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.