Fashion Lovers and History Buffs Will Love “Dressing Downton”

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Never seen Downton Abbey? Warning: The Taft Museum of Art’s “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times” might just make you run to your nearest TV/laptop/binge-watching device and stay there for a very long time.

If you’re already a fan of the PBS drama, you likely know how exquisite the fashion is, but nothing can beat seeing the show’s actual costumes up close. The outfits, jewelry, and accessories worn by your favorite characters will be on display throughout Taft’s Fifth Third Gallery and the galleries of the historic house until September 25.

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One of the Dowager Countess’ early costumes reflects the character’s adherence to tradition.
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The clothing is often shown alongside stills from the show for context.

This stylish exhibit shows just how much can change in a decade, as it traces British fashion from 1912 through the early 1920s. In sartorial terms, this means you’ll see everything from the corseted and bustled Edwardian-style purple ensemble worn by Violet Crawley in season one to the post-World War I styles of less restrictive, looser, and shorter dresses, like those shown on Lady Rose MacClare in season four. Most importantly, there’s enough intricate beading and sequin work to keep your eyes glittering for days.

The fictional Crawley family of Downton Abbey merges with Cincinnati reality through the characters’ comparison to Charles Phelps Taft and Anna Sinton Taft, the former owners of the home that has since become the Taft Museum of Art. The Tafts and the relatives of Cora Crawley (a character born in Cincinnati) would have run in similar social circles and maybe even entertained each other at parties and events. That conceivable connection, combined with the thoughtful way the costumes are placed around the historic home galleries, make the clothing come to life.

Timed tickets for admission are sold in 30 minute increments, but you can stay and enjoy the show as long as you like. We recommend starting with the earlier 1900s styles before jumping into the later designs to fully appreciate and understand the dramatic changes in fashion during this time. Whether you’ve watched every episode or don’t know a single character, a good fashion revolution is something you’ll want to see for yourself.

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Details of a costume worn by the Virginia Woolf character.
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You can test the handfeel of materials used in the garments at this interactive station, but don’t touch the costumes!
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Details of housekeeper Mrs. Hughes’ dress, somberly colored to indicate her managerial status.

Dressing Downton, July 2ndSeptember 25th. Tickets sold in advance only, adults $20, youth (6-12 years) $15, Taft members and children (5 and under) free. Open TuesdaySunday 10 a.m.5 p.m., 316 Pike St., Cincinnati, 513-241-0343. Details at dressingdowntoncincy.com.

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