Downton Abbey comes to Biltmore

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Matthew Crawley is taller than I expected and Lady Mary's engagement gown is stunning.

No, I'm not binge-watching old episodes of Downton Abbey.

I've taken a tour of the Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina.

This winter and spring, George Vanderbilt's Biltmore Estate is the fitting backdrop for a spectacular exhibition, "Dressing Downton: Changing Fashions for Changing Times"

For the next few months, visitors to Biltmore House will not only experience one of America's most resplendent homes; included in the regular price of admission is the added treat of this one-of-a-kind exhibit straight from the popular PBS Masterpiece series, "Downton Abbey."

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I admit arriving late to the Downton Abbey party, but thanks to Amazon Prime, I was able to bring myself up to speed and now proudly call myself a fan of the program. And while the exhibit is a delight for regular Downton viewers, watching the program isn't a prerequisite for appreciating these historic garments.

Biltmore was home to the Vanderbilt family in the early 1900s.The life and times of George, Edith and Cornelia Vanderbilt parallel the era in which the Downton series takes place. As a result, Biltmore curators have masterfully weaved the threads that so perfectly stitch the two tales together.

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Dressing Downton details the traditions, times and styles of the early 20th century. The wardrobe pieces from the popular series are interspersed throughout the house. Clothes are strategically located and described based upon a room's purpose, location as well as who would have been wearing them.

Visitors are able to examine the detailed embroidery and bead work as well as the finest fabrics and materials used to create these exquisite fashion representations of yesteryear.

Many themes are explored such as the nuances of etiquette and evolution of fashions. The costumes are a marvelous representation of clothing seen on the program that would have fit in perfectly at Biltmore House during the same period.

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“The day-to-day running of Biltmore House was surprisingly similar to what’s depicted on ‘Downton Abbey,’” says Biltmore’s Director of Museum Services Ellen Rickman. “Just like Downton has Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes, Biltmore had its own cast of fascinating characters. Displaying these fabulous costumes from the show gives us an unparalleled opportunity to delve into Biltmore’s stories.”
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When touring this great American home it's best to give yourself plenty of time. This isn't a tour to rush through. Give yourself about 2 hours to thoroughly view the home. You'll also want to take time to explore the grounds and shops.

If you're traveling on a budget (and who isn't, really?) be sure to allow the added expense of purchasing the audio tour.

It's well worth the additional $10 to hear the wonderful stories of life at the Vanderbilt mansion. I couldn't help feeling a bit sorry for the people I saw who hadn't purchased the audio tour. They were missing out on so much.

There's also a children's audio tour.  The 90-minute tour is narrated by Cedric, the Vanderbilt's Saint Bernard.

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If you really want to get in the spirit,  The Inn on Biltmore Estate is offering Dressing Downton hotel packages that include Afternoon Tea at the Inn and audio guides to Biltmore House.

There's also plenty of Downtown memorabilia in the gift shop should you wish to take home a memento. Downtown Abbey books, teas, hats, perfumes- the list goes on.  I sampled some perfume and kept catching the delightful fragrance of "Daisy" on my wrist all afternoon.

This fashionable exhibition runs until May 25, 2015. Tickets may be purchased on line in advance or at the Biltmore Estate visitor center. Tours are more expensive on the day of and certain dates require reservations so it pays to plan ahead and visit the Biltmore website.

Dressing Downton Images
The Biltmore Estate Images
What is your favorite Downton Abbey costume ?

Leave a comment below.

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Comments

  • Maura Wiggs
    February 17, 2015

    What a fantastic article! Although I loved the entire Downton Abbey collection, I have to say my favorite gown was the spectacular silky green one with black and silver sun bursts and sheer sleeves Lady Mary wore to dinner the first night Isabel and Matthew Crawley arrived at Downton.

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