Fashion Focus: Dressing Downtown Driehaus Museum Exhibit Of Historical Fashion

March 22, 2016

By Lauren Pinkston

Chicago landmark, the Richard H. Driehaus Museum, welcomes locals to celebrate the final season of Downton Abbey, a British drama series set in the early 20th century, by experiencing award winning costumes from the show’s most extraordinary characters within the extravagant interiors of the Driehaus house. The exhibit, Dressing Downton™: Changing Fashion for Changing Times, is open for the public to view over 35 costumes from the series from now until May 29.

The exhibit is immersed throughout the house, with each of the lavishly decorated rooms featuring several costumes from the show. The Driehaus Museum is preserved to resemble the grand residence of the Nickerson and Fisher families during the 19th-century Gilded Age and into the early 20th century. Visitors have the option of having a truly authentic experience by taking part in traditionally British high-tea rituals in the dining room of Driehhaus house, following their perusal of the exhibit. Driehaus Museum Guest Curator, Ruta Salikis, intended for visitors to experience the costumes in such a context, showing charming distinction to the upper-class lifestyle of the characters of Downton Abbey.

“Throughout the exhibition, visitors learn about the historical and cultural influences evident in these visually stunning costumes,” said Salikas.

The costumes are displayed throughout all three stories of the home, with descriptions of the costumes context within the show and details of the intricate interior design and architectural elements, which make the Driehaus Museum a truly unique interpretation of turn-of-the-century art and culture.

These dual elements are attracting visitors from the Chicago area and our own Dominican community. Kathleen Conaghan, Apparel Merchandising senior, says, “Not only does the exhibit showcase the clothing from the show, but they talk about the history and what was going on during the time of Downton Abbey. There is also a room on the third floor of the museum that has photos and information about what Chicago fashion was like during that time.”

Kathleen shared that she especially enjoyed seeing the intricate detailing of the costume up close, as the fashions reflect traditional garb of this revolutionary time in history. The award-winning costumes of Downton Abbey are produced by London costume house, Cosprop Ltd, using original fabrics from the early 20th century or inspiration from magazines, painting, clothing patterns, and photographs from the era.

“A designer must know the period, feel the inner life and visually paint the canvas for the viewer,” says Apparel Design professor, McKinley Johnson, as he describes the costume design process. He continues, sharing that this year’s annual Dominican student-run fashion show “is excited to have a costuming class that will take the audience back in time to places they can only imagine and to people they have never met, while giving them a look at the fine details.”

Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Time will be exhibited at the Driehaus Museum, 40 East Erie St, Chicago, IL, until May 29. Tickets are available, $15 for students or $25 for general admission, in person or online at

Those wishing to view costumes designed by Dominican University students are invited to attend the annual student fashion show, taking place in the Lund Auditorium April 2 and 3. Tickets are available at the Performing Arts Center Box Office, $10 for students and $15 for general admission.