Edith's elegant wedding gown?
The scarlet dress Lady Mary wore when Matthew proposed - again - in Season Two?
The harem outfit Sybil surprised her family with in Season One?
One of the fabulous purple gowns so favored by the dowager countess?
Check. Check. Check.
All of those outfits will be part of the 40 that will be on display at Winterthur Museum and Library in Wilmington, Del., from March 1, 2014 through Jan. 4, 2015 in Costumes of Downton Abbey, the only stateside exhibit to feature clothing from the wildly popular PBS production.
The museum, home to the estate that stylemaker Henry Francis du Pont made famous by being one of the first to embrace American antiques, plans an exhibit putting the historically accurate outfits in the context of British and American country homes such as the fictional Downton Abbey and real-life Winterthur. The show revolves around the lives of an aristocratic family and their servants from 1912 into the 1920s. The fourth season starts in England next month and in the U.S. in January.
But the stars of the Winterthur exhibit clearly will be the costumes.
"You can come in and see the costumes and never pay attention to what we have written on the wall," says estate historian Maggie Lidz. She and Felice Lamden, director of exhibits, just returned from London and a visit to costume company Cosprop, the same firm that provided clothes for Winterthur's 2006 "Fashion in Film" exhibit, to finalize their exhibit choices.
They were not surprised to find floors of costumes, many arranged by time period and then by color, all hanging in plastic bags to protect them.
"It's just racks and racks and rooms and rooms in a big warehouse," she says. "So if you want a red wool coat an English soldier would wear in the Revolutionary War, you would see every color and every shape and every size. That way, people don't have to reinvent that all the time. They can just borrow them."
She and Lamden were surprised to find the less glitzy outfits - the simple black dresses of the maids and the aprons of the kitchen staff - were in a collection of "homely" outfits, often thrown in boxes marked simply "aprons."
"Of course, people always save their wedding dresses, but they don't save their aprons," she says.
Their search for a specific outfit kitchen maid Daisy wore took them through quite a few boxes before their eureka moment of discovery.
The group of dresses Lidz believes will be the most talked about are a group of "unbelievably sumptuous" dresses the women wore to tea.
"I put them all together on a rack and I thought, 'Oh, my god.' Really, for the first time, I got excited," she says. "I thought, 'This is going to be incredible.' "
"They are all heavily jewel-covered velvet with this glittery gold embroidery on every one of them," Lidz says. They are quite different, but they share the ornate styling and include an aquamarine gown worn by Sybil in Season Three, an olive green one worn by Cora and a violet one worn by the dowager countess.
These dresses were different from the dinner gowns of the time because women would come in from their daily activities, and slip these dresses on themselves. They didn't need the corsets, jewelry and gloves required for evening wear, and which often required maids to help.
This historical accuracy is one of the reasons the outfits connect so well to Winterthur, says Linda Eaton, Winterthur's director of collections and senior textile curator. The high degree of accuracy validates museum collections like Winterthur's, which includes all kinds of outfits and materials that du Pont liked.
"He was living in Downton Abbey clothing, and he was a real dandy, a very snappy dresser," Eaton says. "He would have recognized the clothing in the Downton Abbey show and judged it according to his criteria of beauty. That is what he would have been interested in, and he would have been aware of all the nuance of status and fashion."
The show will include a dinner jacket of du Pont's, made by British tailor Henry Poole & Co., who made clothes for du Pont from the early 1900s through 1968. The jacket will serve to connect the theme of the British and American country houses.
By the 1920s, when Downton Abbey is now taking place, the houses across the oceans were run in much different ways.
Many of the British homes had armies of servants who were needed for bringing water to bathrooms, starting fires and other jobs necessary to keep old houses running.
In America, though, many of the homes were new, with running water in bathrooms and better heating systems. So the servants were used to create a more luxurious life for the occupants and visitors, as opposed to performing basic functions, Lidz says.
Many of the great du Pont homes in the Brandywine Valley, including Winterthur and Nemours, reflect that kind of country lifestyle, she says.
One of the things that struck both Lidz and Eaton was how the television costumes are manipulated to add interest on the screen.
"There's a big thing of historical accuracy that warms my heart as a nerdy historian," Eaton says. "But then they have to adapt that historical accuracy so that it looks good to our eyes. If people look frumpy, we don't identify with the characters.
"If you put a really plain dress on the screen, it would go to absolutely nothing, so the dress may have more on it than it probably would in real life. And they work very hard to make sure the colors support the characterizations, so you have different characters wearing different colors and different kinds of styles."
"What we say about the costumes is that they are inspired by the past, but they're influenced by modern styles and changed for dramatic effect," Lidz says.
Many gowns that would look beautiful in person don't "read" on the screen, so materials and embellishments are needed to make them pop. Much of the truly exquisite work such as beading, embroidery and appliques, doesn't show up on television, both said, but will in person.
Winterthur is still putting together its programming for the 10-month exhibit, and does not know yet if any of the show's stars or creator Jullian Fellowes might visit. During the Fashion in Film exhibit, Cosprop owner John Bright did visit and led a panel discussion of designing for film. Planners aare scheduling a talks by some Brits struggling with real-life Downton Abbeys today.
Getting permission to do the show required a lot of maneuvering, because the show is owned by Carnival Films and Masterpiece on PBS, the clothes are owned by Cosprop and there are lot of people to touch base with, Lidz says.
Winterthur's choices for the exhibit began with Cosprop telling them what they had and sending them images. Lidz and Lamden went there to firm up details and eyeball the outfits to get the best umph in the show. They had been told they could not use any Season Four clothing, but were delighted to get there and find that they could.
"We're thrilled, but I have to keep it a secret," Lidz says.
For more information, visit www.winterthur.org
Betsy Price, The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal