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Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times at Biltmore Estate

Sunday, March 1, 2015


I'm pretty sure I've never mentioned Downton Abbey here on the blog, but I am a big fan! My husband and I started watching it late and we're slow series watchers, so we only caught up right before the new season started in January here in the US. I can't believe tonight's already the season finale! No spoilers, please! I won't be able to watch it until later in the week.

Biltmore Estate
A photo of the Biltmore house my husband took several years ago
So, anyway, we are incredibly lucky here in Asheville, NC. One of our biggest tourist attractions is Biltmore Estate, a huge house castle? built by the Vanderbilts in the style of a French chateau. It's beautiful. My husband and I spend a lot of time there, wandering the grounds, biking, and catching outdoor concerts. But now they've outdone themselves.

They've brought costumes from Downton Abbey to display throughout the house! Aaaaahhhhhh!!!! I was so excited when I saw this exhibit was coming! It opened on February 5 but yesterday was the first opportunity we've had to check it out.

Oh my gosh. The costumes are gorgeous! And there are so many! There are over 45, many of them very iconic outfits that we immediately recognized. Each costume has information posted about it in the room, detailing whether it was a new piece or a vintage piece from the era, the details of the fabric and decorations, which character wore it (generally including a picture of that character in the costume), and which episode it appeared in. I really liked being able to orient myself to the show like that. There were very few rooms in the upstairs part of the house that didn't have at least one costume displayed. The downstairs (servants' quarters) didn't have very many, but how many maid uniforms do you really need to see?

The surroundings were perfectly suited for the display. The Vanderbilts lived in Biltmore at around the same time that Downton takes place. The house is richly decorated, giving the feel of the show. I can't tell you how many times I've toured the Biltmore house over the years, but seeing these costumes on display brought it to life for me. Instead of museum-like spaces, I was finally able to see it as a place where real (albeit unbelievably wealthy) people lived and breathed.

We were a group of six, including me, my aunt, our husbands, and my two teenage cousins. I think we were all thrilled with the exhibit, even the men!

Photos aren't allowed in the house, but I was able to take a picture of one of Lady Violet's outfits in one of the gift shops.


We were in a bit of a hurry so there may be more scattered in other shops and spaces that I haven't found yet. I intend to go back before the exhibit ends on May 25, so I'll post more pictures here if I find any other unexpected displays.

This gift shop also had a wide variety of Downton merchandise for sale. Of course. But it was really cool. From t-shirts to DVDs to books to fragrances inspired by each of the Downton women to hats to jewelry, there is something for every taste and every budget here.

Here's a link to an official photo gallery of some of the costumes on display. The first few pictures are stills from the show but the rest are photos of the display at Biltmore.

If you're going to be anywhere near Asheville before May 25 and you're a fan of Downton Abbey, you have to stop by and see this! The house was packed yesterday, but it was absolutely worth the slight agoraphobia. The display is amazing!

If you do go, call ahead to make reservations for your house entry time as soon as you know you're going. I was with family members who had free passes that expired today. We tried calling Friday night to make reservations and were told that the only entry time they had for the house for the whole weekend was at 7:00 pm on Sunday night. We took a chance and drove out there Saturday morning and were lucky to get a 1:45 entry time on the same day. We were a bit nervous about it though, so do yourself a favor and plan ahead.

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop's, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.

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