Flickering candlelight. Fresh flowers. Quiet conversation. These are some of the forgotten pleasures of a lost era—a time before microwaves and real-time news updates. Fortunately, you can bring back the finer, simpler things for an evening, and host a Downton Abbey-themed dinner party for a group of friends. Make it an unforgettable evening by carefully planning all the details, from costumes to menu. As the Dowager Countess says, “Nothing succeeds like excess.” Follow her advice with the following tips:
1. Looking the Part
For the Crawleys, every dinner is a formal affair, not just a weekend special. Accordingly, encourage guests to wear formal attire. For men: black trousers and a matching evening tailcoat with black socks and shoes, a white shirt with a high-wing collar and a white bow tie. Ladies: follow Lady Mary’s example with a long, formal evening dress and opera gloves. While a lady’s attire is not as specific as a man’s, silk, chiffon, embroidery and lace are always appropriate.
2. Decorating Tips
Set the table with a crisp white tablecloth and large, white dinner napkins folded into Birds of Paradise, Bishop’s Mitre shape. For an authentic party, design a formal table setting with china, stemware and seven-piece silverware sets. You’ll also need a beautiful centerpiece of fruit or an extravagant floral arrangement. Then, recreate the dimly lit rooms and dark color schemes with light-blocking window coverings, long taper candles and small, low-lit lamps.
3. Culinary Options
Wow your guests by preparing at least three courses — soup or salad, a main dish and dessert. The British aristocracy preferred french cuisine, so include authentic Downton dishes, such as lobster rissoles as an appetizer, cream of barley soup, asparagus salad with champagne-saffron vinaigrette, and boeuf bourguignon for the main course. For a simpler main, consider homemade roast chicken instead. Serve green beans, carrots or turnip puree for sides, and make Carson and Mrs. Patmore proud by offering your guests a wine pairing for each course. Finish the meal with an indulgent dessert like chocolate soufflé or a scoop of decadent ice cream, and of course, you must have coffee and tea.
Plan authentic after-dinner entertainment, such as moving into another room to play cards or chatting over drinks. Traditionally, Downton’s female guests would leave the table to socialize in a separate room while the men stayed behind to smoke cigars. Naturally, you can give your dinner party a modern twist by combining it with a Downton Abbey screening party.
5. Planning Ahead
Start planning your dinner party at least a month in advance, as a themed party of any kind requires the utmost organization. First, get on Etsy for a themed invitation template and request that everyone RSVP. Go above and beyond by creating a seating chart to ensure interesting dinner conversations and a symmetrical male-to-female and couples-to-singles balance.
However you choose to host your Downton Abbey soirée, remember that the people make the party, so invite guests who will appreciate your efforts. That way, if anything flops, everyone will still have a great time.