Fans of the PBS blockbuster Downton Abbey don't need us to tell them that season two has arrived, ending a painfully long wait for the return of the period drama set in a spectacular English country house stuffed with spoiled aristos and scheming servants. How ever did we survive? One bright spot was the video parody that appeared on YouTube with Joanna Lumley, of Absolutely Fabulous fame, playing an Edwardian housekeeper with Sephora tastes.
"Is that lipstick you're wearing?," a butler asks disapprovingly.
"Just a bit of gloss," replies Lumley. "Her ladyship doesn't mind."
The joke left us wondering what the Crawley sisters of Downton might actually have have in their medicine cabinets; or rather at the mirrored vanities where they seem to linger for hours, as a loyal maid brushes out their hair and listens to their secrets. That part, as it happens, has the ring of truth: Edwardian ladies never (no, never) cut their hair, according to makeup artists who work on the show, which has an on-set historian to police every gesture and costume. Find out what they had to say about Edwardian beauty now.
Women of well-to-do families wore their hair down in girlhood and up from the moment they were ready to marry. Stray hairs were gathered from brushes and used to mold the hair around on top, for greater volume.
On Downton, all of the actresses are asked not to pluck their brows from the day they are cast — the practice was unheard of among both servants and masters before the First World War — and their lashes are dyed to frame the face naturally. "No mascara is allowed at all on set," Michelle Dockery (who plays oldest daughter Lady Mary) told Vogue."Historically, women wouldn't have been introduced to those kind of products then, so we can't use them." Maybelline actually produced the first mascara in 1913, and before then, women used soap mixed with soot to darken their lashes. But apparently the practice hadn't yet made the leap to respectability.
The show's lead makeup artist, Ann Oldham, says she strives for a no-makeup look, with spare applications of Le Blanc de Chanel primer and Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation to create the illusion of creamy English complexions long before the popularity of suntanning, and a little Raspberry Crush Lip & Cheek Stain to play up the peachiness. She also uses an appropriate scent, Yardley Lily of the Valley eau de toilette, so that the actresses even smell the part, according to Britain's Daily Mail.
Speaking of which, all of this painstaking attention to detail leaves some critics cold. While the upstairs inhabitants might have paid closer attention to hygiene, those in the servants' hall downstairs simply would not have had the time or inclination. Servants bathed once a week from a tin basin of hot water that they lugged to their cramped quarters from the kitchen stove. ''The servants in the program are far too clean. The reality would have been a lot more grubby," historian Jennifer Newby told The Telegraph. "I don't think people realize that the servants stank."