What Would Jane Austen Have Worn?

What Would Jane Austen Have Worn?

Jane Austen was born in 1775. By 1795, when she was 20 years of age, fashion was beginning to change rather drastically. What her mother would have worn during the early years of Jane’s life would be quite different from what was fashionable in the first part of the 1800’s.

The 1700’s had seen panniers where a woman’s width could be quite impressive, and she would have to turn sideways to get through most doorways. That century also saw the robes à la Française, a la Polonaise, and à l’Anglaise.


Queen Louisa Ulrica’s coronation gown of 1751

Robe à la Française

Ladies’ fashions in the 1700’s had normal waistlines no matter how extreme the rest of the garment. The 1790’s found that the Empire look was becoming popular and featured a high waistline and was made of lighter materials. Not only were the ladies’ looks changing, but the men’s fashions were as well. 

In the early 1800’s, women began wearing thin gauzy outer dresses while the men began wearing trousers and overcoats. Gone were the hoops and panniers that made being fashionable a little awkward. However, the new look did have its disadvantages as well such as being caught in a rainstorm and having the thin fabric cling or wind up between the legs and outlining or even revealing quite a bit more of the female figure than might be desired. Then again, some deliberately exposed more of a woman’s breast even to the point of using see-through fabrics or dampening their gowns as Lady Caroline Lamb was reported to have done.

For either century, the fabric and the amount of trim, especially embroidery would have driven the price higher. Silks and satins that were heavily embroidered could cost a pretty penny. With Jane’s family being of a humble origin, her mother would probably have worn less fancy dresses that would have been more affordable for a clergyman’s wife. Nonetheless, if she was skilled with a needle, Mrs. Austen could have added her own embroidery to embellish her gowns to make them more fashionable.

Apparently, with this change of fashion, there seemed to be a trend to pursuing one’s individuality instead of being so much a part of the crowd. Ladies’ gowns could be very, very plain or could be trimmed as fancy as one wished.

But what would Jane Austen have worn? I’m not sure there’s any record of how fancy Jane Austen liked her clothing. So, let’s take a look at the clothing in general that would have been worn throughout half of her life. The high waistlines would have prevailed as the trend toward having a gown with a normal waistline began again in the early to mid-1820’s, long after Austen’s death in 1817.

What I found interesting were the cuts of the Spencer jackets and the Pelisses or coats. When I thought about it, they had to have similar cuts to the gowns so these garments didn’t wrinkle. The Spencers, of course, were not a problem because they ended right under the breast.
















Bonnets were expected to be worn when a woman left the house, and they came in many styles. Poke bonnets and stovepipes were among some of the shapes found during the Regency period. Here is a beautiful silk stovepipe found around 1812-1815.

And every self-respecting woman probably carried a reticule. Or did they? For a while, reticules were a little bit scandalous as they were replacing pockets—which were impractical on the thin Empire gowns—that were considered part of one’s undergarments. They were even called ridicules for a time.

Even if not scandalous, the idea of women carrying their private belongings externally, in their hand, was considered ridiculous.  The Almanac des Ridicules, 1801, begins with a little rhyme about reticules and their ridiculousness to the effect that a woman loses her reticule, and wants to post a sign “don’t do a thing, says her husband, you will always have enough ridiculousness.”  Reticules were already widely known as ridicules by this time. TheDreamstress.com

Reticules were relatively easy to make as they were simple drawstring pouches. And they could be decorated to go with particular garments. Modistes and individuals were able to make them even from scraps of material without resorting to the skills of the leathermakers of heavier bags.

I had to laugh about this next item as I had gotten the impression that pointed toed shoes were a 20th-century device of torture for women. Wrong! No telling how far back shoemakers have shown a dislike for women’s feet. Although this is a lovely pair of slippers, I would hate to wear them for an extended period of time. Ouch!

Alas, there is no way that I can cover the variety of clothing that Jane Austen might have worn. I suspect that she might have liked her gowns a little fancy. But, maybe that is just my fancy.  Anyway, if you love beautiful antique clothing, visit my Pinterest pages. I have the 1800’s, the 1700’s, Regency, and even men’s vintage clothing as well. And you would not believe the embroidery on the men’s court suits. It is absolutely gorgeous. However, I will forewarn you that you need to allot a little bit of time as I have over 10,000 pins on just the 1800’s board. 

And, if you would prefer a board of food tips and recipes, I’ve got that too. Enjoy!


Favorite 1800’s Gowns

Fav Regency Gowns

1700’s Gowns



18 Responses to What Would Jane Austen Have Worn?

  1. You’re welcome, Sheila. Click on the ‘Favorite 1800’s Gowns’ link at the end of my post, and you will see my picture. When searching, search for Gianna Thomas Author and click on the one that has my picture, and it will take you to all five of my boards. Enjoy!

  2. I have always thought that the low necklines would be very uncomfortable in cold weather – even inside. This post was interesting but I am looking for a way to find your Pinterest board. Is there a title or do I just type in your name? I have a few boards myself but none of 10,000 pins. I may have one or two @ several thousands. Thanks for your research and sharing.

  3. Those outfits are lovely. They do look uncomfortable. Jane Austen would probably try to wear something more practical and comfortable.

    • Thank you for your comment, Marilyn. Yes, the 1700’s gowns were gorgeous but awkward with the hoops, panniers, etc. But the embroidery on the men’s court suits was unbelievable. (see my Men’s Clothing Pinterest Page) The Empire gowns during the Regency were probably much more comfortable so long as one took into consideration the drawbacks such as the cold, wind, and rain and compensated for those drawbacks. 🙂

  4. Those dresses with the panniers must have weighed a ton! And they must have been so impractical too. The Regency dress with the embroidery is lovely but I guess they’d have to be careful when cleaning it, if it was ever cleaned, that is. The silks would have been impossible to wash I’d have thought, whereas the muslins would probably have been easier to take care of.

    I remember reading somewhere that Lady Caroline Lamb used to deliberately dampen her gowns to make them cling to her body more.

    • I agree about the panniers, Anji. Where did they even come up with the idea for something like that to begin with? And the cleaning would probably have been a nightmare. And I’ve also read that about Lady Caroline Lamb. She probably wasn’t the only one that did that either. I wonder if Jane Austen chose the name Caroline for Miss Bingley because of Caroline Lamb. Could both of them have had traits of loose cannons? Ah, well! At least the clothes were beautiful. 🙂

  5. Wonderful post and pictures. I’ve just marked your boards to follow. Hopefully might get to go through them the weekend.

    • Thank you, Teresa. This was a fun post to write. And I hope you enjoy all the gorgeous clothing on my boards. Check back as I’m continually adding to them. 🙂

    • I’m delighted you enjoyed it, Caryl. I too love the older fashions. They just seem more elegant than many of the garments of today. The beautiful handwork, I think, is what makes the difference.

  6. Hi Gianna – That was so much fun! I’ll be sure to visit your pinterest board. Those are all wonderful pictures.

    That was particularly funny about the shoes, “No telling how far back shoemakers have shown a dislike for women’s feet.”

    I’m sure the earlier dresses were made as light as possible, but they look so heavy. A woman like Lady Catherine would have been kept strong her whole life, I suppose. It’s like wearing a workout every day. I can see, with the high waisted ones, why women were sometimes told to add some lace to the top. They look like they could get quite scandalous.

    Thank you for a great post – Summer

    • You’re quite welcome, Summer. The Empire was just the one layer with a thin petticoat/under dress underneath. Some of the top layers were even sheer. The earlier 1700’s garments had at least two layers and had undergarments and corsets and could have hoops or panniers as well. An Empire out of the lightweight materials was probably welcomed for the hotter months, but would not impart much warmth in the colder months. Love your comment about Lady Catherine being kept strong from wearing her garments. 🙂 There are so many gorgeous gowns, etc on Pinterest that I am constantly adding to my boards. House of Worth alone in the Victorian Era had over 23,000 designs for gowns. And many of them are so gorgeous. Enjoy!

  7. Some beautiful clothes were pictured. I especially like the empire waisted dresses. Never heard that Reticules were once considered scandalous. Very interesting post, thanks for sharing.

    • You’re quite welcome, Darcy. I have to restrain myself from spending hours and hours looking at all the antique clothing that’s on Pinterest. The evening gowns are especially gorgeous.

  8. Lovely post Gianna. I have always enjoyed fashion through the ages. I visited the exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Shambellie House in Dumfries and the Assembly Rooms in Bath and loved them all. I’m really glad the wide dresses went out of fashion! Although I do love the pelisse you pictured, very elegant. I could see Darcy buying that for Elizabeth. I do like the dresses in the 1995 & 2005 P&P productions but as you say, some of them would be scandalous in a rainstorm. Thanks for sharing this.

    • My pleasure, Glynis. How nice that you’ve been able to see many of the beautiful gowns in person. And, yes, I can picture Elizabeth wearing that beautiful pelisse also. Many of the gowns from the Regency period are absolutely gorgeous as the dressmakers of that day added trims and hand embroidery to make them special. And they’ve survived time because of the way they were stored: in drawers rather than being hung up which would have put strain on the garments. With the exception of the corsets, some of the gowns look like they would be comfortable to wear. Perhaps, in future, they might come back in fashion. 🙂

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