All posts by Zeina Makky

About Zeina Makky

Zeina Makky is a newspaper designer turned web developer, living and working in the D.C. area. Besides Jane Austen, Zeina’s passions include calligraphy, pop culture and chocolate.

Jane Austen silhouette with a question mark

How well do you know Jane Austen?

Jane Austen silhouette with a question mark

Since we’ll be discussing Jane Austen’s life and letters at this year’s JASP, it may be time to brush up on some of the basic details of her life. Take this quiz to find out whether you’re a pro or need to catch up on some reading — in addition to the Claire Tomalin biography, we have some other recommendations here as well as a list of a few movies and documentaries about our favorite author.

If you are experiencing problems with the above quiz, note your responses on a piece of paper and click here to see the correct replies and calculate your score.

 

 

 

Two couples, one dressed in 1793 fashion vs one dressed in 1778 fashion.

Fashion in Jane Austen’s era: A very brief and visual overview

1793-1778-fashion
This caricature by Carle Vernet shows a couple from 1793 on the left mocking the couple dressed in 1778 clothes and vice versa. A mere 15 years separates the two, yet the styles and silhouettes are drastically different.

Jane Austen was born in 1775, when the rococo style (very ornate, flowery) had already reached its apotheosis and was on its way out. However, some of the fashion remained. Women’s clothes were still ornate, featuring bows, lace, and puffs. Court dresses still featured those very wide panniers — cushions strapped to the waist — giving women the distinct shape you see above. Impractical, yes. But suited if you want to make sure everyone has to stand before the king and queen.

If you fast forward 30 years, the height of style was the exact opposite, and the silhouette couldn’t be more different. It’s hard to find such a radical shift in the modern era, and events of the time contributed to that (the fall of the French monarchy and disgust of ostentation, war, expansion of the British empire to the East). 

In this timeline, we take a very quick look at women’s fashion from 1775 to 1817, when Jane Austen died.

1775

Why not start with Marie Antoinette herself in this detail of the painting by Jean-Baptiste André Gautier d’Agoty. It’s the height of ostentation. Bows, furs, lace, jewels, pearls:

marieantoinette
Detail of a portrait of Marie Antoinette by Jean-Baptiste André Gautier d’Agoty, 1775.
1775-1780painting
Family Group, by Francis Wheatley, circa 1775/1780. Credit: Paul Mellon Collection, from the National Gallery of Art.

This painting by Francis Wheatley depicts a family circa 1775-1780. Even though this is not a court scene, you can see dresses are still pouffy and women’s hair followed the mantra: the bigger the hair, the closer to God.

1792

1792-plate
1792 fashion plate, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This fashion plate from 1792 shows a woman very likely wearing panniers under her dress. The waistline is still at the natural waist.

1796 – 1800

fashion plate 1796, courtesy of the met
1796 fashion plate, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
1790-1800painting
Mrs. George Hill by Sir Henry Raeburn, circa 1790/1800. Credit: Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, from the National Gallery of Art.

The waistline has now gone full empire — under the breastbone. The silhouette is much narrower, and the appearance is overall simpler.

1800

Fashion plate, 1800, courtesy of the metropolitan museum of art
1800 fashion plate, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

1804

fashion plate, 1804,  courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
1804 fashion plate, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Not all dresses were white or pale, as shown in the fashion plate below.

1804-darkdress
1804 fashion plate, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

1806-1808

Fashion plate, 1806,  courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
1806 fashion plate, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Hair styles also changed, becoming sleeker, less vertical.

1801-shorthair
1808 fashion plate, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Some women also wore their hair short, à la victime, i.e., cropped as one would have it on the way to the guillotine.

1813

Evening Dress Fashion plate 1813,  courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
1813 fashion plate, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
1813-plate-coat
1813 fashion plate, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Eastern influences can be seen in the 1813 fashion plate above, left. To the right, some outerwear for a change.

1816

Fashion plate 1816, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
1816 fashion plate, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

And because fashion is cyclical, what was out once out of style rears its head back, sometimes slightly modified to suit current tastes. Sleeves got puffier, bows and ruffles are back in, although the waistline is still high.

More Information

Here are a few resources for more in-depth information on Georgian and Regency fashion:

Books

  • “Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen” by Sarah Jane Downing
  • “Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style” by Ian Kelly
  • “Regency Women’s Dress: Techniques and Patterns 1800-1830” by Cassidy Percoco
  • “Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion” by Hilary Davidson

Online Resources

In case you missed last week’s post, tailor and historical costume builder Samantha Bullat is returning to JASP to talk about fashion, in particular Ottoman and Eastern influences on Friday, June 19 at 9 a.m.. She will also lead workshops on making your own turban 12:30 to 2 p.m. June 19 and 12:45 to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 20. REGISTER HERE. (If you have already registered for JASP and wish to add on the workshops, you do not need to re-register for the program; you may sign up for only the turban-making workshops.)

Drawing of two couples dancing. The first quadrille at Almack's – J. C. Nimmo: London, 1892 [1891] Courtesy of the British Library

Love and marriage in Jane Austen’s day

Drawing of two couples dancing. The first quadrille at Almack's – J. C. Nimmo: London, 1892 [1891] Courtesy of the British Library
Balls and dancing provided an avenue for people to find husbands and wives. The first quadrille at Almack’s, from The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow – J. C. Nimmo: London, 1892 [1891] Courtesy of the British Library.
“Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage” according to the Frank Sinatra song, but marriage in the Regency era was more like a business arrangement, designed to consolidate or amass wealth and land, and provide families with heirs on the one hand, and “save” women from spinsterhood and poverty on the other. The idea must have caused a great deal of anxiety for women such as Mrs. Bennet, trying to get their daughters married in a time of war.

In “Pride and Prejudice,” another mother, Lady Catherine de Bourgh is eager to have her heiress daughter marry Mr. Darcy, a union planned in their infancy. Fortunes and properties would stay in the family.

On the flipside, Miss Bates, the poor spinster in “Emma,” is often a source of ridicule from the lead character — although one of empathy from Mr. Knightley.

But escape from poverty came at a price. In “Jane Austen’s England”, Roy and Lesley Adkins write that “When a woman married, she passed from the control of her father, who ‘gave her away’ at the wedding to the control of her husband.” All she owned would become her husband’s. Only a marriage settlement would allow a wife to earn her own income or own land. Even children would belong to the husband.

Rich young women could fall prey to mercenary young men, as Miss King and Georgiana Darcy, with their respective £10,000 and £30,000, almost do to Wickham in “Pride and Prejudice.”

Similarly, a woman’s debts would also become her husband’s upon marriage—except in the case of “smock weddings,” where a woman would get married naked (or wearing a smock) to show that she had nothing to bring to the marriage, as the Adkinses describe in their book.

Most weddings were simple affairs, as the industrial wedding complex hadn’t yet taken hold, but wealthy families did like to flaunt their status through new, fine clothes and carriages. But if time was of the essence, couples could elope to Gretna Green, as Lydia Bennet thought she and Wickham would do in “Pride and Prejudice.” “Scottish marriage law required only a declaration before witnesses,” thus couples could avoid announcing the wedding in the parish as required by the Marriage Act of 1753 and potentially meeting with resistance from their families.

Bad Behavior

Not everyone’s behavior aligned itself to the conduct books of the time. People had premarital sex, and it was more than frowned upon. The Adkinses describe the wedding of an Elizabeth Howlett and Robert Astick, who were forced to marry, not because of “premarital sex, but [for] causing a penniless woman and baby to be a burden on the parish.”

That said, not everyone was forced into a marriage because of that. Wealthy men could afford to have indiscretion upon indiscretion (see Lord Byron or the prince regent).

“Royal and aristocratic rakes did not attempt to work within or around sexual strictures. They merely ignored them. To be sure they needed to marry respectably to sire a legitimate heir, and to behave with courtly refinement to ladies in salons or wives in domestic settings….Once they had stepped outside polite circles and posturings, however, they frequently reveled in almost unfettered sexual freedom.”

— Robert Morrison, “The Regency Years”

Sexually free women were not afforded the same tolerance, garnering insults from even Lord Byron.

While this paints a pretty dismal picture of marriage, especially from a woman’s point of view, we still have Austen’s novels that depict love conquering all — familial and societal pressures and opposition, differences in class, and misunderstandings. And although our heroes’ journeys end soon after the trip to the altar, we do have examples of good marriages, where mutual respect and love are evident.

Examples of good marriages

  • Mr. and Mrs. Weston in “Emma”
  • Admiral and Mrs. Croft in “Persuasion”
  • Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner in “Pride and Prejudice”
  • Mr. and Mrs. Moreland in “Northanger Abbey”

Examples of bad marriages

  • Mr. and Mrs. Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice”
  • Lydia Bennet and Wickham in “Pride and Prejudice”
  • Mr and Mrs. Rushworth in “Mansfield Park”
  • General and Mrs. Tilney in “Northanger Abbey”

ATTENTION! Early-bird registration ends Feb. 14. Take advantage of our discount rates. Register today!

Early-bird registration ends Feb. 14 (1).png