It is a universal truth 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.
Lucky for us, brands like Maison Cléo, Aurore Van Milhelm and Cecilie Bahnsen brought back organza dresses and blouses in a major way. Now quite ubiquitous, organza is best left on its own as a statement piece with simple accessories.
Shrimps Georgia checked Cat-Print Organza Wrap Dress (£350)
Zara Printed Organza Blouse (£26)
Hai Silk Organza Scrunchie (£22)
Shrimps Cordelia cat-print Organza Wrap Top (£225)
Simone Rocha Daisy-Embroidered Pintucked Organza Skirt (£995)
STRAW BUCKET HATS
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.
SHOP STRAW HATS
& Other Stories Straw Bucket Hat (£27)
Gucci Straw Bucket Hat (£260)
Zara Sand Bucket Hat (£10)
Reinhard Plank Hats Star Straw Bucket Hat (£85)
PEARLS, PEARLS, PEARLS
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.
Shrimps Ida Faux-Pearl Floral-Beaded Bag (£395)
Alighieri Shadow 24kt Gold-Plated and Pearl Earrings (£280)
Simone Rocha Floral Beaded-Drop Earrings (£225)
Puff-sleeve dresses, mostly short-sleeved versions, are common throughout all Austen adaptations, be it at Emma's picnic lunch or sewing in the drawing room. In writing this, I discovered that long sleeves were only just becoming widely popular at this time.
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.
SHOP PUFF-SLEEVE DRESSES
Simone Rocha Puff-Sleeve Cloqué Midi Dress (£995)
& Other Stories Puff Sleeve Wrap Maxi Dress (£95)
& Other Stories Square Neck Puff Sleeve Midi Dress (£85)
Cecilie Bahnsen Ammi Wrap-Front Cloqué Dress (£1498)
Linen was a popular fabric during the Regency period because like muslin, it was cheaper than silks. It wore well through damp winters and was worn commonly as an empire-waist dress, as well as long jackets and smocks.
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.
Paloma Wool Berlin Square Fit Linen Jacket (£145)
& Other Stories Pleated High Rise Wide Trousers (£75)
Norte Rodas Dress (£240)
& Other Stories Linen Blend Duster Coat (£55)
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.
From the prairie-dress trend to the vintage Laura Ashley dress obsession, it looks like everyone is craving dainty floral dresses in a major way. And it has my full support, as it's perfect for floating around in warm weather.
SHOP DAINTY FLORALS
Sleeper Atlanta Linen Dress in Roses (£245)
Batsheva Puffed-Dleeve Floral-Print Cotton Mini Dress (£390)
& Other Stories Printed Puff Sleeve Midi Wrap Dress (£75)
Kitri Studio Serafina Vintage Maxi Dress (£145)
The Vampire's Wife The Cinderella Liberty-Print Cotton-Crepe Dress (£995)
RIBBONS AND BOWS
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.
SHOP RIBBONS AND BOWS
Mango 2 Bow Hair Tie Pack (£11)
Sisi Joia Ovella Green Necklace (£55)
Marc Jacobs The Polka Dot Hair Bow (£60)
There you have it, Austen fans. I could probably talk about this style all day, so I will stop here. Please do DM me on Instagram if you want to chat more about anything related to our dear Jane.
This article originally appeared on Who What Wear
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