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Inside the Book

From the Introduction to Hilary Davidson's Dress in the Age of Jane Austen:

'Civility’, ‘fancying’, ‘imprudence’. Jane Austen used these three words more in her writing than any other author. They epitomise dress in the age when Austen lived and worked. A rising middle class sought ever greater civility, they consumed new fancies from other lands and times and manufacture that influenced fashions; and Book Coveraccusations of imprudence were flung against wealthy style leaders and their unsuccessful imitators.

Austen (16 December 1775–18 July 1817) is one of the world’s most influential, studied and beloved authors. Her works are synonymous with the fashions of the‘Regency’ period, awash with high waists, heaving bosoms and cutaway coats. Yet, what did people who lived during the times and places Austen knew really wear? She is foremost a social commentator, and dress is a nuanced social marker, so clothing and needlework pinpoint niceties of character in her novels. Austen’s letters reveal a lively sartorial interest, beside concerns about how to dress well on a limited income. During the author’s short life, unprecedented and accelerated change saw Britain’s turbulent entry into the modern age. Clothing reflected these transitions. Over a period of twenty years, fashion moved from ornamented width to minimal, streamlined ‘naturalism’, then widened again with the advent of Romanticism. How did these changes correspond to national and global events? To what extent does the microcosm of dress in Austen’s defined, middling-gentry world reflect larger concerns and trends? How did her contemporaries obtain clothing? What systems of local and commercial fashion exchange existed and how did technological progress affect those networks? How did fashion incorporate the burgeoning availability of consumer goods? This book attempts to paint a realistic picture of dress in Austen’s era by addressing these questions.

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Hilary Davidson: Historian

Hilary Davidson

Hilary is a dress and textile historian and curator based between Britain and Australia, where she is an honorary associate at the University of Sydney. She has lectured, broadcast and published extensively in her field, as well as being a noted poet. Her latest work, Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion, is set to be a classic reference book of the period, in use not only by historians but film and television companies involved in re-creating this much loved period of English history.

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