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Fashion and Needlework in the

Works of Jane Austen


Review by Cheryl Bolen

A FRIVOLOUS DISTINCTION: Fashion and Needlework in the Works of Jane Austen
By Penelope Byrde
Bath City Council
1979, reprinted with corrections, 1986
42 pages

I purchased this handy little reference at Bathís costume museum, but it is now available in a more recent ó and larger ó edition on amazon.com and other internet sources. Look for it under the title JANE AUSTEN FASHION: Fashion and Needlework in the Works of Jane Austen.

Keeper of costume at the Bath Museums, Byrde uses Austenís own writing, including her letters, to illustrate the prevailing fashions of the regency and supplements it with her own knowledge of historical costume.

The book is divided into sections on womenís dress (including underclothes, accessories, cloaks, hats and caps, footwear parasols and umbrellas, muffs and gloves, bags and purses, jewelry, hairdressing and cosmetics), the making and care of clothes, dress for special occasions, menís dress, needlework, and a guide to textile terms.

My edition has 16 illustrations, many of them in color.

It is the small details, like names of jewelers and face lotions, that give readers an added bonus.

Here is an example of the kind of information gleaned in this book: "While staying with her [rich] brotherís family Jane Austen had her hair dressed by a Mr. Hall who came to the house both to do the ladiesí hair and give instruction to her sister-in-lawís maid. Mr. Hall . . . charged Elizabeth 5s for every time of dressing her hair, and 5s for every lesson to Sace." Austen was grateful the hairdresser only charged her 2s5d for cutting her hair.

I used to go through books written during the regency and catalogue little gems of information, like the name of a particular wine or the street where a certain jeweler was located, but Byrde has done the work for us.

This reference is a wonderful resource.

This review first appeared in The Quizzing Glass in June 2007.  
 

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