cover image Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion

Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion

Hilary Davidson. Yale Univ., $40 (336p) ISBN 978-0-300-21872-5

With this debut, Davidson, a dress and textile historian, has done a superb job of placing clothing in Jane Austen’s fiction and in her journals and letters within the larger context of Regency fashion and its reflection of a rapidly changing, and globalizing, society. As Davidson emphasizes, mentions of clothing in Austen, be it Fanny arriving at Mansfield Park with only two sashes or Miss Bates’s unfashionable wardrobe in Emma, always carry social significance. Davidson’s contribution is not only to note this significance within the context of the novels but to tie it to larger trends in British, European, and global life. She comprehensively shows how factors such as the cold and damp English climate, the ban on French goods (and resulting black markets) during the Napoleonic wars, and widespread familial ties around the globe influenced what both Austen and her characters wore. A particularly strong aspect of the book is its placement of the Austen family’s own clothing use in a wide context, including through Austen’s brothers’ naval travels, family members making and procuring clothing and textiles for each other, and the Austens’ access to the global textile market. This extensively researched and beautifully illustrated book is fascinating to read, fills a gap in Austen scholarship, and makes an impressive contribution to Austen studies. (Nov.)