Jane Austen’s books take place during the Regency period in which fashion was inspired by classical Greco/Roman art. Instead of the elaborate silks and hooped skirts of the 18th century, fashion transitioned towards something more simple. Men’s fashion was also simplified following the Great Male Renunciation, which transitioned men away from frills and colorful clothing and toward understated, athletic, and “democratic” fashions.
The Jane Austen adaptations in the last 30 years broadly differ in not only how they represent stories but also how they represent the fashion of the characters. The adaptations that adhere strictly to the storylines of the books typically have the most historically accurate costumes, while the more imaginative or modern renditions take more creative liberties in costume design. The best costumes are the costumes that pay homage to the context of the story and personify the character themselves.
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Lalita’s Wedding Dress – Bride And Prejudice (2004)
One of the few Bollywood stars to make it in Hollywood, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan stars in one of the most colorful renditions of Pride and Prejudice. In Bride and Prejudice, LA meets Bombay when Lalita Bakshi falls for Mr. Darcy, a wealthy American businessman who visits India with friends for a wedding.
Lalita wears a traditional Indian wedding dress in saffron red which includes opulent embroidery and beading. It is appropriate that she wears a traditional dress because she had judged Mr. Darcy for looking down on her culture. She was far from right!
Isabella Thorpe’s Ball Gown – Northanger Abbey (2007)
Before taking on the role of Kitty, Carey Mulligan played the young heroine Catherine’s (Felicity Jones) frenemy, Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey. The role of Isabella is a far cry from Kitty. Isabella is a social climber and she knew how to dress the part.
One of her best costumes was her dress for the white ball in Bath. This dress could be found in a painting from the time period. Her Grecian gown included a swooping neckline, puff sleeves, and gold embellishments styled with a beautiful jade necklace. With this dress, Isabella looks far from penniless.
Bridget’s Playboy Bunny Costume – Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Some fans may not realize that Bridget Jones’s Diary is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Clothing is involved in a surprising number of Bridget Jones’s mishaps. Her tiny skirt is the subject of her first conversation with Daniel Cleaver, her pink bra is a valuable commodity in a Thai prison, and her struggle with undergarments is frequent.
But, one of her best mishaps comes when she mistakenly wears a playboy bunny costume to a party that is no longer a costume party. It is an awkward moment for Bridget that she somewhat graciously manages. Although she is doing her best to become more confident and attractive, she achieves the opposite in this scene.
Marianne’s Pink Dress – Sense And Sensibility (2008)
Marianne’s pink dress in Sense and Sensibility is symbolic of her character’s personality in many ways. Just like Marianne, the dress is simple and embodies a girlish freshness and casualness that is both playful and relaxed. Marianne pairs this with hair worn down or in a loose updo and a ribbon when she is feeling especially romantic (on her date with Willoughby).
She also wears a bright yellow shall suggesting an Indian origin or influence which hints at her hopeful and adventurous spirit at this point in the movie. This look has a mixture of elements that are not entirely fitting for the regency period but do an excellent job of painting who Marianne is at this point in the story.
Elizabeth’s Brown Collared Dress – Pride And Prejudice (2005)
In the best Jane Austen adaptation, Elizabeth Bennet was more tomboyish and one with nature than other iterations of this Pride and Predjudice character. This is heavily pronounced in Lizzie’s wardrobe as she wears a variety of earth-tone dresses in well-worn fabrics. Costume designer and three-time Oscar Nominee and winner Jacqueline Durran also wanted Lizzie to look clever, bright, and not interested in current fashions.
The dress that best optimizes these characteristics is the brown dress that she wears with a white collared tunic. This dress has an academic feel to it and is softened by her beautiful shall that also reveals her romantic daydreamer side. Although the dress is not representative of women’s fashion of the era, it combines various elements of men’s fashion.
The Bennet Sister’s Day Dresses – Pride And Prejudice And Zombies (2016)
Not only did Pride, Predjudice, and Zombies take creative liberties with the story (by adding zombies) but it also took creative liberties in designing several of the costumes. For example, the movie ends with Lily James wearing trousers!
However, the most historically accurate costumes were the best in the movie. The costume designers found a way to make Regency-era dresses and bonnets look entirely appropriate for hunting zombies. The Bennet sister’s day dresses and spencer jackets were not only perfect for the period but were perfect for each of the characters.
Lydia and Kitty Matching – Pride And Prejudice (2005)
In the Pride and Prejudice Companion Book, Costume Designer Jacqueline Durran described Lydia and Kitty as teenage Tweedledee and Tweedledum. She designed their costumes to be mirror images of each other so when one is wearing a yellow jacket, the other is wearing a yellow dress creating an asymmetry between the two.
This is fitting for the sisters who are attached at the hip and have very similar personalities. Kitty and Lydia’s dresses combine Regency-era fashion with the retro styles worn by their mother who they closely take after.
Ms. Elton’s Orange Dress – Emma (2020)
One of the best adaptations of Emma, the 2020 movie is full of sumptuous outfits and is a visual feast. The costume that personifies a character best is the ensemble Mrs. Elton wears when she and her new husband visit the Woodhouses following their wedding.
The Eltons are gloating about their recent nuptials and the orange dress characterizes the crass and egoic personality of Mrs. Elton. The dress itself is plain apart from the color, however, it is accessorized by a ruffled collar necklace and a large bow atop her head. Surprisingly, this ridiculous look is perfectly fitting for the era making it one of the best costumes in the movie.
Cher’s Yellow School Girl Plaid – Clueless (1995)
Cher’s yellow plaid Dolce & Gabbana school girl uniform with Mary Jane shoes and knee-high socks in this modern interpretation of Austen’s Emma is one of the most iconic costumes in movie history. A key component of the opening Clueless scene that lives rent-free in everyone’s head, the ensemble was a perfect introduction to the character who is playful and fun yet takes herself very seriously.
This look alone defined an era in 90s fashion and sent girls across the country to buy tall socks and plaid skirts. Over 25 years later, the outfit remains relevant in pop culture. In an interview with Today, Alicia Silverstone revealed that there were also blue and red versions of the outfit and the yellow was a last-minute decision.
Mr. Darcy’s Wet Shirt – Pride And Prejudice (1995)
The 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice set the bar high for every Austen adaptation that has followed. One beloved scene from the miniseries occurs when Mr. Darcy takes an impromptu swim in the lake. Surprisingly, this scene was not in the Jane Austen novel, however, it shows a turning point for Mr. Darcy who is starting to take himself less seriously. Mr. Darcy is now the one acting with impropriety when he bumps into Elizabeth moments later.
The wet shirt symbolizes taking steps outside of society’s expectations for him. His otherwise perfectly acceptable and historically accurate ensemble is an excellent representation of men’s fashion for the era. His full-length trousers, riding boots, double-breasted waistcoat, and accompanying shaggy hair are fitting for a man of his social standing.
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About The Author
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Hello! I am a freelance writer and instructional designer. Currently living in Texas but moving to California in the summer. Happy to join the Screen Rant team and write about Movie/TV content that I enjoy.
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