doll clothes she stitched, more than the exquisite dolls cakes she made and decorated, more than the piano lessons from which she transported me to and fro, more than the pretty clothes she sewed for me, and more than the elegant formal gowns she created for me, my mother taught me the art of invention, the trajectory of reading for its own sake parlayed into writing. With wit and verve and boundless humor, my mother showed me a better way to cope with the travails and joys of life. Until I had my child, I do not think I fully realized the sheer magnitude of her greatness. She used to tell me, “I call them as I see them” and she was nobody’s fool, nor did she suffer them well. An intellectual, a kind and compassionate soul, a magnificent role model, a stylish woman, she was all of those, but most of all she was my Mama, my best friend, my confident, my role model my guide, and my mentor throughout this labyrinth of life.

The songs of life she taught me transcend even death. With love, I say, Happy Mother’s Day, Mama, in the celestial heaven, from your earthling dream-weaving daughter below!

Ciao for now.