Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen
By Sarah-Jane Downing
(Shire, Paperback, 9780747807674, 64pp.)
Publication Date: March 23, 2010
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The broader Regency period 1795-1820 stands alone as an incredible moment in fashion history unlike anything that went before or after. It was the most naked period since Ancient Greece and before the 1960s, and for the first time England became a fashion influence, especially for menswear, and became the toast of Paris. With the ancient regime deposed, court dress became secondary and the season by season flux of fashion as we know it came into being, aided and abetted by the proliferation of new ladies' magazines.
Such an age of revolution and innovation inspired a flood of fashions taking influence from everything including the newly discovered treasures of the ancient world, to radical new ideas like democracy. It was an era of contradiction immortalized by Jane Austen, who adeptly used the newfound diversity of fashion to enliven her characters, Wickham's military splendor, Mr. Darcy's understated elegance, and Miss Tilney's romantic fixation with white muslin.
Sarah Jane Downing is a freelance writer with a special interest in the eighteenth century. She has written widely about the arts, contributing to national and local magazines and newspapers. She is the author of The English Pleasure Garden.
"An intriguing look into the fashions of England during Jane Austen's life...providing insightful perspectives on Austen's use of fashion in her books, including Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park, among others. Complete with images on nearly every page, the book gives readers the opportunity to see the fashions of this age depicted in sketches, portraits and photographs of clothing surviving to this day, including some of Austen's own belongings. The book's frequent references to Austen's novels are crowned with excerpts from her letters, detailing an attention to the fashion of the time."—Deseret News
"A comprehensive overview...Deeply informative...Extremely authoritative...easily accessible and injected throughout with many wryly humorous asides and pertinent observations. It is also full of well argued insights into social behaviours as dictated by the fashions of the time...With sumptuous colour and black and white images from the period, including portraits, sketches, and photographs of extant clothing examples, this compact account is a wonderful resource for costume and fashion design students and professionals alike. It will also have a broader appeal to literary and social history enthusiasts, with numerous quotes from Austen’s books and letters that reinforce the author’s compelling arguments and astute observations. Highly recommended."—Vintage Fashion Guild
"Lavishly illustrated with a fine cross-section of illustrations from the period...Ties the life of Austen into the events happening in Britain and abroad, and how they affected the fashions and social lives of Regency men and women.
This is definitely a book for Austen fans, and devotees of the Regency period. It is written with a light touch and an eye to the realities of dressing in fine and costly fabrics. The attention to menswear is particularly interesting. I was also taken with the reference to Rousseau's theories about childhood freedom and how it affected clothes for children.
Whilst clearly passionate about her subject, Downing is not above bringing in the voice of the satirists who mocked the fashionable. This is a valuable little volume for anyone interested in Regency costume, and very handy for anyone writing about the period: both distracting and informative." —Georgian London
"Jam-packed with information and images...I will be using it frequently for future reference... Recommend[ed] highly to all readers who are interested in Regency fashion and historical romance writers who are interested in precise details of dress." —Jane Austen's World