Last night HBO premiered the blood-spattered fantasy epic Game of Thrones, which, if the channel’s decorated history serves as precedent, will go on to win every TV award in existence. But in that most important category (to our eyes, at least), men’s style, may I submit that HBO pales in comparison to an alternative powerhouse. I’m talking about the people’s channel: the Public Broadcasting System, home of the 40-year-old Masterpiece series.
Now subdivided into ‘Mystery,’ ‘Contemporary,’ and ‘Classic’ rubrics, the Masterpiece canon is without doubt the most well-appointed, well-dressed series on television—and it’s only getting better. In the last year alone, the incredibly lush Poirot turned ten with three feature-length adaptations of Agatha Christie novels, including the Belgian dandy detective’s greatest showcase in Murder on the Orient Express. Any Human Heart, a four-part Walter Mitty-ish saga based on the book by William Boyd, introduced its protagonist (played by Masterpiece favorite Matthew Macfadyen) to a foppishly elegant Duke of Windsor, Ernest Hemingway, and Ian Fleming. Sherlock (played by Benedict Cumberbatch and featuring The Office‘s Martin Freeman as Watson) projected Conan Doyle’s great sleuth into contemporary London—and a modern take on the frock coat (sans deer stalker, alas). And Downton Abbey, created by Julian Fellowes, who wrote (and won an Oscar for) Gosford Park, updates the legendary Upstairs Downstairs—the show that started it all, which returned in a ravishing 1930s-era incarnation last Sunday.
The scope and detail of these shows is extraordinary and, with production values soaring (likely in competition with premium cable content stateside), reaching new heights. But it’s the costumes—from Hercule Poirot’s top-down bespoke wardrobe, featuring the sort of high, wide peak lapels that are very much a la mode today, to the shawl collar vests and homburgs of Downton Abbey‘s Lord Grantham—that are, as they always were, the best in show.
Yes, you can make a case for HBO’s considerable stylistic achievements, especially on Boardwalk Empire and Deadwood. But if you go in for Victorian, Edwardian, and mid-century manners of dress (and I most decidedly do), Masterpiece is the most exquisite mood board for your sartorial inspirations. Click through the slideshow below for evidence to support the claim.