It is a truth universally acknowledged, that Jane Austen and the heroines she's created are among the coolest ladies in literary history. That's how I feel, anyway. Like many people around the world, I love Jane Austen. At age 11, I became consumed with Pride and Prejudice and read it most nights (sometimes by candlelight), and I haven't looked back since. I was and am obsessed. I watched every adaptation I could get my hands on. I kept a copy of Captain Wentworth's love letter in the Notes app of my mobile phone. Feeling like a Jane Bennett myself, I spent much of my teen years walking around the house in long white cotton nightgowns with lavender in my hair, and, well, I still do. Committed? Absolutely.
The pastel- and muslin-filled world of the Jane Austen adaptations that I still watch on repeat (and plan to for the rest of my life) was brought to life by women I now worship. Brilliant costume designers like Jenny Beaven, Ruth Myers and Jacqueline Durran who worked on Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Pride and Prejudice,respectively, imbued Austen's characters with the historical likeness of Regency-period England as well as a timeless elegance that makes them and their style eternally beloved.
More recently, I was floored by Alexandra Byrne's sumptuous costumes in Autumn de Wilde's hilarious adaptation of Emma, which I strongly recommend for at-home viewing. Thanks to them, one of my biggest dreams is to don an empire-waist gown and white gloves and attend a ball.
Austen's world is a frilly dream. In a society where bachelors compete for the largest barouche, fans are used to shield private conversations and the best place to fall in love is on the dance floor, of course, the style is camp in the most frou-frou way. Think of the heavy use of organza and the endless streams of ribbons and pearls. A dream!
If this also sounds like your cup of Earl Grey tea, then, dear reader, you are just like me. Every summer, I return to Jane Austen–inspired style as there is nothing floatier, dreamier or more fancy-free. Allow me guide you to a Austen-inspired summer wardrobe replete with linens, dainty florals, pearls and more. Grab a slice of cake, pop on the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack and keep scrolling to see and shop my updated (corset-free, of course) Jane Austen style essentials.
Organza and thin muslin cotton were used as sheer layers during the Regency period to subtly work around the sleeve-length rules. Having semi-opaque sleeves and details were also considered the peak of fancy fashion. Billie Piper as Fanny Price layered organza under cotton dresses throughout Mansfield Park, while Keira Knightley as Lizzie Bennet wore a sheer organza layer over her white dress to the Netherfield Ball.
Straw bucket- and bonnet-style hats à la Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe and Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey were a must in Regency England. On the set of the 2020 adaptation of Emma, nearly 60 unique bonnets were created for the film.
More recently, straw hats have made a comeback in the nostalgic cool style that evokes '90s summertime by the beach. I love my straw hat, which I found in a charity shop and consider it a summer staple. From flowy dresses to tees and shorts, I wear it with any and everything.
In the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Lizzie Bennet iconically dons pearl earrings with pearls in her hair too as she dances with Mr Darcy for the first time. I remember thinking this was so cool. Please also note Rosamund Pike as Jane (left above) wearing the aforementioned lavender in her hair.
In 2020, pearls have maintained the cult status they reached last year. I find myself just wearing more and more of them all at once. Baroque-style pearls, which look less traditional than classic pearls, are my favourite, along with any Shrimps or Simone Rocha pearl accessory.
In the last year, we (the fashion people and I) have become truly obsessed with puff-sleeve dresses and tops. The updated silhouette pouffes out more in the body and comes up midi, but many maintain that Austen-style wrap. They're flattering on everyone and make a statement without getting in the way. If I could have a wardrobe of them in every pastel colour available, I would.
Linen is gaining popularity this year because it's a sustainable choice. Linen "is super low-impact and is an inherently more sustainable fibre because it doesn't grow on fertile soil; it doesn't need pesticides because it's a hardy crop; it doesn't need to be irrigated and you can blend it," according to our report on sustainable fabrics. I find it also just feels divine and breathes gorgeously on a hot summer day.
It wasn't all delicate white muslin in Austen's time. With England on the verge of the Industrial Revolution, intricate patterns and prints began to become more widely used and delicate florals became the favourite because the patterns didn't need to match up on the seams.
Wearing ribbons, ribbon shopping, sewing ribbons onto clothes… lots of Austen life revolved around ribbons. Choker necklaces were extremely popular in post–Revolution France and quickly made their way to Regency tearooms. Ladies would thread a satin ribbon through a large pendant, like a cameo, and tie it around their neck.
Now, ribbons and bows have maintained their popularity as pretty accessories to top any look. Whether you wear them in your hair, around your neck or tied on a basket bag, they're a lovely summer accent.