The Activist and Lady: Sybil Crawley

The awards have been flowing in nonstop for Downton Abbey and for good reason. This TV drama has taken all viewers into the intricate world of family drama, sprinkled with interesting plots from the upper and servant class life. Very reminiscent of a favorite and earlier TV drama The Forsyte Saga, a personal recommendation with wonderful story and costumes. The costumes of Downton Abbey could not possibly be more amazing, designed by Susannah Buxton and Rosalind Ebbutt the costumes are breathtaking. I could not possibly cover the costumes in detail and do them justice, but I do have time to write about my favorite character, Lady Sybil Crawley.

Lady Sybil Crawley, the youngest daughter and most politically active struck a chord with me. Keeping on the cutting edge of fashion and human rights made her quite a favorite of mine. I would love to say I was just as courageous and out spoken has her in my late teens but that would be a very large lie. Lady Sybil is the image and memory I would like to have had of my teen years but that was not the case for an emo, Oscar Wilde loving, hating “the man”, living in suburbia, middle class teen. How embarrassing it is when we look back, let’s get back to her costume.

All of her costumes are brilliant but the one that truly spoke of her character was the Paul Poiret inspired costume. Paul Poiret first introduced the harem pant in 1911, and is famous for doing away with the corset, this changed the current female silhouette, allowing for much more movement but only on the top that is. With big tunic tops and tiny slim skirts on the bottom it was a huge shift away from the traditional Edwardian S-shape silhouette. Taking a step back Paul Poiret made the hobble skirt highly popular, in the most extreme designs women could barely take a full step. The hobble skirt is a slim skirt with a very small circumference around the ankles making walking slightly difficult. The hobble skirt truly spoke to the then current climate of women’s rights. Influence from the east during the early 1900’s, and taking bits and pieces from different cultures Poiret created a new silhouette for women, freeing their lungs and binding their legs, an interesting paradox in women’s rights and fashion.

Sybil in the harem pants is cutting edge for the time and being such an important shift in fashion history it is so important that the character be wearing it. This personifies the character completely in an outfit, her modern attitudes matching her modern fashions. Pants worn by women at the time were not very common but when worn with a long tunic it was much more acceptable. A bohemian woman would have been more likely to take to this new fashion and just like the women that Lady Sybil Crawley is, her openness, modern attitudes, and fashion sense would lead her to the cutting edge of fashion.

Historical information credits:

Survey of Historic Costume 4th edition

FIDM Museum Blog Paul Poiret: King of Fashion 

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