The Dashing Designs of “Downton Abbey”

Lord and Lady Grantham!

One of Lady Grantham’s many splendid dresses accompanies the military suit Lord Grantham wore that time he thought he was about to go sail off and win World War I single-handedly.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

It’s convention time yet again! This weekend my wife Anne and I have driven two hours southeast of Indianapolis to attend a show we’ve never done before, the seventh annual Cincinnati Comic Expo. With her birthday coming up in a few weeks, which usually means a one-day road trip somewhere, we agreed this would count as her early celebration.

Full disclosure: the Cincinnati Comic Expo was only one of our two primary objectives that weekend. The con didn’t open till 3 p.m. Friday afternoon, leaving us time to start the weekend with our other, eagerly anticipated stop: the Taft Museum of Art, temporary home of a traveling exhibit for fans of that fascinating, frustrating, elegant hit TV series Downton Abbey.

Taft Museum of Art!

The Taft Museum is on the east side of downtown Cincinnati, several blocks past the Duke Energy Convention Center. Just convenient enough for us, really.

The museum was once a mansion, built in 1820 and changing hands only twice before its final residents — the half-brother and sister-in-law of President William Howard Taft — had it reconfigured into a museum, open to the public since 1932, with its most recent major renovation completed in 2004. Special features include an underground parking garage (free but limited space), a restaurant so exclusive that reservations are required at least three days in advance, and a selection of permanent exhibits from assorted points in world history. On a Friday afternoon, the restaurant was full and the rest of the place was packed with a fervent crowd, at least 98% of whom were older and better dressed than we were.

Antique Mirror!


Seriously, a bevy of Red Hat Society ladies alone put us to shame, but I’m fairly certain we were the only middle-class folks in the house, apart from one security guard who recognized my shirt as comics-related, didn’t know Atomic Robo, but knew what IDW is. Sometimes we meet fellow geeks in the most unexpected places.

Samples of the permanent exhibits:

Double Reliquary!

This 14th-century double reliquary is one of many intricate Catholic artifacts in their collection.

Qing Pieces!

Several rooms contain Qing dynasty pieces, an oddly specific yet impressive specialization.

Qing Pottery!

In my opinion this pottery was the best of that collection. The Qing king, as it were.

Europa and the Bull!

Their art galleries include an original Whistler, a few by Gainesborough, and William Turner’s unfinished “Europa and the Bull”.

Belmont Murals!

Before the Tafts moved in, in 1851 the previous owner commissioned a series of landscape murals by painter Robert S. Duncanson.

One other temporary exhibit was on hand, a 17-by-13-foot map of 18th-century London scheduled through November 6th. Several travelers who’ve been to Europe marveled at the details, comparing notes with each other and noting which areas they recall versus which ones were rather different 300 years ago.

London Map!

Meanwhile, we comparatively Amerocentric homebodies tried to see how many pop-culture hot spots we recognized. (Buckingham! The Tower of London! The Thames! Whitechapel!)

“Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times” was previously on display at Chicago’s Driehaus Museum, but we failed to fit it in our schedule during their time frame. Neither Anne nor I are dedicated followers of fashion, but those beguiling, beleaguered Granthams and their beloved castle combined history and must-see TV in a way that was just enough to entice us to come peruse the collection in Cincinnati, which is 60-90 minutes closer to us than Chicago. If you watched all six seasons of Downton Abbey you might recognize certain outfits from specific episodes or arcs. If not, wall plaques provide context both in history and in series.

Samples from those two dozen outfits that made TV history come alive:

Dowager Countess!

The Dowager Countess welcomes you. Emmy Award Winner Dame Maggie Smith’s character is naturally first and foremost.

Lady Mary!

A few dresses come from the refined Lady Mary collection.

Edith Crawley!

Meanwhile, someone put Edith in the corner. Kind of a shame, yet apropos.


One of the footman uniforms as worn by William, Jimmy, Albert, and of course Thomas, the most complicated footman in TV history.

Sir Richard Carlisle!

Remember that time when Mary’s erstwhile suitor Sir Richard Carlisle wore a tweed suit to go fox hunting and nearly drowned in his own sweat? Good times.

Lady Rose and Jack Ross!

Lady Rose and Jack Ross, the daring duo who shocked the family with the most dangerous modern concept of all: live jazz!

Shirley MacLaine!

Many guest stars graced Downton’s halls over the years (Paul Giamatti! Charlie Cox! the guy from the Divergent movies!), but none owned the scenery quite like Academy Award Winner Shirley MacLaine as Cora’s mom.

For anyone who loved the exhibit, the Taft’s cramped gift shop offered a line of souvenirs such as history books, coffee table tomes, scarves, hats, and so forth.

Lady Anne!

A spot of early morning cosplay for Lady Anne, then.

We were aware that this was the final weekend for “Dressing Downton” at the Taft. What we didn’t know till after we purchased our advance tickets is that the exhibit will return to the public on October 15th for a three-month run at the History Museum of South Bend, in our own home state of Indiana. It’s just as well, though — due to differences in road design, Cincinnati is actually closer to us than South Bend is, as the car speeds. Regardless, we also appreciated the chance to visit the Taft and would recommend it to anyone sightseeing in Cincinnati. (Maybe for next year’s con weekends they can show off some nice Doctor Who period costumes. Just a thought, if they don’t mind having more people like us around.)

* * * * *

The preceding entry was Part Three of a six-part MCC miniseries covering our two-day visit to Cincinnati, September 24-25, 2016. Other chapters in the series are/will be linked below for reference. Thanks for reading!

Prologue: Another Convention, Another Series of Quests
Part 1: Cincinnati Comic Expo 2016 Photos #1: Cosplay!
Part 2: Cincinnati Comic Expo 2016 Photos, Part 2 of 2: Who We Met and What We Did
Part 4: Bow Down Before “The Genius of Water”
Part 5: Shortest Presidency, Tall Memorial
Part 6: Cincinnati 2016 Overnighter Photos [last call for Cincy pics]

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