Upstairs, Downstairs: The style behind the series

The BBC’s 2010 adaptation of the popular 70s sitcom Upstairs, Downstairs didn’t achieve the same rave reviews afforded to the likes of Downton Abbey; but for a fashion geek like me who gets a boner for anything remotely inter-war, it was a visual treat.

I actually enjoyed the remake a lot – and although the storyline was slightly all over the place, I feel this might perhaps be because they’re planning to make a few more in 2011?? Anyway, monkeys and suicides apart, the styling for the show is obviously what I’m here to talk about. Although the 30s doesn’t get me going in quite the same fashion as the 1920s, it’s still pretty awesome.

Here are all my favourite fashion looks from the show – be forewarned; it’s long.

Ivy the housemaid is a little on the irritating side, what with her bouts of wailing and hysterical tendencies. Still I liked her defiant red nails, and while it would be wrong to assume her big tweedy overcoat was anything more than a practical winter jacket, it was pretty perfect. This tweed and leather trim ‘boyfriend’ jacket from Topshop has a similarly overgrown look.

Lady Persephone is definitely the most interesting character, and her transformation from 16-year-old little sister from Wales to gauche gal-about-town was pretty remarkable. I think it’s safe to say that the reason I found Persie the most captivating is because of her obvious likeness to Diana Mitford. Dalliances with Germans, fascism, the Battle of Cable Street… I mean, like Diana, Persie certainly wasn’t someone I’d align myself with politically, but she is certainly interesting.

In the scene above, Persie has just come up from Wales to start her season in London. The sludgy green knitwear and girlish floral blouse provide a clue to who she is at this point; naive, young, and a bit out of her depth. In fact, I think it’s during this scene that she’s being lectured on how it’s important to take an interest in politics, and to familiarise herself with the works of each party. Ah, and how.

This silky daisy blouse from Topshop fits the bill. Silky enough to fit the upper middle class wardrobe, floral enough to remind your sister’s mother-in-law that you’re pig ignorant about politics.

Said mother-in-law. It goes without saying that anything Dame Eileen Atkins does is going to be brilliant, and her portrayal of Lady Holland as a slightly eccentric Raj’s widow – complete with pet monkey – was marvelous. Her collection of heavily embroidered silk gowns and layered prints was A+ in a way that Dries could only dream of.

Anyway, here Persie is still doing the naive-knitwear look, and this cable cardi, again from Toppers, would be the perfect complement to any breakfast debate.

HOLD THE PHONE! Persie is out and about in a bias cut red silk gown and furs… that’s more like it. Here, she tells her family she’s off to the opera, but actually goes to watch Oswald Moseley give a rousing fascist lecture. Bravo that girl, eh? Still, fascism aside, the scenes with her in this red concoction amongst all the blackshirts was cinematically rather enthralling. See: 00:21

I imagine if Persie was around today, she’d opt for this Alexander McQueen update of a 30s opera frock. After all, not many other than minor-aristocrats could afford it.

Now Persie’s fully emerged in Moseley worship. Although she’s back in a blouse, this remarkably tailored, sharp shape in graphic red and black, hints at a much bolder, self-assured woman. Check out the trompe l’oeil lapels! How daring.

This Rokit vintage number isn’t quite as dramatic as Persie’s, but you get the picture.

… But before we get too carried away with Persie’s transformation to hard-hitting, political activist… LOVE GETS IN THE WAY. UH-OH! Yep, Persie’s relationship with blackshirt/in-house chauffeur Spargo inevitably ends in tears. The class barrier is not to be classed Persie, you fool!

Here she sits in a floral bed jacket – much like this perfect vintage one, via Etsy – berating the fact that she’s waiting in bed for ‘her man’ to return from ‘the public house’. Sigh, get used to it Persie, you and Spargo were never meant to be. Ditch the florals, get back in your fierce tailoring.

Well, it’s not tailored, but I liked this silky blouse – complete with tie – that we see Persie in next. Back in charge, and off to… well, off to Berlin to join the Nazis, but let’s not dwell on that in this fictional drama.

I generally hate women in shirts-and-tie combos (an angry debate, perhaps best saved for another day), but this silky look doesn’t make me ball my fists in rage. Take one blouse, add a loosely knotted scarf; job done.

STOP: Wallis Simpson interlude.

I don’t care what folk think of ol’ Bessie, I love the fact that we’re seeing lots of her at the moment. From the jewelery auction to The King’s Speech – and lest we forget, W.E. – I love the revived interest in Wallis – and Edward.

Anyway, in her Upstairs, Downstairs cameo, Wallis steals the show with a fabulous chevron striped black and white gown. DVF offers a 2011 solution, which is probably more flattering for those of us without Wallis’s figure.

Although Keeley Hawes was probably the biggest draw as lady of the house, Agnes Holland, I think she was probably the most boring character. Bit moody, gets pregnant, sulks around, looks upset about stuff, has a baby. The end. Still, at least she looked good doing so.

In the opening scene, Lady Agnes arrives off a cruise ship from Washington, where her handsome husband Sir Hallam Holland, has been larking about in the foreign office. At ASOS, you can pretty much get the exact same knitted turban, complete with feathery bit. Neato! You won’t get a house in Eaton Place, pots full of cash, and a baronetcy though.

Here, Agnes mistakes her mother-in-law for a housekeeper. How embarrassing! Easy mistake to make though, especially when you’re in a silver fox fur coat and she’s in a mere black rabbit fur stole. I mean, DUH. Love Aggy’s velvet bow hairband here, it’s a bit unusually fun for her though.

In the early, sickly, stages of pregnancy, Agnes lolls around quite a lot in a fine array of knitwear. As with Persie, I now feel inspired to restock my knitwear drawer with elegant twinsets, pointelle, and bed jackets. Mmmhmm. Above imitations come to you via Miss Selfridge and, of course, Etsy.

Proving that pregnancy doesn’t have to be all about knitwear and muumuus, Agnes spent the latter part of her pregnancy in a marabou-trim silk robe. She looked rather fabulous in it too. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a marabou-trim dressing gown? I couldn’t find any, and I’m the Queen of Google. Still, Etsy comes up trumps with this IRL 40s robe. OK, so it’s ten years out, but it’s still rather spectacular, and will make you look perhaps as glamorous as Agnes herself.

Right, that’ll do for now.

BIG LOVE goes to the amazing Enchanted Serenity blog, which is the best resource for period dramas I’ve ever seen, and the original Upstairs, Downstairs fan site.

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4 thoughts on “Upstairs, Downstairs: The style behind the series

  1. I loved Upstairs Downstairs. I did wonder if there were
    going to be any mentions of the Mitfords (in particular Diane or
    Unity) but it sadly wasn’t to be 😦 (unless I missed references to
    it, I still have yet to watch the last episode)

  2. […] Chants and incantations « Fur Coat, No Knickers Persie is out and about in a bias cut red silk gown and furs… that’s more like it. Here, she tells her family she’s off to the opera, but actually goes to watch Oswald Moseley give a rousing fascist lecture. Bravo that girl, eh? I couldn’t find any, and I’m the Queen of Google. Still, Etsy comes up trumps with this IRL 40s robe. OK, so it’s ten years out, but it’s still rather spectacular, and will make you look perhaps as glamorous as Agnes herself. […]

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