Tag Archives: Austen letters

Regency paper dolls

Last week, we took a look at the evolving fashion during Jane Austen’s lifetime. This week, we have a special treat for you. Here are some original paper dolls that showcase some of the typical looks that we envision Austen’s characters wearing. They have been left mostly blank so that you may add your own details and colors before cutting and playing with them. Featured is a man, a woman, a young girl, a young boy, a cat and a pug. Also included are a few accessories from scarves to hats to a teacup to a book. There is even a turban — you can learn to make your own at our turban-making workshop, led by historical costume maker Samantha Bullat. Enjoy!

For a downloadable version, click here: paperdolls. (For best results, print in landscape mode.)

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.)

Panel preview: A Q&A with historical costume builder Samantha Bullat

Samantha Bullat/The Couture CourtesanRegency Era fashion is a popular topic among Jane Austen fans, and this year we’re offering two turban-making workshops led by Samantha Bullat, known online as the Couture Courtesan. She is a professional tailor and historical costume builder for the Jamestown/Yorktown Foundation in Williamsburg, VA. Attendees of the 2018 Jane Austen Summer Program on “Northanger Abbey” and “Frankenstein” might remember Bullat’s presentation on gothic elements in Regency clothing. We wanted to catch up with her to see what she has been up to since then.

This will be your second JASP. We’re so happy to have you back! What are you most excited about doing this year at JASP?

I am most excited about attending the ball! I was unable to last time and was very sorry to have missed it. I love English country dancing, and it’s such an important part of socialization in Jane Austen’s world. 

[Read our 2018 interview with Samantha Bullat here.]

This year, you’ll be talking about global and Ottoman influences in Regency fashion. What are some examples of those influences — visual cues people should look for to spot these influences? How do you even go about researching such a topic?

The turban is undoubtedly the most iconic fashion element to come from Ottoman influence. I’m looking forward to sharing about the origins of such a quintessential look. The paisley shawl also has Eastern origins, even though we so strongly associate it with 19th-century England. There actually is quite a large body of scholarly work on the subject of “Turquerie”, “Egyptimania,” and European appropriation of Eastern style because it was such a phenomenon during the 18th and 19th centuries. 

You also will be leading our turban-making workshops. What should we expect from those?

My workshop[s] will focus on how to use pashmina shawls to create beautiful turbans to finish your Regency look, ornamented with feathers and jewels. While turbans of the period were also made by sewing fabric together, I wanted to teach something that anyone could do, even if they didn’t know how to sew. 

What advice do you have for a first-time attendee of JASP?

I was so heartened by how friendly and welcoming everyone was to me as a newcomer. It helps to know that everyone in attendance shares your interest in Jane Austen, so there is always something to talk about!

BBE2372A-BB10-4AB3-B729-D07A158C8678
Samantha Bullat as Isabella Thorpe and Trey Heath as James Morland from the Northanger Abbey Musical (Courtesy of Samantha Bullat/The Couture Courtesan)

Tell us about a recent costuming project you have worked on that you really enjoyed.

Last year I made a Tudor lady’s ensemble from the skin out, which fulfilled a childhood dream of having a gown like Anne Boleyn! I spent a few years sourcing the materials and doing research, and I’m very happy with the finished product. 

What advice do you have for others who would like to get into historical costuming?

I think it’s important when getting started to remember that everyone was a novice once and not to get discouraged! It is okay to make mistakes. The next time you try something, it will only get better. It’s so easy to compare yourself to more experienced costumers and feel discouraged. But everyone is on their own journey. Just make what brings you joy!

Do you have a favorite Jane Austen novel? If so, which one and why?

I don’t think I do! But I have always felt most kindred with Marianne Dashwood…

4288CD33-470A-4AF1-AB7F-FF87FB666438
Samantha Bullat as Isabella Thorpe and Trey Heath as James Morland from the “Northanger Abbey” musical (Courtesy of Samantha Bullat/The Couture Courtesan)

You performed in the “Northanger Abbey” musical as Isabella in Williamsburg last fall during the annual general meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America. What can you tell us about that experience? 

It was such an honor to be a part of bringing a friend’s lifelong dream to life on stage and with so many other dear friends as part of the cast. It was a lot of hard work but also made us like a family. I developed such a soft spot for Isabella Thorpe and have a lot of sympathy for her! But it was also terribly fun to play the “bad girl”!

Did you help with or have input into the costumes? And how did the costumes give actors insight into their characters?

There were a fair number of us in the cast who could sew, so we were in charge of our own costumes. I was grateful that Amy [Stallings, writer of the production] agreed with the direction I went with Isabella’s costume, which was a very pink and ostentatious gown. Emma Cross, who portrays Eleanor, chose to wear a lot of white to reflect Eleanor’s innate goodness.

Bullat is scheduled to give her plenary talk Friday, June 19, at 9 a.m. Her workshops (which require additional fees) are scheduled for 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.)