Downton Dinner Jacket Debut

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I love a good costume drama and Downton Abbey delivers in spades.  This universally acclaimed British television series follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants at their country estate around the time of World War I.   The budget is a reported £1 million per episode and it really shows in the sumptuous period costumes.

Standard evening wear at Downton Abbey prior to the Great War. (ITV)

As a formalwear buff it’s been a delight to watch the dinner scenes where the gentlemen are always resplendent in their full-dress kits.  And as the show’s timeline progressed closer to the end of the war I was thinking that if the costume designers knew their sartorial history we should be seeing the arrival of the dinner jacket for the family’s less formal dinners.   Thus I was thrilled (sad, but true) to not only see the jacket’s debut in a recent episode but for that debut to actually be acknowledged.  The setting is Lord Grantham’s bedroom where the master of the house is being dressed for dinner by his faithful valet Bates:

The jacket’s debut on episode 6 of the second season.  (ITV)

Lord Grantham (indicating his outfit): What do you think?  All the chaps are wearing them in London.  Only for informal evenings of course.

Bates: I’m not sure you’ll have much use for it once the war is over.

Lord Grantham: Maybe not.  But I can wear it when her ladyship and I are on our own.

Interestingly, Bates seems to think that once hostilities cease society will return to its pre-war state and formal dining will once again be in style.  In actual fact the war permanently relaxed social standards, as wars typically do, and in its aftermath the short dinner coat and black bow tie was promoted from its Edwardian informal status to default evening wear.  From that point onward his lordship’s white tie and tails would be donned only for particularly formal occasions. Or for dinners with his imperious mother, the Dowager Countess, as we witness in the subsequent episode:

Lord Grantham: I nearly came down in a dinner jacket tonight.

The Dowager Countess: Really?  Well why not a dressing gown?  Or,  better still, pajamas?

Downton Abbey season 2 is currently airing in the UK on ITV and will air in the US  in January on PBS.

6 Comments

  1. Ned L. Nix, D.D.S.

    Great find, Peter! I will look for it in January.
    N

    Reply
  2. Peter Marshall

    A reader asked:

    “I saw a couple of interesting variations on White Tie on Downton Abbey a few days ago and wondered if you knew anything about them. Also, would they be appropriate for wear today? I have a White Tie dinner I go to on New Year’s Eve, so I might be able to put them to use. Anyway, they are:
    1. Straight (i.e not curled forward as in a Wing Collar) collars
    2. Cream bow-ties and waistcoats”

    The straight standing or “poke” collar might look a little Edwardian but then again the entire White Tie outfit looks a little Edwardian so it shouldn’t appear out of place.
    I would personally avoid off-white accessories as they can easily look like faded white material. They also don’t provide the maximum contrast that black and white create.

    Reply
  3. R. M

    Peter, please accept my apologies for missing your e-mail in my daily deluge, and thank you you for answering my question promptly. I was, as a matter of fact able to aquire a poke collar in time to the New Years Eve dinner I mentioned, where it prompted several compliments. Also, there are more American Downton Abbey viewers than you might think, several of my fellow guests recognized the collar from the series. (I am afraid to say that I have forgotten the pseudonym I posted inder initially, so I have crafted a new one)

    Reply
  4. Jessica Hoadley

    Can you tell me where such a shirt can be purchased?

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      There are some suggested retailers listed in the Buying Guide section of the Black Tie Guide.

      Reply
  5. Pingback: Metropolitan Costume Institute Gala: White Tie Dress Code Definition - TIME

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