Jane Austen and Fashion

Jane Austen and Fashion

I love every aspect of getting to imagine myself into Jane Austen’s world.  But I hope I’m not alone in feeling that one of the most purely fun parts of writing and reading Jane Austen inspired fiction is getting to visualize the beautiful fashions that were popular during Jane Austen’s day.  Every time I write a new book in my series, I love the chance to dress my characters for every occasion, whether it’s a formal dinner party or ball, a masquerade, or simply a morning at home.

It’s my love of Regency fashion that led me to discover one of the most fun web pages I’ve ever seen: a regency-era virtual paper doll.  If you want to check it out– and, really, how could you not?– it’s called Dress Up Regency Bella.

Of course, the instant I found it, I immediately wanted to create paper doll versions of my own characters.  Here are my fashion choices for Georgiana Darcy.


Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, and during her lifetime saw a revolution in fashion almost as dramatic as the American and French Revolutions that also occurred while she was alive. Women’s fashions moved away from the old wide hooped silhouette of the Georgian period to a high-waisted, narrow silhouette. Filmy, clinging fabrics like gauze or muslin were popular, and undergarments were kept to a minimum so that the straight lines of the skirts would not be spoiled.

Of course, light, filmy muslin gowns were not terribly warm.  For cooler weather, ladies had a few options for keeping out the chill.  Above, I have Georgiana above wearing a garment called a spencer.  A spencer was a short, fitted jacket, only as long as the bodice of a woman’s gown. Spencers typically had long sleeves and a high collar, and often had military-style trimmings inspired by the army uniforms of the day.

Another option for the well-dressed lady during cold weather was the pelisse.  A pelisse was an over-garment similar to a coat, but with a high waist and long skirt, following the same fashionable silhouette of women’s gowns.  Below is a picture of a pelisse that may have been worn by Jane Austen herself, followed by a fashion plate of the day.






And of course, I also had to create a virtual paper doll version of Margaret Dashwood, from Margaret Dashwood’s Diary:


During Jane Austen’s day, the immense powdered wigs and towering hairstyles of the Georgian era fell out of fashion.  Instead, women wore their hair in more natural styles, often inspired by the classical statues that many during the era viewed on their grande tours of Europe.


Hair was either upswept with curls framing the face, or with curls tumbling onto the shoulders.  Some– like the notorious Lady Caroline Lamb, for example– even wore their hair in a short, cropped bob.

For married or older ladies, caps were worn constantly, even indoors, with turbans an option for more formal occasions.  For younger women, tiaras and diadems were worn for balls and other more dressy affairs.  Girls might also wear strings of pearls, or ribbons in their hair– as I have Margaret wearing above.

This was just a brief dip into the fascinating, inspiring world of Regency fashion, but I hope you had as much fun as I did!  For anyone wanting to know more about Regency era fashions, I can highly recommend Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen, by Sarah Jane Downing.

42 Responses to Jane Austen and Fashion

  1. I used to collect books of paper dolls as a girl and now have a Jane Austen paper doll book also, which I will never cut out. As much as I like looking at the fashions and trying to imagine gowns described in the books I read, I am so happy to relax in my loose and comfortable clothes at home.

  2. Great post! Wouldn’t mind if the Pelisse came back into style at all. But I had one niggling question: What would you do if you had straight hair? I say take a look at Charlotte Lucas and her hairstyle (from the 1995 P&P version) I loved how elegant her hair was. 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

    • I love Charlotte’s hairstyle, too. (1995 P&P is my absolute favorite!) I”m sure that some with straight hair did opt for a simple, elegant look like hers. But curls were very fashionable, and many women with straight hair also used curling tongs, curl papers worn at night, or tied their hair up in rags at night to achieve the desired curly look.

    • It’s hard for me to even imagine what it must have been like to live at a time when the powdered wig look was popular. I would have been happy to see the natural look come into fashion for sure!

  3. Very interesting post! I learned that the hair styles came from the sculptures they admired. Time to rewatch all the movies to check out the similarities 🙂

    • It’s fascinating, isn’t it? I didn’t have space to include all the roman sculptures that remind me of regency hairstyles, but it’s amazing how similar some of them are!

  4. Enjoyable post..thanks for sharing the link to the paper dolls…have been dressing up my Emma for days

  5. Thanks so much for this wonderful post!!!
    I’m late to the party, but I had such fun with the paper dolls! That’s something I’ll be doing again and again. Thanks for sharing the fun!

  6. Pleasantly surprised and enjoyed spending time looking at the paper dolls. The reminder to get my copy of “Fashion in the time of Jane Austen” to reference.
    I was inspired by your thoughts. Thank you for taking me back to a simpler time of my life.

  7. I’m terrified to go anywhere near the Regency Bella site because I am sure I would be lost for hours, if not days! That sounds like sooooo much fun!

    The fashion of the Regency is wonderful. While I do love the huge gowns of other periods, the loose draping of the Regency is my favorite. I never tire of women’s, or men’s fashion from the era, which is why I have several hundred examples on my many Pinterest boards! LOL!

    Thanks for a fun post, Anna.

  8. Thanks for sharing about the fashions and the virtual paper doll! That was quite fun!! When I was about 10 I was given a “History of Costume” book and there between sackback dresses of the 1780s and the cotton dresses of the 1830s was a little oval inset of two ladies in front of a pianoforte in empire waist dresses and with soft curled and slightly twisted hair. The little blurb said it was an era of less restriction with fewer petticoats and no figure altering corsets or hoops. I was in love. I had an old fashioned night gown that looked similar and played dress up!Thanks for letting me relive my youth!

    • I fell in love with the fashions at the same age, Rose! I saw a movie poster (can’t even remember which one) with a girl dressed in a beautiful empire gown and immediately wanted nothing more than to dress like that.

  9. In the late 60s (1960s, that is) the empire wait was in fashion and I loved it. I missed them when they were gone. I wish we could bring them back (and not those awful peasant blouses that mimic maternity tops), But fashion is a fickle lady…

  10. It’s funny, I’m in no way a fashionista in real-life, but I am also fascinated by Regency fashion, and could (and have) spend hours just looking at their lovely clothes. Loved your links! Great post!

  11. I love anything to do with regency clothes and the links you provided will be used! Thanks for sharing this with us for I love ‘dress up’ dolls too!

  12. Thanks for that. I am always fascinated by the regency fashions. I have loved Georgette Heyer books for many many years and am now loving many books based on Pride and Prejudice so look forward to checking out both websites.

    • I’ve always loved Georgette Heyer books, too. They’ve all been re-issued recently with the most gorgeous covers. I don’t have any of the new editions, but I’ve been coveting them!

      • Thanks so much Regina. I am especially grateful to have read the alternate ending to Powder and Patch. I didn’t know about it before and enjoyed it very much.

  13. I’m going to have to look into that website. The Bella you’re dressing also pops up in a game called “Regency Solitaire” where Bella is the main character of a slightly Heyer/Austen story you work your way through by playing solitaire.

  14. Thanks Anna, I too love fashion and have great fun looking over so many great Pinterest boards that are available. I found Sarah Downing’s book at my local library and ordered a copy way back when I first got into JAFF. Thanks for the reminder. ~Jen Red~

    • Pinterest is an AMAZING resource, Jennifer! I have a ‘regency inspiration’ page over there that I use constantly when I’m dressing my characters, it’s fantastic to be able to keep all the great images in one place.

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