We don’t usually obsess over the daily costume changes of the gentlemen of the Victorian or Edwardian eras, although we know they had their riding and shooting attires and various and assorted coats. We are more fascinated by the changes donned by the ladies. In the book “How to Marry an English Lord,” I counted at least 5 changes that a lady would make in a typical day, not including any receptions, ball, opera or theater events.
Early morning would find the lady of the house in riding attire. After that, it would be on to “morning attire,” a dress suitable for writing letters or shopping—always with long sleeves so as to make it clear that she was not the one doing chores around the house. At lunchtime, the lady would change into a nice silk dress—enter parasol and gloves. If you were going out visiting, yachting or to polo events, you’d probably be able to get away with the same dress you lunched in. At dinner, out came the open neck silk gown. I found it interesting that for receptions or the theater, high neck was de rigueur but for the opera, bosoms were amply displayed.
I generally found it much easier to find details on women’s wear than men’s wear, which made the manly focus on attire in last night’s episode so interesting. My favorite remark was the one made by Shirley MacLaine (Lady Grantham’s American mother) to Matthew and Lord Grantham at a very special formal dinner. They had to wear black tie since there were mishaps with their white tie ensembles. “Oh, I see you’re dressed for a barbeque,” she chirped. It was great.