Recreating Austen’s Silk Pelisse

June 13, 2015 at 7:40 pm (fashion, history, jane austen, news, research) (, , , )


It’s been a LONG time since I’ve read as fascinating an article as Hilary Davidson’s “Reconstructing Jane Austen’s Silk Pelisse, 1812-1814” (available thru her Academia.edu account)

Originally published in Costume (vol. 49, no. 2, 2015), her uploaded articles includes all the illustrations under discussion in the article, and is a thorough piece of investigative writing. Taking into consideration not only the Jane Austen provenance (a indelicately-worded letter helped cast the shadow…), but also insights into construction and sewing, cost and “fashion”, the article should interest readers who want more information on

  • Jane Austen
  • Regency fashion
  • English fashion & textiles
  • costume construction
  • conservation & recreation strategies for museum pieces

And a TON of other topics.  In short, HIGHLY recommended!

fashion 1819

Seen only in photographs, I’ve never been super impressed with the Austen garment. After reading about it in a fair amount of depth – it perhaps does suffer “age and infirmity”. It just looks so crumpled.

Their reproduction, reinstating some closures the original must have had (but doesn’t any more), has a much greater stiffness – and is well served by a tall, exceptionally-thin young woman.

The Austen Pelisse is considered in conjunction with several theoretical and actual garments – including Barbara Johnson’s excellent “book” of fabrics and fashions (reproduced in commercial book form as A Lady of Fashion) and a lovely garment from the V&A.

_I_ was quite surprised to see that the original garment has been sewn using “nine stitches to the inch” – which seemed a surprisingly low number (when hand-quilting and piecing is considered…; a reason I used to stay away from hand-sewing or quilting!).

And how interesting to read about the shift in costs: in Austen’s day the labor was nothing… nowadays a greater consideration. But, read the chart (p. 217) and you will see along with me how pitiful the wages of someone making less than 8 shillings! (For, unless you owned the business, the money did not go solely to the sewer — rather like a car mechanic today [ie, expensive labor rates!].) £300 was the labor cost for their replica. A far cry from the 2008 “equivalent” of 8 shillings: £20.

austen pelisse

I don’t know what else to say about this incredibly-informative article – other than: READ IT for yourself.

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