Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Jane Austen on the Catwalk

Time to look at another Jane Austen related book…and if food was interesting, clothes are even more so. At least they’re less caloric!

Jane Austen Fashion: Fashion and Needlework in the Works of Jane Austen, is a delightful if short (128 pages, including notes and bibliography) volume with lots of excellent illustrations, most of them reproductions of fashion plates from the years when Miss Austen was writing her books. The author, Penelope Byrde, was for many years the Curator of the Museum of Costume & Fashion Research Centre in Bath, England, and certainly knows her subject.

The book details clothing and needlework as mentioned both in Miss Austen’s life, mostly via her letters and extant examples of her handiwork and possessions (and in one case, a watercolor by her sister Cassandra showing Jane in a pretty light blue dress and bonnet), and in her books. There is a detailed overview of the changes in fashion over her life with definitions of articles of clothing and fabric names and sections on accessories, and a chapter on the making and care of clothing (how she would have loved walking into stores today, as she once lamented in a letter to Cassandra, “I wish such things [new gowns] were to be bought ready made.”

Of especial note are two of the last chapters, those on Men’s Clothes and on Needlework. The chapter on men’s clothes also includes fashion prints (those depicting men’s clothing are much less common) and commentary on accessories and haircuts; that on needlework covers both general information on the decorative needlework of the period as well as pictures and descriptions of items made by Jane Austen herself.

All in all, this is an excellent resource for readers of Jane Austen who would like to have a clearer picture of what her characters—and she—might have worn. It seems to be widely and inexpensively (under $10) available on line, and is highly recommended by this history geek.


QNPoohBear said...

Thanks! That one sounds like a good one for the reference shelf. Speaking of good books, I loved Courtship and Curses! It ends a bit too soon though. Do you imagine more than one happy ending- perhaps for the older adults?

Liviania said...

I've been to that museum! It's great.

Marissa Doyle said...

I'm jealous, Liviana--the last time I was in England (a long time ago) the museum was being renovated. I'd LOVE to visit it!

QnPoohBear, this is a good one to have on hand for a good overview of early 19th century attire. And yes, I had more than Sophie's happily-ever-after ending in mind, but not room to lay it out in the book. I hope readers will pick up on the cues like you did, though, and think about it on their own.

Cara King said...

Ooh, that sounds great! And I love that museum, too. They once did an exhibition on costume in Jane Austen movies & TV which I found particularly fascinating. (Though they were a tad snobbish about the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma.) :-)

Making a note of the book, BTW!