Costuming in the EMMA. Movie with Fashion Historian Hilary Davidson

Emma and Mr. Knightley dance at the Crown Inn, Focus Features © 2020

The new film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn opened in general release in the US on March 6th. This enchanting and visually stunning interpretation of Austen’s classic tale of Miss Emma Woodhouse as the misapplying matchmaker of Highbury has received raves from the press and viewers alike.

The costumes beautifully define the film, greatly adding to the characterization and the drama. Joining us here today is fashion historian Hilary Davidson who has generously contributed a guest blog to share her insights and impressions of the costumes made for the new film by Academy Award-winning designer Alexandra Byrne.

Welcome, Hilary. 

Emma. is the best-costumed screen adaptation of Austen ever made. Strong words but delighted ones from a dress historian who has recently written a book on Regency fashion and seen a lot of odd screen versions of the period’s dress. Costume designer Alexandra Byrne and her team studied many original garments in British historical collections and threw all their research into a gloriously realised vision of circa. 1815 dress.

Comfort (1796) colored etching from the nypl.digitalcollections

Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, The New York Public Library. “Comfort” The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Director Autumn de Wilde clearly adores the details of dress and pays them great attention. Throughout the film, we are shown the components of women’s dress and how they were arranged, from the knee-high stockings to the chemise and stays that helped create the illusion of a natural body. Emma demonstrates that Regency women didn’t wear underpants in a pose taken straight from Comfort [image]. Mr. Knightley is dressed from the skin to coat in a sequence I’m going to use in teaching fashion history. Continue reading

Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion, by Hilary Davidson — A Review

Dress in the Age of Jane Austen, by Hilary Davidson (2019)“Fashions come and go; bad taste is timeless.” — Beau Brummell

So saith the arbiter of style in the Regency era when all of Jane Austen’s books were published and she and her characters dwelled. Since fashion is mentioned sparingly in her novels how is one to know, two hundred years after the fact, what is fashionable and what is in bad taste? Is that actress in the current period drama wearing clothing appropriate to the era, her age, and her social status? Is the hero wearing a top hat that Victorian author Charles Dickens would have worn? Is that pelisse polyester, and is a half “updo” hairstyle totally inappropriate? Dress in the Age of Jane Austen, by Hilary Davidson explores these dilemmas for modern readers of Austen’s fiction, the adaptations of her works, and those set during the same timeframe.

When I first opened this book and skimmed its pages, I was overcome by its beauty. Page after page of eye-popping images of Regency clothing, portraits, landscapes, fashion plates, and cartoons by famous artists and illustrators of Austen’s day. The publisher states that the book boasts 180 full-color illustrations, and I do not doubt it. Here is a slide show of a few that I found especially significant to give you a glimpse of the extensive research that the author conducted to bring the book to life.

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