PBS' delicious period phenom is back for season 3 with a new face — Shirley MacLaine! — and a new costume designer to make sure all those corsets are cinched

By Nuzhat Naoreen
Updated October 19, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

The arrival of an American (hello, Shirley MacLaine) to Downton Abbey isn’t the only big change taking place in season 3 (coming to U.S. airwaves on Jan. 6). Behind the scenes, a new costume designer is responsible for ensuring that the Crawley clan’s wardrobe keeps up with the times.

”It’s more glamorous than last season,” says wardrobe head Caroline McCall, a former assistant designer on the series who took the helm after Emmy-winning costumer Susannah Buxton left to pursue a film project. McCall promises that though — spoiler alert! — the well-to-do Crawleys may face some financial troubles, their style won’t suffer. In fact, she hints, the family will have good reason to play dress-up on more than a few occasions.

”Season 2 was during [World War I], and their clothes reflected that,” says McCall. ”They were being more practical and less formal.” By contrast, the new season sees the onset of the Roaring ’20s and will incorporate more relaxed postwar silhouettes and touches of the flapper style that would become popular later in the decade. ”The clothes are generally looser-fitting and the hemlines are getting much shorter,” McCall explains.

Everything down to the characters’ underwear has evolved. In seasons 1 and 2, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and her female counterparts wore restrictive corsets to enhance their hourglass figures. In season 3, says McCall, the ladies adopt a more forgiving bandeau, which flattens the bust and straightens the body line. And the women aren’t the only ones trying new looks on for size; the male characters have also been outfitted in fresh, period-appropriate attire. ”The style of the suit has changed,” says McCall. ”Before, the look was quite boxy, with a high-buttoning jacket. Now the pants are cuffing lower and [they’re worn with] a three-button jacket.” As for future heir Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), who spent much of last season in an army uniform? McCall says we’ll get to see him in some sporting, dapper double-breasted suits.

Of course, not everyone is open to change. Though she won’t stray far from the traditional style of her classic Edwardian gowns, the quippy Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith), will have to adapt when Lady Cora’s (Elizabeth McGovern) outspoken American mother, Martha Levinson (MacLaine), arrives. ”She’s new money,” says McCall, who had only about three weeks to create the character’s look (which includes plenty of flashy jewelry) before MacLaine’s wardrobe fitting. ”Martha displays her wealth, which isn’t terribly British.” Let the fashion face-off begin.

The Maids Tidy Up

The aristocrats upstairs aren’t the only ones to get wardrobe makeovers. Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and the other Downton Abbey housemaids have traded in their high-collared, nipped-waist uniforms and frilly aprons. ”It’s a simpler, postwar silhouette,” explains McCall.

Episode Recaps

Downton Abbey PS

Downton Abbey

The war is over, but intrigue, crisis, romance, and change still grip the beloved estate.

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