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Clothes of the Jane Austen Period

It is reported that when Jane Austen's parents told their unsuspecting daughter in the spring of 1801 that they intended to leave the family parsonage at Steventon, to settle in Bath, she was dismayed. She accepted the inevitable and wrote to her sister Cassandra, " - I get more and more reconciled to the idea of our removal ...... the prospect of spending future summers by the Sea or in Wales is very delightful." Letter no. 29, 3-5 January 1801 OUP Ed. Deirdre Le Faye 1995. In her unfinished novel, Sanditon, the development of seaside resorts is satirised.

This watercolour of Jane by her sister Cassandra, dated 1804, may have been sketched on one of their seaside outings. The blue gown is open at the front, to show the white petticoat, and the bonnet strings are free to catch the breeze.

Portrait of Jane Austen by her sister Cassandra

Portrait of Jane Austen by

Jane Austen's Pelisse

her sister Cassandra, 1804

(private collection)

Jane Austen's Pelisse or outer coat

Jane Austen's pelisse is in the collection of the Hampshire Museum Service and is frequently exhibited at the museum at Chawton. It is made of silk, with a gold motif set on a chestnut brown background.

A pelisse was an outer garment or coat, designed to be both fashionable and functional. There are allusions to pelisses in Mansfield Park and Persuasion and in Jane Austen's letters.

Painting of An Autumnal Pelisse

'Dress is at all times a frivolous distinction ...'
Northanger Abbey Chapter 10

Jane Austen makes many references to clothes in her letters to her sister Cassandra, between 1796 and 1817. She was allowed £5.00 a quarter pocket money by her father during the Steventon years, and records her budgeting:

10 January 1796: ...'You say nothing of the silk stockings; I flatter myself, therefore, that Charles has not purchased any, as I cannot very well afford to pay for them; all my money is spent in buying white gloves and pink persian.' (1)

25 November 1798: ... ' The Overton Scotchman (2) has been kind enough to rid me of some of my money, in exchange for six shifts and four pair of stockings'.

An Autumn Pelisse


1 - persian - a thin, soft silk
2 - a pedlar carrying fabrics and haberdashery
      to villages for doorstep sales

(from La Belle Assemblee, 1812)

The Austen ladies were adept at recycling their clothes.

7-9 October 1808: ....'My Mother is preparing mourning for Mrs E. K. - she has picked her old silk pelisse to peices, & means to have it dyed black for a gown - a very interesting scheme, ...... how is your blue gown? - Mine is all to peices. I think there must have been something wrong in the dye, for in places it divided with a touch. - There was four shillings thrown away; ...'

Excerpts from Jane Austen's Letters
ed. Deirdre Le Faye OUP 1995

Lady's Riding habit
Hats and bonnets of the Jane Austen period

Fashionable costume 1815
(from the Druitt collection)

Hats and bonnets feature in both Jane Austen's letters and novels.

Steventon 27-28 October 1798: '...I bought some Japan Ink likewise, & next week shall begin my operations on my hat, on which You know my principal hopes of happiness depend.'

Bath 2 June 1799: '- Eliz: has given me a hat, & it is not only a pretty hat, but a pretty stile of hat too - It is something like Eliza's - only instead of being all straw, half of it is narrow purple ribbon..'

Parisian head-dresses
(from La Belle Assemblee, 1812)

Fashionable costumes of 1815

Bath 11 June 1799
: 'We have been to the cheap Shop & very cheap we found it, but there are only flowers made there, no fruit - & I could get 4 or 5 very pretty sprigs of the former for the same money which would procure only one Orleans plumb, in short could get more for three or four shillings than I could have means of bringing home, I cannot decide on the fruit till I hear from you again. - Besides, I cannot help thinking that it is more natural to have flowers grow out of the head than fruit. - What do you think on that subject?'

Fashionable costume 1815

(from the Druitt collection)

Fashion plates of the period 1812-1815 depict the sort of gowns country girls might have admired.

(Acknowledgement for plates: Hampshire County Council Museums Service)