Lightner Museum opens Downton Abbey exhibit’s 3-month run

By Elise Kolmer |

Walking into the exhibit and looking over the railing into the Dressing Downton event was like stepping back in time. The event on October 3 at the Lightner Museum served as an opening reception for the new Downton Abbey exhibit that runs through January 7.

Music by Michael Arenella and the Dreamland Orchestra filled the air to assist in the atmosphere of the night while food and drinks served were also inspired by the era.

Members of the community who attended the event were dressed in 1920s attire to compliment the era of the exhibit. Some patrons wore authentic clothes they held on to from the time period while others searched online to find similar outfits like their favorite characters’ on the show

Nancy Lawson, co-curator of the “Dressing Downton” exhibit, poses next to a manikin dressed in one of the 1920s style dresses made for the Downton Abbey TV show on PBS. “I work on the pieces and sew on loose sequins. Sometimes my exhibits look better at the end than when I first received them.”


Athena and Angela Masson attended the event in hand-made dresses. Athena, left, is a seamstress who sews all her own clothes. The two are avid fans of Downton Abbey. They began role-playing with each other, saying, “My daughter was born in that era and she was raised amongst those of nobility,” Angela said. “When I dragged her here from Ireland, she insisted I introduced her as Madame Blanche.”


Two mannequins stand perched along the railing, curiously checking out bystanders. According to the museum description, men in the time period used their clothes to demonstrate their status. They wear expensive fabrics cut by the best London tailors. The tweed wool suit on the right was standard daywear for men on country estates. The shirt has a separate collar attached to the neckband, with studs to keep it in place. This made it easier to launder shirts as the collars could be starched separately. It also offered men a greater variety of look, since collars came in different styles.


Daphne Thomas and Robert Derochemomt dance in front of the orchestra while dressed in authentic 1920s attire. “We took Argentinian tango dance classes, similar to how they danced it in the ‘20s, and adapted it to this music,” Robert said. Their movements were suave and meticulous, adding fluidity to the music playing around them.


Michael Arenella, singer of the Dreamland Orchestra, hits a high note at the “Dressing Downton” event on Tuesday evening. “Our specialty is the ‘hot dance’ music of the 1920s,” Arenella said. The orchestra has also stuck to its genre by playing for the premier opening of the Great Gatsby film a few years back in New York City.


From left, June Talbert, Jackie Phillips and Beverly Smith stand in front of a grand display of the “Dressing Downton” exhibition. “The three of us just love Downton Abbey,” Jackie said. “We were on a European cruise and on the ship they showed Downton Abbey and we all got hooked. Then we ordered all the videos when we got back.” While some attendees dusted off dresses they held on to over the years and wore them to the opening reception, Talbert, Phillips and Smith ordered their outfits from an online Downton Abbey clothing store.


Two extravagant, detailed dresses greet patrons at the beginning of the exhibition. According to Nancy Lawson, co-curator of the “Dressing Downton” displays, the costumes travelled in special crates on the mannequins in order to preserve its delicate stitching. There’s less handling of the costumes while on the mannequins, therefore less opportunity for them to become damaged.

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