Downton Abbey costume exhibit coming to Biltmore

By Carol Viau | Aug 06, 2014
Photo by: PBS photo DRESSING DOWNTON COMES TO ASHEVILLE — “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times,” will be presented Feb. 5 to May 25, 2015 at The Biltmore Estate. Pictured are actors Hugh Bonneville, who plays Lord Grantham, with Elizabeth McGovern, who portrays the Countess Grantham, from the popular PBS series Downton Abbey. Pictured below is Maggie Smith, who plays the Dowager Countess Violet, at the Downton estate.

Downton Abbey fans can’t get enough of the aristocratic Crawley family and the saga of privileged life and world events in post-Edwardian England. It is certain Downton fans will delight with the news that an exhibit, “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times,” will be presented Feb. 5 to May 25, 2015 at The Biltmore Estate in Asheville. The exhibition will feature more than 40 costumes from the Downton Abbey PBS series.

Americans may not be able to relate to such grand living, but those who have visited the Biltmore Estate in Asheville have insight into what it must have been like to live or work in service for an ultra-wealthy family.

While the Biltmore Estate predates the fictional Downton series — Biltmore opened in 1895 and Downton spans the years from 1912 to the 1920s — the grand lifestyles portrayed are similar.

Biltmore, the vision of George Vanderbilt, was modeled after a French châteaux. The self-sustaining estate included indoor bathrooms, electricity and magnificent grounds, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, encompassing 125,000 acres. Visually, The Biltmore Estate bears a resemblance to the show’s film setting at Highclere Castle, a 5,000-acre country estate near Newbury, England.

The show’s costumes, created by London costume house Cosprop Ltd., will be exhibited throughout Biltmore House in groupings inspired by the show, its characters and life at Biltmore.

“The day-to-day running of the (Biltmore) house was surprisingly similar to that of Downton Abbey,” said 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.”

The themes of the exhibit cover the evolution of fashion — from the time of the sinking of the Titanic to the “Jazz Age” of the 1920s. The changing roles of women will be demonstrated by fashions evolving from shaped clothes demanding corsets to rising hemlines.

Since the world events and social change portrayed in Downton also affected the lives of the Vanderbilts, the Biltmore staff plans to share new stories about George, Edith and Cornelia as part of the exhibit.

“The life of service staff will also be explored, including the role of British citizens who worked at Biltmore,” Rickman said. “Costumes on display will range from country tweeds, to servants’ uniforms, to lavish gowns and evening attire cut from fine fabrics and decorated with intricate embroidery, lace and beading.”

Downton fans, rejoice — tickets for estate admission in February are available now. Admission to “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times” is included in the price of regular estate ticket purchases. The Biltmore will announce a series of special events to coincide with the exhibit at a later date. For information, visit or call 800-411-3812.

The “Dressing Downton” exhibit was designed by Exhibits Development Group in cooperation with Cosprop Ltd., London.