“Our abuse of our gowns amuses but does not discourage me; I shall take mine to be made up next week, and the more I look at it the better it pleases me,” Jane Austen wrote to her sister. “My cloak came on Tuesday, and, though I expected a good deal, the beauty of the lace astonished me. It is too handsome to be worn — almost too handsome to be looked at.”
Although Austen’s novels almost all deal with the themes of self-knowledge, growing up, and the nature of romantic love, she was hardly above loving or thinking about fashion.
And neither are her readers today, from the directors who adapt her novels to her avid and obsessive fans. Now, though I’m more enamored of re-watching Austen adaptations than Marianne Dashwood is of handsome and dashing suitors, I cannot really claim to be a Regency fashionista. I can’t distinguish a Spencer from a pelisse, one bonnet’s trim from another’s, or determine what I’d do with a reticule.
But I do know which outfits from the many film adaptations do a concise job of advancing plot and characterization, and imprinting themselves on viewers’ memories. So, with help from several other Janeites, I’ve compiled an essential, if not exhaustive, guide to 20 iconic Austen adaptation ensembles.
Elinor’s apron, Sense and Sensibility (2005)
Emma Thomson’s Elinor Dashwood wears an apron in several key scenes. This reveals her pragmatic nature, and the fact that she’s more willing than her sister to face the dirty reality of their reduced circumstances. Bonus? Experts tell me it’s “period correct,” too.