Clothing,  Frivolity,  TV and Film

Who wore it best?

Yesterday, my daughters and I went out to shop for a prom dress for my youngest. We had a lot of fun and she found a lovely princess-y dress that fits her perfectly. It’s making me think about pretty dresses in general, and the gowns Austen heroines wore to balls and other events.

Here’s Catherine Morland in the 2007 Northanger Abbey, looking very pretty as she should. Love the embroidery!

I had to show the 2007 version first. Here’s an image from the 1986 version, which I thought as weird and problematic as the 2007 version was charming.

On to Pride & Prejudice–so many versions!

The costumes in the 1940 version always crack me up! I have heard they were reused from Gone with the Wind, but I can’t verify that particular rumor.

Here’s Elizabeth Garvie in the 1980 version, which I know many people like, though I thought David Rintoul was too stiff for Darcy. Anyway, she looks lovely and Regency, though perhaps that decolletage is more revealing than I expected for Elizabeth?

Here’s Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth in the much-loved 1995 version with Colin Firth. This must have been taken for promo purposes because it isn’t from a scene in the movie, but shows the gown nicely. I love the pleating in the bodice and think her hair looks both accurate and lovely. Yes, I think this is my favorite P&P outfit.

And here’s Keira Knightley in the 2005 version, known for its controversial costumes. The waist is lower than we expect for Regency (maybe it was an attempt at doing something more transitional, late 1790s?) but it is pretty. Her hair looks nice but doesn’t feel quite accurate to me. The lack of gloves is rather jarring, too.

I know she’s a minor villain and not the heroine, but I can’t go without mentioning Caroline Bingley as played by Kelly Reilly. I’ve only seen one sleeveless gown in any period images, and that was in a portrait where the dress may have been more of a costume than regular apparel. Maybe this “gown” was intended to portray Caroline as racy and fashion-forward, but I can’t help thinking real Regency people would be worrying that she’d lost her mind showing up at a ball in what looks more like undergarments. Though unlike Elizabeth, she is wearing gloves.

I thought the 1971 version of Sense and Sensibility was rather a snooze, but I’m finding some of these pics quite amusing. I hadn’t remembered how much the sisters looked like twins. So dramatic and so fluffy! Though actually I rather love the gauzy sleeves.

These are not ball gowns but this image of matchy-matchy outfits is too funny not to share.

I really, really like these dresses from the 1996 version with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. I have a pale blue Regency gown, but if I ever get another, I’d like to have one like these, in a deeper color with metallic trim.

I liked the 2008 version of Sense and Sensibility, but I’m puzzled by the gloves in these pictures. Evening gloves in fashion prints and other pictures are nearly always white though I’ve heard of pink and yellow (not green though). Since the Dashwood sisters aren’t wealthy, I would have thought they (especially Elinor) would have white ones that would go with any gown. But these don’t even go well with the gowns! I have a theory. Maybe the kind but somewhat vulgar Mrs. Jennings bought them for the girls as a gift, and they felt obliged to wear them?

Here’s Gwyneth Paltrow in the 1996 version of Emma. This is a nice example of a layered dress. Very chic! I’ve heard that the gowns for this production were a bit fancier than reality, but they are lovely to look at.

And here’s an image from the 2009 version, which reminded me that that I have never seen it!  Now putting it onto my To Do List!  This gown is lovely and although white was popular, it’s also historically accurate to have some colors.

Here’s Amanda Root in the 1995 version of Persuasion. I like the detail around the neckline and the jewelry. Very lovely and ladylike!

Here’s an image from the 2007 version, which I have mixed feelings about (well, no mixed feelings about that awkward-not-in-a-good-way kiss). But I like the velvet and the color is interesting.
I’ve seen two versions of Mansfield Park, neither of which I feel is a good representation of the book. Letting that go, I did enjoy the 1999 version as a story on its own. The embellishment on this dress is interesting–I’d like to hear from a costume expert as to whether it is accurate. But again, there is a shocking dearth of gloves.

The 2007 version I saw only once and thought it very strange. I couldn’t find a ballroom image but here is Fanny on what must have been her wedding day. I’m not sure what I dislike more: the inaccuracy of the costuming, her pose, or her sullen expression.


So which dresses are your favorites?  Any theories on the odd gloves in the 2008 S&S, or Caroline Bingley’s gown in the 2005 P&P? Or why Fanny looks so unhappy about marrying Edmund?


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Sandra Schwab
5 years ago

The picture from the 1996 P&P made me giggle because it is the one I used to explain to my students about 19th-century underwear and the push-up effects of Regency stays. 🙂 I love the dresses Lizzie wears in that film, and I particularly like the mustard-colored spencer! (We shall keep quiet about the 2005 film, where they left out the most important sentence of the whole book! ARGH!!!!) (I watched the film with my mum, and my mum hated me afterwards because I commented on everything from the lack of nice boobage to weird acting and dreadful cravats. LOL!)

The dresses in the 1940 film are a hoot! 😀

And – gah! – that kiss in the 2007 Persuasion! (The first time I saw this version, I yelled “PUNCH HIM ALREADY!” at the TV.) I liked Rupert Penry-Jones in Regency clothes, but imo, there wasn’t any kind of chemistry between the two leads.

As to the 2007 Northanger Abbey — now *that* was adorbs.

Sandra Schwab
5 years ago
Reply to  Elena Greene

Oooh, I’d love to join you for some JA movie nights!!! I’d bring cake and cookies!

Sonya Heaney
5 years ago

According to the folks over at Frock Flicks (my go-to site for all things historical costume) the rumour about the Gone With the Wind costumes being used in Pride and Prejudice isn’t true. I’ve never seen it; I’m a bit frightened of it considering all the changes I’ve heard they made.

I know 1980s Darcy was stiff and stagey, but he is also my favourite! He is the only one I find attractive, and the more I watch it, the more I get out of the entire production’s subtlety.
Garvie is also my favourite Elizabeth Bennet. Jennifer Ehle was too smug, and far too matronly for such a young character, and the less said about Knightley, the better!

The more I see of the 2005 P&P, the more I want to cry. There is just nothing about it – from costumes to manners to ANYTHING – that is even remotely period. And Caroline Bingley going out in her undergarments…?

Apparently the director hates the Regency, and so decided to change the era. It annoys me that he even bothered with Austen if he hates it all so much.

The Sense and Sensibility costumes (either of the more recent versions) are generally lovelier than the P&P costumes.

I think the Paltrow “Emma” costumes were nice, but the harsh hairstyling in that movie takes away a lot of the femininity of them.

I’m on a Persuasion kick at the moment, but haven’t really been paying attention to the costumes (I love the Amanda Root version, but it’s inaccurate that the men were wearing their naval uniforms on land, and it distracts me!).

Sonya Heaney
5 years ago
Reply to  Sonya Heaney

To add to the essay I wrote above(!), have you read the “Making Of” book about P&P 1995? I read my aunt’s copy obsessively back in the 90s, and ordered myself a copy last year. It’s well worth a read.

Sonya Heaney
5 years ago
Reply to  Elena Greene

It’s still in print, and there is a whole chapter on how they recreated the historical costumes. 🙂

Sonya Heaney
5 years ago
Reply to  Elena Greene

Oh, yes. I prefer Mrs Bennet to not be a screeching nightmare! I like both 2005 and 1980 for that.

I didn’t HATE 2005, and actually, I remember leaving the cinema being pretty happy with it. However, the liberties taken with things like Mr Bingley visiting Jane in bed, Elizabeth’s clomping around in the mud in bare feet… My opinion quickly changed.

It is a gorgeous-looking movie on first view, but the historical inaccuracies give me pains!

Elaine Manders
Elaine Manders
5 years ago

Thank you for showing all these Jane Austen versions from the costume prospective. I have several of the DVDs of these and P&P with Colin Firth is my favorite in every way.

Caroline Warfield
5 years ago

What a marvelous post! Thanks for this. Based entirely on these pictures (and ignoring my varied opinions about the film versions) I like Amanda Root/1995 Persuasion the best.

Ammanda McCabe
5 years ago
Reply to  Elena Greene

Ahh, the prom! I hope you’ll share pics of your daughter’s princess-y dress. 🙂 My mother’s prom dress, back in the late ’60s, was very Austen-y, high-waisted, pale yellow with white ribbons. I wish she had saved it. And thanks for all the dresses from all the JA versions! That Garvie photo has my bosom aching in sympathy….

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