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!