How Maggie Smith Faked Wearing Corsets On Downton Abbey

Ask any actress who’s appeared in a costume drama what the experience was like, and she’s just as likely to extoll the virtues of dressing head to toe in period outfits as she is to bemoan wearing that staple of yesteryear dressing, the corset. Well, one actress has found a way out of that particular predicament. Maggie Smith recently revealed that she came up with a pretty simple solution for the need to wear corsets under her Downton Abbey attire.

In actual fact, I have to say that I did cheat a bit. Because I promised that if I sat up, bolt upright, I made it look as though I were wearing corsets.

Dame Maggie Smith spoke with Mo Rocca for an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, and revealed that she cheated her way through the corset-wearing portions of Downton Abbey. And, for a show that takes place during the first few decades of the 1900s, that means pretty much every scene. When asked to clarify that she’s usually corset-less during her Downton Abbey scenes, Smith confirms Rocca’s statement and adds, “…but don’t tell anybody.”

I can’t believe no other actress has thought of this. There have been too many films and television shows that take place in corset-loving times for Maggie Smith to be the only woman to think, Hey, if I keep my back straight all the time, maybe I can ditch this tortuous contraption. But, I can bet that most of the other actresses who’ve thought the same thing didn’t have the discipline of a veteran theater, film and television thespian like Smith. They likely collapsed just from the concentration it took to remember not to slouch and slump all over the set. Simply wearing the damn corset probably ended up being easier.

It would be fair to call the costumes on Downton Abbey sumptuous. The attention to period detail in the wardrobe of the cast, and in the attention paid to what type of clothes people of any given social standing would be wearing for a specific occasion has garnered the show additional positive responses. The show has gotten five Emmy nominations for costuming and won for Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special in 2011.

I actually love knowing that Maggie Smith was essentially going commando most of the time underneath her frilly, prim, old-time dresses. Doesn’t the idea just make Lady Violet Crawley, The Dowager Countess of Grantham seem like even more of a spitfire? Because, of course, Lady Violet would leave the corset at home on occasion and simply not tell anyone. If she’s OK with her granddaughters having sex and children outside of marriage, there’s no reason she wouldn’t break the rules sometimes, too.

Downton Abbey begins airing its final season January 3, 2016 on PBS.

Adrienne Jones
Senior Content Creator

Yennefer's apprentice, Gilmore Girl; will Vulcan nerve pinch pretty much anyone if prompted with cheese...Yes, even Jamie Fraser.