2 In Style

Downton Abbey and other TV series for must-watch fashion

What a delight it was to hear from a colleague Anne Sowden from Toronto, Canada. It was so great that she took the time to write me last month and tell me the connection my most recent book, Brenda Kinsel’s Fashion Makeover got to one of my very favorite TV shows, Downton Abbey.

She writes:

Good morning Brenda.

A big hello from sunny Toronto. Fall is here today but like you we had a return to summer over the weekend. There was some mad scrambling for sandals, shorts and T shirts.

I’m just back from holidays in England and believe it or not I thought of you. We were hiking the Northumberland coast—oodles of history, magnificent beaches, ancient castles and only a few rainy days. We took an extra day to visit Alnwick Castle (www.alnwickcastle.com) —owned and lived in by the same family for 700 years. This is where they filmed Harry Potter and last season’s Christmas special of Downton Abbey. There’s currently a great exhibit of the costumes worn in that episode—I’m assuming you’re a fan.

The town of Alnwick has the most incredible bookstore called Barter Books which has the largest collection of second hand books I’ve ever seen. It’s housed in a no longer used Victorian railway station. Check out the video at www.barterbooks.co.uk. It’s absolutely amazing—roaring fireplaces, cafes, well organized bookshelves and friendly staff. I was browsing through the fashion section and there on the shelf, prominently displayed was your Fashion Makeover book! If that book wasn`t already in my library, I would have bought it. Unfortunately, network connections in rural UK locations are very spotty so I wasn`t able to send you a photo. It made me smile to think that you and your expertise had travelled to the UK and you have a connection to Harry Potter and Downton Abbey!

All the best,



Fashion Makeover by Brenda Kinsel

Fashion Makeover nestles up to Downton Abbey, sort of!


Thanks, Anne, for giving me a temporary big head that day! I was so wowed! I’m always tickled to hear where my books have traveled to and to have my book in the same sentence as Downton Abbey warms this fashionista’s heart to no end.


More TV and Fashion

If you love television as much for the fashion as the drama or comedy, then you may have some favorite series to share with us beyond Downton Abbey. I have a couple of favorites, also from British TV. Have you caught them? The Paradise or Mr. Selfridge? If not there may be a TV binge session in your future!

Let me see if I can entice you.


dress on Brenda Kinsel's website

Mr. Selfridge

This is a British television series that covers the period of history in London when Mr. Harry Selfridge from Chicago, IL made a bold move and created the first department store in London in 1909. It’s based on a true story. Jeremy Piven stars as the visionary founder. The material originally comes from the book Shopping, Seduction and Mr. Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead. Mr. Selfridge truly changed the way women shop. His merchandising and promotional ideas were brilliant but controversial at the time.

I worked as a sales person in a couple of department stores as a teenager. I started working at Herbst Department store in Fargo when I was sixteen. When I was eighteen and moved to California with my friend, Patricia, I got a job in the hosiery department of Gottschalk’s.

I feared the owners of Herbst (the Herbst brothers) and walked the other way when I saw them coming down an aisle. On the other hand, people working in department stores form a family of sorts. Some are close like sisters, distant like cousins or colorful like Aunt Vera.

In my experience, most everyone was hard-working and many of them had worked in retail for years. They looked great every day. It was fun to dress up to match the standards of the staff I looked up to. The 30% employee discount on merchandise helped expand my choices! I worked weekends and of course, in December I worked lots of extra hours to handle the holiday crush. The store was filled with extra merchandise. Sometimes I worked in the gift wrap department. Boxes and boxes piled high! It was such a rush.

Mr. Selfridge, the Masterpiece series, brings back warm memories of the women I learned from, women who had years of experience in the hosiery department and accessories department, which turned out to be my favorite departments to work in. I loved helping people find just the right belt, handbag, jewelry, gloves, scarf or hosiery to finish their outfits. (Too bad it took me nearly 20 more years to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up!)

There was a store manager or two that tried to hit on me but I never had an in-store romance. You’ll find complicated romances in Mr. Selfridge. You’ll also experience the heartbreak when World War I breaks out plus the dramatic way the war pushed women into job positions that weren’t open to them before. You’ll see the origin of many “firsts” in the retail experience including the idea of putting items on sale. Can you imagine when the idea of sale shopping was shocking? I

f you haven’t discovered this series, I hope you do. Our local PBS station, KQED, carries it. Season 4 airs in 2016.

Here’s some backstory from the UK’s Daily Mail and more from the Chicago-Tribune to help you get started.


shopping bag imge

The Paradise

Another delightful Masterpiece classic from the BBC, this series will break your heart and mend it again, provide mystery and intrigue and a cast of characters that you’ll fall in love with or enjoy despising! It too takes place in Britain in a department store. It is an adaptation of Emile Zola’s novel Au Bonheur des Dames or The Ladies Paradise.

This series introduced me to the British actress Sarah Lancashire who plays Miss Audrey, the head of ladies wear. I would rewind and rewind just to watch her facial expressions. She’s tremendous. I’ve gone on to watch her in everything I can find. (Thank you, Netflix!)

The role of women and the class system plays a big part in the drama. We get to watch a young, penniless woman, Denise, find her passion and natural talent for knowing how to get people into the store to shop. We all can see that she’d make a great manager. However, she runs into a glass ceiling pretty quickly and petty jealousies from those who have been working there longer. And of course, she falls for a man who is way out of her league–the department store owner, no less.

It begins in 1875. You’ll see your favorite characters at work but also in their evening activities which mostly happens at the bar down the street. Colorful characters, devious ones and of course heroes and heroines will keep you engaged all the while your eyes are feasting on the fashion and the beauty of the store.

This series ran for two seasons. Too short in my opinion but thoroughly enjoyable. Hello Netflix!


If you saw either of these please share your impressions! I’d love to talk more about them with you!


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  • Reply
    Cheryl Rowe
    November 10, 2015 at 7:33 am

    It’s almost embarrassing at how much I look forward to each new season of each of these shows! Another that I discovered, also on PBS, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries….The series is set in 1920’s Australia and the fashion is to die for!!!! I think the roaring 20’s is probably my favorite in terms of fashion and accessories. Miss Fisher is available on Netflix and I dare you not to binge watch!
    Kind Regards, Cheryl

    • Reply
      November 17, 2015 at 11:34 am

      Okay, that’s a serious dare, Cheryl!!! I feel some binge watching coming on!! Thanks for your enthusiastic endorsement!

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