The clothes on Downton Abbey were legendary. Not only did they look great, but the costume designers were thorough in their research and made sure each outfit was historically accurate. The six seasons of the show saw the transition from Edwardian elegance to Jazz Age decadence as new opportunities opened up for women and the working class.
Mary Talbot was once resigned to a life of paying calls and working for a charity, but by the mid-1920s, she had taken over the running of the estate and did so in style. She leaned on neutral colors, geometric shapes, and long, lean lines with little embellishment. Mary’s wardrobe was full of fashion greats — Chanel, Vionnet, and Lanvin to name a few. Here are ten of her best outfits that show why her classic, tailored style is the best.
10The Riding Habit
Many Downton Abbey fans live for the glamorous gown moments, and Mary had her fair share of those. Some of her best outfits, however, were better suited for the outdoors than the dining room. The clothes Mary wore on her horseback rides evolved from a sweeping skirt designed for riding sidesaddle to the much more practical pants she wore when riding astride in Season 6. The riding habit she wore to visit Crawley House in 1912 was one heck of a way to make an entrance, with the top hat, tailored jacket, and skirt.
9The Spanish Dress
The quest to get Mary settled down was a major storyline in the early seasons of the show. At one point, she entertained three suitors at dinner — Matthew Crawley, Evelyn Napier, and Kemal Pamuk — in this Spanish-inspired red dress. The shape of the dress was classic Edwardian: an A-line skirt and high waist belted with a sash. It had an ornate jeweled overskirt and velvet trim that ended in floaty cap sleeves.
This is the dress that made red one of Mary’s signature colors. It represented the purpose of the evening and the feelings at play, but also her fiery disposition.
8The Garden Party Dress
This summery striped dress made several appearances. Mary wore it to the Downton flower show and also to the garden party where the news broke about World War I. It’s another Edwardian dress with an A-line silhouette and high waist, with lace trim around the shoulders to add interest. Mary completed the outfit with a pearl necklace, lace gloves, and a hat decorated with flowers.
Susannah Buxton, who designed the costumes for Season 1, noted that she wanted the garden party outfits to represent the characters wearing them. Mary’s dress looked like it was the most expensive and fashionable of the Crawley sisters, and the stripes pointed to her strong personality.
7The Engagement Dress
At long last, Matthew proposed to Mary in the Season 2 Christmas special. Mary stepped out into the snow in this cranberry red dress that was simple enough that it didn’t distract from the romantic moment. At the same time, it was a showstopper that became as iconic as Sybil’s harem pants and Edith’s peacock dress.
The dress had a slightly dropped waist and layered skirts with scalloped edging. Beading along the edges kept the details of the dress from getting lost in the dim light of the scene. Now, if only Mary had brought a coat.
6The Fur-Trimmed Navy Coat
Anna Mary Scott Robbins, the costume designer for Seasons 5 and 6, carried over outfits from previous seasons for a sense of continuity and realism. This is why Mary had several outfit repeats in the final season, including this beautiful blue coat trimmed with fur. She first wore it in London to visit Tony Gillingham, and again at Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes’s wedding.
Robbins had a specific vision for Mary that centered on clean lines and color blocking. She used pared-down fabrics in strong colors and avoided over the top prints and patterns. No surprise that this was the opposite of Edith’s aesthetic.
5The Brooklands Ensemble
Mary stood out among the crowds at Brooklands in a bright red dress and paneled overcoat. The dress featured piping in a darker shade of red along the neckline and waist. There was also a monochromatic trim along the pleated sections of her coat and the brim of her hat, which made the outfit look like an ensemble. A simple feather attached to her hat added interest as she turned her head to watch the race. The finishing touch was her round-rimmed sunglasses, which Michelle Dockery used to great effect at the beginning of the scene.
4The Black Sequined Dress
This outfit might look black, but beneath the chevron, sequins is a dark teal slip to add depth. Mary wore matching teal dinner gloves and a netted hairpiece to complete this dramatic look that perfectly captured her mood as she stormed up the stairs to her room. Her love life was not going well.
To make things worse, Edith was finally in a great place in her life. The power dynamic between the two sisters had shifted with the times.
3The Gold Sequined Dress
Robbins couldn’t quite put her finger on the color of this dress. She described it as “antique silver, quite tarnished and warm and very romantic.” It was an original dress from the 1920s with an asymmetric hem, sequined bodice, and satin silk slip underneath a gauze skirt. The chevron detailing at the waist mirrored the asymmetric hem. The idea was to show Mary at her softest when Henry unexpectedly showed up for dinner at Downton. With Henry and Tom in darker colors, Mary and her shimmering pale blaze were the highlights of the scene.
2The Blue Fortuny
For a royal luncheon, Mary donned a blue pleated gown produced in collaboration with the fashion house Fortuny. The dress had an edgy V-neck and glass beads strung down each side seam to weigh down the silk. The technique used to create the pleats is a trade secret that Fortuny shared with the Downton Abbey team to create this 1920s look with a modern twist. Mary completed the outfit with a jeweled headband and delicate silver necklaces. It was simple, elegant, and perfectly Lady Mary.
1‘This Old Thing’
Mary arrived at the Criterion in a stunning seafoam green dress featuring metallic lace with a rose motif. The dress was designed to make a statement: the halter neck showed off her shoulders and back, and an insert at the back of the dress allowed for the bias-cut fabric to move beautifully. The matching gold ribbon with the rose detail at the side of her head was typically 1920s and a cutting-edge look for Mary, who usually stuck to sharp angles and bold, dark colors. For stepping outside her comfort zone, we proclaim “this old thing” Mary’s best outfit on Downton Abbey.