Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen Paperback – Mar 23 2010
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"An intriguing look into the fashions of England during Jane Austen's life...providing insightful perspectives on Austen's use of fashion in her books, including Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park, among others. Complete with images on nearly every page, the book gives readers the opportunity to see the fashions of this age depicted in sketches, portraits and photographs of clothing surviving to this day, including some of Austen's own belongings. The book's frequent references to Austen's novels are crowned with excerpts from her letters, detailing an attention to the fashion of the time."—Deseret News
"A comprehensive overview...Deeply informative...Extremely authoritative...easily accessible and injected throughout with many wryly humorous asides and pertinent observations. It is also full of well argued insights into social behaviours as dictated by the fashions of the time...With sumptuous colour and black and white images from the period, including portraits, sketches, and photographs of extant clothing examples, this compact account is a wonderful resource for costume and fashion design students and professionals alike. It will also have a broader appeal to literary and social history enthusiasts, with numerous quotes from Austen’s books and letters that reinforce the author’s compelling arguments and astute observations. Highly recommended."—Vintage Fashion Guild
"Lavishly illustrated with a fine cross-section of illustrations from the period...Ties the life of Austen into the events happening in Britain and abroad, and how they affected the fashions and social lives of Regency men and women.
This is definitely a book for Austen fans, and devotees of the Regency period. It is written with a light touch and an eye to the realities of dressing in fine and costly fabrics. The attention to menswear is particularly interesting. I was also taken with the reference to Rousseau's theories about childhood freedom and how it affected clothes for children.
Whilst clearly passionate about her subject, Downing is not above bringing in the voice of the satirists who mocked the fashionable. This is a valuable little volume for anyone interested in Regency costume, and very handy for anyone writing about the period: both distracting and informative." —Georgian London
"Jam-packed with information and images...I will be using it frequently for future reference... Recommend[ed] highly to all readers who are interested in Regency fashion and historical romance writers who are interested in precise details of dress." —Jane Austen's World
About the Author
Sarah Jane Downing is a freelance writer with a special interest in the eighteenth century. She has written widely about the arts, contributing to national and local magazines and newspapers. She is the author of The English Pleasure Garden.
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The price of the volume is low, so it worth buying for the pictures alone, but please do further research before accepting what is in the text.
Until the Napoleonic Wars, France had influenced fashions in Britain and Europe. It was the custom of messengers known as les grandes couriers de la mode to deliver the latest French fashions to the great courts of Europe in person. Wearing designer creations, their costumes were analyzed from head to toe and then tried on and taken apart. Patterns were made from the resulting pieces. People who visited cities and returned home were plied with questions about the latest trends in fashions by those who stayed behind. Soon, fashion journals appeared showing images of fashions, home furnishings, and architectural plans, and new styles trickled down to even those who lived in the farthest reaches of England.
The French Revolution marked a radical shift from the elegant, wide-skirted brocade gowns so prevalent for most of the 18th century to the streamlined, body-hugging, empire-waisted silhouettes of the Directoire Period that were inspired by classical antiquity. Wide hooped skirts were still worn for appearances at court, but gowns became simpler, narrower, and more vertical. In fact, the change in dress silhouettes was so dramatic that such a radical shift in style would not occur again until the flapper era and the jazz age over a century later.
Jane Austen's books were written during the narrow time frame when empire dresses with their high waists, short sleeves and décolletté necklines reigned supreme in the fashion world. When long sleeves were introduced in evening dress, she wrote Cassandra:
"I wear my gauze gown today long sleeves & all; I shall see how they succeed, but as yet I have no reason to suppose long sleeves are allowable. Mrs. Tilson has long sleeves too, & she assured me that they are worn in the evening by many. I was glad to hear this. - Jane Austen, 1814"
Male attire also went through a dramatic change. Ruffles and ornate brocaded fabrics gave way to intricately folded neckcloths, simple shirts, stark jackets and leg-hugging breeches. The emphasis was on the neckcloths, but not the shirts, which were sewn by women, not tailors. Jane was known to be an excellent seamstress, and she wrote about completing a batch of shirts for her brother Charles: "[I] am to send his shirts by half dozens as they are finished; one set will go next week," and "In Mansfield Park Fanny price works diligently to ensure that her brother's linen is ready when he goes to sea." - p 13.
There are so many other interesting tidbits of information. Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen discusses accessories, underwear, half dress, full dress, court dress and more. I wish a timeline had been included of when hems were raised and when they became decorative; precisely how the Napoleonic Wars affected fashion in both England and France and who influenced who and when; and when waists when up, then down, then up and down again. Another quibble I had was with the book's cover, which John Pettie painted in 1887. With all the lush images and paintings available of regency misses and their chaperones and suitors, why choose a Victorian painting?
It is hard for me not to think of a Jane Austen movie adaptation and not remember how fashion influenced my enjoyment of the film. Some of my most vivid memories are of Elizabeth Bennet walking the verdant countryside in her russet colored spencer jacket in Pride and Prejudice 1995, Marianne Dashwood spraining her ankle and being carried to safety by Willoughby in her rain drenched white muslin frock in Sense & Sensibility 1995, or Mary Crawford ready to pounce like a black widow spider in her cobwebby evening dress in Mansfield Park 1999. Much of how we perceive Regency fashion today is from film costume designer's interpretations of the fashions during Jane Austen's time. I admit to admiring the fine cut of a gentleman's tailored redingote or the elegant flow of a ladies formal evening dress as much as the next Janeite, but am totally clueless about why and how fashion changed so drastically since the heavy brocades, embroidered silks and powdered wigs of pre-revolutionary France.
As an introduction to Georgian and Regency fashion, this slim 63 page volume answered many questions and gave me a better understanding of the evolution of fashion, its importance in society and how English style influenced the world. The chapters are neatly broken down into seven significant categories: The Age of Elegance, The Rise of English Fashion, A Fine Romance, Beau Brummell and the Great Renunciation, Rousseau and Fashion Au Natural, Reticule and Ridicule, and After the age of Elegance. Throughout are beautiful (but small) images from original sources such as the popular women's fashion magazines Ackermann's Repository and La Belle Assemblée, portraits by the leading painters of the day Sir Henry Raeburn, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and Sir Thomas Lawrence, and photographs of vintage clothing from the era. Interspersed throughout the text are references to Jane Austen, her family and characters in her novels to tie into a description of clothing or styles. A brief index at the back allows for quick reference by topic, person or place.
As part of the popular Shire Library series, FASHION IN THE TIME OF JANE AUSTEN is a little glistening jewel of information on British fashion during the Georgian and Regency periods. For the novice historian it will inform and whet your appetite. For the veteran it will be a great refresher. For each, you will appreciate Downing's straight forward presentation of material and her handling of the sense of the ridiculous that fashion can take by including Gillray caricatures and comical anecdotes. From the perspective of a Jane Austen enthusiast, Downing does state some eyebrow raising facts that to my knowledge have yet to be proven. As much as the Austen descendants would like the "Rice portrait" to be of Jane Austen, even my rudimentary knowledge of Regency fashion styles and math calculate the portrait to be much later than the 1792-93 range evaluated by experts, and the James Stanier Clarke portrait of a lady with a fur muff could be Jane Austen, but we shall never know for sure. (Best to say possibly Jane Austen to be safe and raise your credibility.) A small quibble in an overall splendid little treasure trove sure to please the Austenista in all of us.
Laurel Ann, Austenprose
As I make our attire for the balls, the more information I have on what is authentic, including colors, fabrics, et al, the better our Austen inspired costumes come off at the events. I know I only gave this book four stars, but only because I wish that the book had been longer with more of the same good info. I read it cover to cover in about an hour. However I do believe it's worth the money for anyone with an appreciation of the Regency or an interest in researching authentic clothing of the period.