Were Women Better Off In The Days Of 'Downton Abbey'? (PHOTOS)

Were Women Better Off In The Days Of 'Downton Abbey'?

Since the ladies of Downton Abbey first sashayed onto our screen, wearing the type of high society fashion that's seen sales of elbow-length gloves soaring by 584 per cent at Debenhams, many women might be forgiven for longing for the type of life depicted in the hit ITV One period drama.

Fur coats, corsets and pearl earrings may be appealing, just as wearing a cloche hat for afternoon tea with your mother-in-law seems delectably civilised, but the pros to life in 1918 are somewhat superficial.

As Lady Mary once put it, in her delightfully shrewd manner: "Women like me don't have a life. We're stuck in a waiting room till we marry."

Below we list the reasons why the upstairs women of Downton Abbey have it made, and the reasons we wouldn't swap lives with them, even for a butler like Carson.

What we'd like a taste of...

  • Having enough clothes (and someone to wash them) to change roughly six times a day - lunch, town, hunting, tea, vicar-visiting, strolling around the gardens and furiously brushing your hair in a mirror before going to bed, all seem to require a different ensemble.
  • Having a chauffeur, particularly one that looks like Branson. It's no wonder Lady Sybil is keen not to resurrect the class barriers that started to fall during the four years the Crawleys and their servants were united in the war effort.
  • Breakfast, lunch and dinner being cooked and served by someone else. In the days of Downton, meal times were a time when people could come together and discuss the goings-on in their lives. You wouldn't catch the Countess of Grantham eating on the go.
  • The romantic way men spoke to their ladies is something many 21st century women would like to experience. When your boyfriend next asks you to go to Tescos, remember Branson asking Lady Sybil to run away with him, claiming: "I'll wait forever".

What we're happy to leave in the past...

  • Having to hook up with your cousin to secure a life of luxury. Lady Mary spent the first series of Downton Abbey trying to decide whether to marry her cousin Matthew - heir to the earldom - to secure her future as chatelaine of the stately pile. Give us a 9-5 any day.
  • People telling us "we've broken the rules". Which is the line Mrs Hughes uses to explain to Ethel the mess she's in, after she gets pregnant by an Army officer.
  • Being told when we are and aren't allowed to talk. Carson quickly checks Lord Grantham isn't offended by Jane's friendly chat, checking: "I hope she wasn't talking out of turn, my Lord?"
  • The concept that spawning children is the main purpose in a woman's life. Speaking to her husband, Cora asks: "Robert, it's quite simple - do you want Mary's marriage to be a success? Do you want grandchildren?" Interfering parents can happily be left in the past.
  • Being controlled by men, Mary's press baron fiance likes to make his point by grabbing her face and telling her "don't ever cross me".
  • Only being allowed a job when there is a war on. Lady Sybil would agree with us on this one.

Even Dan Stevens, who plays cousin Matthew, and has been involved with both Downton's women and those of more recent times, agrees that the past is nothing to be envious of: "I gather the corsets were hard to wear. But also the opportunities now are so much better for women, there's definitely been an advance."

Downton Abbey is great escapist TV, but it can also serve to remind us that, clothes aside, for women there really is no time like the present.

SLIDESHOW: The women of Downton know their place...

Lady Mary

Downton Abbey series 2


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