Now that I'm in my thirties, I thought I had an outfit to match every occasion and dress code, from "creative black tie" to "casual dressy" to "festive." (In a nutshell: black is always acceptable, and when in doubt bring extra shoes.)

My best Lady Mary impression.

That's what I thought, at least until this week, when one invite had me stumped. I was pysched to be invited to be part of the audience at the taping of Manor of Speaking, Ernie Manouse's fun Downton Abbey recap show that airs each week directly after the costume drama. I was planning to just head to the studio in my regular work clothes until I read the e-mail instructions.

"Appropriate dress is recommended, crinoline, bustles and tails encouraged, as well as any variety of period-inspired dress. However, the wearing of white cloth or pinstripes is discouraged," wrote Rodgers, the butler. I own neither crinolines nor bustles, but I was determined to be one of the fun audience members who dresses up, rather than one of the boring ones wearing jeans. Plus I thought it might get me a front-row seat. (It did not, but other flappers were luckier.)

Ideally I'd have the entire day (and a ladies' maid) to dress me and set my hair in perfect flapper waves, but in reality I had under an hour to go from office-appropriate to a character from the 1920s. Avoiding anything too body-conscious or too modern, I finally decided to stick with a simple sheath dress and a boyfriend cardigan with a boxy fit that could mimic the drop-waist fashions at the time—more Sarah Bunting than Lady Mary, but what can you do?

Once the basics were in place, bringing out my inner aristocrat was much easier with accessories. For jewelry, I picked my longest necklace, a beaded lariat strand that stretches almost as far down as the navel-grazing necklaces favored by the Crawleys, and topped off the look with a bracelet pinned into my hair like a modern tiara. Since make-up wasn't yet approved of by the aristocratic class in the early '20s, I kept mine simple and focused on a string eyebrow and blush, trying to make that whole "English Rose" thing happen.

Finally, fur. Generally I don't buy fur, but I make an exception for vintage fur, like this collar I found in Round Top for $10.  I pinned it to my dress and my frumpy office attire suddenly looked richer. I looked richer. Perhaps they'd let me in the Abbey after all.

 

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