Adventures in Reading

Jane Austen: Costume
October 4, 2007, 10:06 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

…the truly elegant (gentlemen especially), having dressed with care, should then seem oblivious to their own appearance.” Josephine Ross’ Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners.

For some of you, I had a rather enviable experience yesterday as I visited the Kent State University Fashion Museum and along with a very small group of people had a lecture and guided tour by the museum’s curator Anne Bissonnette. It just so happened between the museum’s private collection and two current showings (Lace and Indigo) I was able to experience some late 18th/early 19th Century fashions first hand.

Fashion is something that never seems to often be spoken about in the art world. In any basic art history course (depending on the instructor) a relatively equal length of time will be spent looking at painting, sculpture, and architecture, but costume somehow becomes the bastardized subject that is touched on but seldom dwelt on. After yesterday I realized this is more true than ever and was astounded at all of the information I was given in a short period (and how much I did not have time to hear!).

The presentation Bissonnette showed us was calling The Age of Nudity or as she reflected an Age of Transition. It is not difficult to appreciate the dress from Austen’s period but without knowledge of what the fashion is evolving from we miss out on so much. From the BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice we are accustomed to the delicate cotton dresses being worn, but barely fifty years prior to this fashion was quite drastically different. That is, the fashion of Clarissa would be almost unrecognizable while Clarissa would be simply scandalized by the underwear that Elizabeth Bennet is wearing.

I do suggest that everyone interested in Austen and fashion visit Bissonnette’s Visual Dictionary of Costume. It is informative and lovely. As a brief aside, for those of you who have not noticed I have added a Timeline page, which will helpfully sort any confusion on the publication dates of books I have been reading.

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