Fashion and Needlework in the
Works of Jane Austen
Review by Cheryl Bolen
A FRIVOLOUS DISTINCTION: Fashion and Needlework in the Works of Jane
By Penelope Byrde
Bath City Council
1979, reprinted with corrections, 1986
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
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
This reference is a wonderful resource.
This review first appeared in The Quizzing Glass in June 2007.