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Tuesday, July 17

My Take On Regency Fashion in Film...

These days it is not uncommon to see prominent cleavage shown in films set during the Regency era, most recently in ITV's Mansfield Park, where the actress Billie Piper in the role of Fannie Price is dressed to show off her two best assets. Aside from her loose and riotous hair, with which I also find exception, this particular Fanny Price fails to exhibit in her daytime attire the modesty of character for which she is famously known. I understand the producers deliberately chose a livelier actress to play this rather stiff and morally upright heroine, but in my opinion they went overboard in "undressing" her.

In The Mirror of Graces a Lady of Distinction writes: "Indeed, in all cases, a modest reserve is essential to the perfection of feminine attraction." The author goes on to caution young women to "throw a shadow over her yet-unimpaired charms, than to hold them in the light..." In other words, modesty was the key for daytime attire. Bosoms were to be entirely covered, and if the dresses were designed with a low scoop neckline, they were "filled in with a chemisette (a dickey made of thin material) or fichu (a thin scarf tucked into a low neckline). Unlike today, cleavage was NOT a daytime accessory." Rakehell

In the image above, Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) is shown in proper modest attire; her friend Isabella Thorpe (Carey Mulligan) is not. One imagines that the director and costume designer hoped to demonstrate the difference between the young ladies' temperaments through visual cues, but I found this inaccuracy to historical detail distracting.

Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility clung to a much more accurate picture of the modesty women displayed in those times.



A woman's assets could be revealed during the evening, however. Evening gowns allowed even a girl on the marriage mart to bare her bosom and arms, but she was also required to wear long evening gloves that came up high or over the elbow. In fact, James Gillray famously poked fun at the evening fashions of the day, depicting a slut dressed in evening attire without gloves. Shameless!

Despite Gillray's satiric viewpoint, a young lady of quality would only dare to go so far and then would step no further, as shown in the rather chaste evening gown from Vintage Textiles below and in the fronticepiece of The Mirror of Graces.

Neoclassic silk evening gown with metallic trim, 1800

Evening Gowns, Fronticepiece of The Mirror of Graces

Read more about Regency Fashion on this Jane Austen Centre site: A Tour of Regency Fashion: Day and Evening Dress

In addition, click on the Regency Fashion tag below in order to read all the posts in this blog on the topic.

5 comments:

Lori said...

This is wonderful -- thanks! Jane has some wonderful quotes about fashion at the time. I will try to dig some of those up.

Icha said...

Wooow... the Neoclassic dress is so beautiful, dear. Very alluring as well...

Nice article, thanks a lot!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I do think you need to brush up on your Regency fashion knowledge a bit. Cleavage was common in those days, as portraits contemporary to the times would show you. In fact, the famous "muslin disease" was the direct result of transparent fabrics and extremely low-cut necklines, leaving a woman's chest open to the cold. Do a little research before you make such baldly incorrect claims, please.

Mrs Hobbs said...

in reply to the annonymous comment before mine (dated 5th march 2008) please be so kind as to not direct such accusations. You may believe the writter of this article is wrong, but i do not
after researching for a good period of my own life into regency fashion i do know a fair amount more than others, and i can assure you that this article is most correct in its portrayal of regency fashion
yes, women's attire was low cut and the fabrics were very thin, but the low cut neckline of a dress was covered during the day with a sheer fabric (as the autor of this article states)

thankyou

Favilla said...

That's interesting indeed, especially the character in question being Fanny Price...