P&P200: The Longbourn Ladies Go Shopping for Wedding Clothes
“Carriage dresses, dinner dresses, evening dresses, full evening dresses, garden dresses, morning dresses, opera dresses, promenade dresses, theater dresses, walking dresses.” Mrs. Bennet silently checked the list in her hand, sure she’d forgotten to jot down some important event for which her eldest daughters would need to be properly attired.
The coach swayed then bounced through a pothole, and Mrs. Bennet heard the coachman’s muffled curse. She frowned, but then shrugged. At least they would not have to find their footing with care in the foul streets.
“We must thank my Uncle Gardiner’s for arranging the carriage.” Her eldest daughter, Jane, sat between Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Gardiner. “It’s a beautiful day to go shopping for wedding clothes.”
“And we must thank you to my father for his blunt,” Lizzy said from her seat directly across Mrs. Bennet. “However did you manage to persuade my father to put off buying the horses for the farm another year, Maman?”
“Bah! What are horses to having one’s daughters dressed properly?” Mrs. Bennet glanced out the carriage window on her side. Nothing but a pile of cobbles. She turned back to her list and smiled to herself. After some wifely exertion on her part, Mr. Bennet was persuaded to be liberal with his purse.
Shopping for one’s daughters’ wedding trousseaus—the pinnacle of woman’s achievements as a mother, for years Mrs. Bennet had feared this day would never come. Her gaze flickered from Jane to Lizzy. Well done, girls.
Jane’s beauty and sweet personality catching Mr. Bingley was a certain success, she had no doubt. But what a sly girl Lizzy was. How smart of her to turn down Collins for a bigger fish. Ten thousand pounds a year and he the grandson of an earl, too. Mrs. Bennet straightened. Court dresses. Lizzy would need a court dress. She scribbled the item on her list and folded the paper before putting it in her reticule. If that coxcomb Sir William Lucas could be presented at court, for certain the wife of a grandson of an earl would merit a presentation.
“Must Kitty and I be subjected to this excursion, Mama?” Mary lifted her head from her book and intruded into Mrs. Bennet’s mental planning of the arrangement of the seven ostrich plumes on Lizzy’s headdress for her appearance at St. James’.
“Subjecting yourself?” Mrs. Bennet narrowed her eyes. However did she spawn such a graceless, bookish child? “Why did I not leave you back in Longbourn with your father. You consider it a chore to be in town, shopping?”
Barely lifting her pressed face from the window, Kitty said, “Mary may consider herself ill-used, Maman, but she does not speak for me. Wait until I write Lydia and tell her she missed out on shopping for clothes in Mayfair. Are we near Bond street?”
Mrs. Bennet frowned. However did she spawn such witless child? “Kitty, stop looking out of the window like you’re a common ware for the gentlemen.”
Kitty’s hand suddenly flapped. “Look, Lizzy, I believe that’s Mr. Darcy next to the iron post there, in front of that shop.”
Kitty did not get to finish, for her sister Lizzy had indecorously thrown herself across Mary to sweep aside the window’s curtains.
Mrs. Bennet’s mouth opened. Jane and Mrs. Gardiner both chuckled at Lizzy’s eagerness.
Just when Mrs. Bennet was about to pull her hoyden of a daughter back, Lizzy’s face fell. She drew back from the window. “That is not Mr. Darcy.”
Kitty said, “Are you sure? He has the same tall, proud look.”
Mrs. Gardiner glanced outside the carriage’s window before she determinedly drew the curtains closed. “I believe that is Mr. Beau Brummel—a man deemed by the ton as the greatest arbiter of fashion, wit, and address—whom Kitty has mistaken for Mr. Darcy.”
Mrs. Bennet laughed. “La! What a joke. Such a man and Kitty mistaken him for Mr. Darcy.”
“May I remind you, Maman,” Lizzy said with an edge in her voice, “that Mr. Darcy had the ultimate good taste to choose one of your daughters, a daughter whose expectations are non-existent, to be Mrs. Darcy?”
Speechless, Mrs. Bennet stared at her second eldest, whose eyes flashed impudently. However did she spawn such a headstrong, obstinate, contrary girl? Surely Lizzy must be aware of everyone’s true opinion: that Mr. Darcy, ten-thousand pounds and grandson of an earl or not, cannot hope to match Mr. Bingley, or, Mrs. Bennet’s favorite, dear Wickham—in fashion, wit, or address?
“I believe you misheard my mother, Lizzy.” Jane’s voice was its usual placating tone.
“I believe what my sister Bennet meant,” Mrs. Gardiner entered the conversation, “is that Mr. Darcy’s interests are of a more, steady, serious-minded, practical nature, which greatly benefit all those—friends, family, tenants—people who are dependent on him. As a responsible landed gentleman, his interests are not frivolous and trifling such as those of Mr. Brummel’s, whose chief concern in life is whether his snuff is sniff-worthy and his cravats starched stiff enough, if I may be so impertinent toward a friend of the prince.”
“Thank you, Aunt, I had no idea my betrothed has such a champion in you.” Amusement briefly replaced the flash of ire in Lizzy’s eyes. She then turned and met Mrs. Bennet’s eyes. “My apologies, Maman, for my…uh…misunderstanding. It is just that I do not care to hear Mr. Darcy being slighted.”
Mrs. Bennet leaned against the carriage side. Surprised. She knew Mr. Darcy, as strange as it seemed, must have been captivated by her daughter, else why would he have offered marriage, but could Lizzy truly have tender feelings for the dour and solemn Mr. Darcy? Mr. Darcy? Was her daughter making a love-match with Mr. Darcy, of all people?
Mary lowered her book. “It seems to me a useless business, this dashing about town amassing fripperies to prepare for life as a Missus, when one has already caught the Mister.”
Five pairs of eyes fixed on her. Jane exclaimed, “Mary!”
Lizzy laughed. “Ah, but, Mary, you forget that women do not dress for their husbands. We dress for other women. I certainly do not wish for Mr. Darcy’s female relations to think me more of a portionless country nobody than I already am.”
Though Lizzy’s tone was glib, Mrs. Bennet detected a note of nervousness in her normally indomitable daughter. Lizzy would not be nervous meeting anyone unless she cared to make a good impression. It must be a love-match. Much as Mrs. Bennet admitted Lizzy was never her favorite child, as a mother, she did not like to see her strong daughter unconfident.
Mrs. Gardiner leaned forward and teased, “Now, my dear Lizzy, was it not the liveliness of your mind which brought him up to scratch? Or did Kitty eavesdropped wrong?”
While Lizzy blushed and scolded her younger sister, and Jane and Mrs. Gardiner chuckling again, Mrs. Bennet ignored them and took out her list.
How could she forget? A riding habit for Lizzy after the wedding. La Belle Assemblee, The Lady’s Magazine, Le Beau Monde, the Repository, Mrs. Bennet had been diligently studying the fashion magazines used by the modistes and mantua-makers. Many fashionable brides these days wear riding habits as their traveling dresses on their wedding days. Though Lizzy was no horsewoman, she could use it as a carriage dress or a walking dress during her wedding trip.
Mrs. Bennet tapped the paper against her chin. A carmine or Devonshire brown woollen, styled in the same cut as Mr. Darcy’s great coat, would highlight Lizzy’s dark tresses, or a Bishop’s blue thick muslin, perhaps with a frilled collar on the habit shirt, which would frame the shape of her delicate face quite nicely?
Her daughter’s lively mind might have caught Mr. Darcy’s interest, but his female relations would not be impressed with a bluestocking young Mrs. Darcy.
A newly married woman adorned, embellished, and clothed in the right style of fripperies, expensive fripperies, that’s what would impress and silence any cattiness.
Portionless country nobody? Bah! After Mrs. Bennet was done with Lizzy’s wedding clothes, her daughter will hold her head high walking into St. James.
I am not a fripperies girl and I hate to shop for clothes, so of course I challenged myself to write a vignette about shopping for wedding clothes. Though I had fun reading numerous books, blogs, studying fashion plates etc… on Regency fashion, I listened to the wise words of a talented Austen Author, Susan Mason-Milks—focus on the characters. Hope you enjoyed it. If you didn’t, blame it on Susan.