The history behind Mr Darcy’s wardrobe

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Triborough Reference Librarian, Gillian Nunns looked  at the history behind Mr Darcy’s wardrobe in Chelsea Library’s Costume Collection.

In the Regency period, Paris was no longer the centre of men’s fashion that it had been – velvets, lace and satins went to the guillotine as fashionable gentlemen distanced themselves from the aristocracy.  Also, Europe was now at war, and as England became cut off from France a style of men’s tailoring developed in England that was to dominate the European fashion scene during the Regency period.  The Regency period in England gave birth to the Dandy, a style that has its routes in more practical and masculine pursuits than the French Court.

 The precursor to Regency men’s fashion in England was the Macaroni, a style that the Dandy reacted against.  Here is a great image of a Macaroni which we found in a book published in 1884 called Civil Costume in England from William to the Regency by Lewis Wingfield.

A Macaroni from 'Civil Costume in England from William to the Regency' by Lewis Wingfield
A Macaroni from ‘Civil Costume in England from William to the Regency’ by Lewis Wingfield

And here is another great example that we found in The Saville Row Story by Richard Walker.

Another Macaroni from 'The Saville Row Story' by Richard Walker
Another Macaroni from ‘The Saville Row Story’ by Richard Walker

The Macaroni’s fashion tastes were aristocratic and French in origin, with frivolous and extravagant styles: hair piled up high with small French hats on top, colourful short breeches, large and sparkly buckles and buttons and tightly fitting coats.  The Macaroni is part of a mood of extravagance that those with more robust tastes opposed after the French Revolution. 

The beginning of a more masculine style has its origins in the outdoor pursuits of an English country gentleman, for whom lace ruffles, powdered hair and embroidered coats were wholly unsuitable.  The influence of this style was spurred on not only by disorder in France but also by George Brummell, who made notable contributions to English costume, and was the original Dandy.  Here is a page from The Saville Row Story by Richard Walker, describing Brummell and the extent of his influence.  He describes Brummell’s dressing routine as

‘a mesmerizing performance of several hours that drew the Prince to the Beau’s home in Chesterfield Street.  The Prince was now the pupil and Brummell the arbiter of taste’
George Brummel at his dressing table from 'The Saville Row Story' by Richard Walker
George Brummel at his dressing table from ‘The Saville Row Story’ by Richard Walker

And here he is in an etching and mezzotint by Robert Dighton, 1805, that we found in Dandies by James Laver.

George Brummell- the original Dandy from 'Dandies' by James Laver
George Brummell- the original Dandy from ‘Dandies’ by James Laver

The clothes of a Dandy are simple but impeccably cut.  Notable features include long trousers, which would previously have been scorned in the world of fashion, as well as impeccably tied neckties, top hats and coats that are practical for riding horses on a country estate.  This is the fashion that Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice would have been influenced by, as we can see in this illustration by Hugh Thomson in a 1894 edition of the book, depicting Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy at Charlotte’s house.

Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy- illustration by Hugh Thomson in 1894 edition of 'Pride and Prejudice'
Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy- illustration by Hugh Thomson in 1894 edition of ‘Pride and Prejudice’

As well as in England, the style of the Dandy spread across Europe.  Here are some images of the Dandy’s style as interpreted in France, also in Dandies by James Laver.

The Dandy style from 'Dandies' by James Laver
The Dandy style from ‘Dandies’ by James Laver

As well as having a huge influence on fashion in the Regency Period, Brummell’s character has been popular ever since, and there are lots of anecdotes and satirical accounts of his activities such as in a story found in the February 1902 edition of the Gentleman’s Magazine, entitled ‘The King of the Dandies‘ by Charles Wilkins.

‘My dear fellow’ exclaimed Brummell, ‘Aw – where did you pick up that extraordinary affair you have upon your back?’
The Prince laughed good-humouredly as he added, ‘It is not your fault, mine goot sir.  You shall not be to blame because a devoid-of-conscience influencing tradesman deceives you when you purchase from him his delusive fabrics.’
 ‘Is there anything the matter with my coat?’ I inquired in dreadful confusion.
 ‘Coat!’ exclaimed Beau Brummell.
Coat! Cried his friends in chorus, all in extreme astonishment.
 ‘It’s no more a coat than a cauliflower-if it is, I’ll be d—d!’ cried Brummell himself, everyone continuing to scrutinise the garment.

After finding this story, we decided to have a look in the Gentleman’s Magazine from 1813, to see what a fashionable gentleman would have been reading about in the year that Pride and Prejudice was published.  We came across this article in the Abstract of Foreign Affairs in September, which is an article about what must be a very early submarine?

‘In the American papers it is asserted that ‘A Gentleman at Norwich U.S. has invented a diving boat, which by means of paddles, he can propel under water at the rate of three miles an hour, and ascend and descend at pleasure.  He has been three times under the bottom of the Ramilies, off New London.  In the first attempt, after remaining under some time, he came to the top of the water like the Porpoise for air, and, as luck would have it, came up but a few feet from the stern of the Ramilies […].’

The article goes on to describe how the diving boat inexplicably decides to use a torpedo to ‘perforate a hole through her copper’.

We were also interested to come across review of Emma, by ‘the writer of Pride and Prejudice in the Review of New Publications section in September 1916’s Gentleman’s Magazine.  It says that “… a good novel is now and then an agreeable relaxation from severer studies.  Of this description was Pride and Prejudice…” 

And goes on.

 ‘ […]If Emma has not the highly-drawn characters in superior life which are so interesting in ‘Pride and Prejudice;’ it delineates with great accuracy the habits and manners of a middle class of gentry; and of the inhabitants of a country village at one degree of rank and gentility beneath them.’

And finally, in a book called The New English Dandy by Alice Cocolini, we found some great images of modern day Dandies.

A modern day Dandy from 'The New English Dandy' by Alice Cocolini
A modern day Dandy from ‘The New English Dandy’ by Alice Cocolini
Another modern day Dandy from 'The New English Dandy' by Alice Cocolini
Another modern day Dandy from ‘The New English Dandy’ by Alice Cocolini

And even some advice for how to tie a good necktie!

How to tie a necktie from 'The New English Dandy' by Alice Cocolini
How to tie a necktie from ‘The New English Dandy’ by Alice Cocolini
Gillian Nunns, Reference Librarian
Gillian Nunns

Gillian Nunns,  Tri- Borough Reference Librarian

Chelsea Reference Library


All these sources are available to view at Chelsea Reference Library:

  • Civil Costume in England from William to the Regency by Lewis Wingfield
  •  The Saville Row Story by Richard Walker
  •  Dandies by James Laver
  •  The Gentleman’s Magazine, September 1813
  •  The Gentleman’s Magazine, September 1916
  •  The Gentleman’s Magazine, February 1902
  •  The New English Dandy by Alice Cocolini

The elusive Miss Austen

A selection of Jane Austen biographies
A selection of Jane Austen biographies

Kensington and Chelsea libraries holds a nationally renowned biography collection at Kensington Central Library (we’ve blogged about it before).  There are over 80,000 printed works with over 1000 new titles added each year.

As part of our celebration of the 200 year anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Lindsay Robertson, Senior Customers Services Assistant  has looked into how Jane Austen features in our biography collection.

Revisiting Pride and Prejudice is a bit like meeting up with old friends. Characters like the scoundrel Mr Wickham, silly old Mrs Bennett and her sarcastic husband and, of course, our heroes Elizabeth and Darcy have been cherished by readers for two centuries. But how well do we know the lady behind the book?

Jane Austen presents biographers with a challenge, as very little is actually known about her. Despite being a successful novelist in her own lifetime she enjoyed her privacy, which her family dutifully kept even after her death in 1817. This hasn’t stopped our curiosity as Kensington Central Library’s biography collection holds over sixty titles dedicated to the author.

Dear Aunt Jane

Though she never married, Austen was a devoted family woman. The biography collection owns a memoir by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh composed from various family recollections. The second edition contained Jane’s previously unpublished material, including Lady Susan, a cancelled chapter of Persuasion and extracts from her unfinished works Sanditon and The Watsons. We also own several titles on the Austen family including Maggie Lane’s Jane Austen’s Family through Five Generations and J C & E C Hubback’s Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers.

 “Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first?”

Jane Austen's letters
Jane Austen’s letters

The biography collection has books of Jane’s collected letters, with some reproduced in her own handwriting. The majority were written to Cassandra Austen, Jane’s only sister and closest friend, though many more letters were burned after Jane died. Those left tell few secrets yet they capture Jane’s delightful turn of phrase, even when describing the dullest everyday activities. Cassandra once summed up her relationship with Jane in the words ”I had not a thought concealed from her”, so we can only imagine what her famous sister might have written in return.

 The whole story?

Reproduction of Jane Austen's handwriting
Reproduction of Jane Austen’s handwriting

The family accounts have been criticised for censoring details of Jane’s life. We can’t help but wonder what she truly felt about her writing career or her real life love affairs. There was a ”youthful flirtation” with Tom Lefroy (later Chief Justice of Ireland) and she once accepted a marriage proposal from a friend’s brother only to withdraw it the next day. According to Cassandra, Jane fell in love on her travels, however the gentleman in question was never named and apparently died before he and Jane could meet again. Much as we regret losing the chance to know her better, we can appreciate the Austen family’s wishes to keep Jane’s personal life private.

 A novel life

More Jane Austen biographies
More Jane Austen biographies

Readers discover the real Jane Austen through her books. Judging by our collection, it seems that several biographers have done likewise. There’s Jane Austen and her Art by Mary Laschelles, Jane Austen: Real and Imagined Worlds by Oliver MacDonald and Introductions to Jane Austen by John Bailey, which focuses on each novel in turn. She also appears in a book by Francis Warre Cornish in the series “English Men of Letters” – I’m sure the irony would not have been lost on her!

We see the author’s rational and romantic sides in the Dashwood sisters of Sense and Sensibility, the loving aunt in Emma and the older Jane in Persuasion’s complex and composed Anne Elliot. Most of all, we find her in Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice. Like her heroine, Jane was independent, strong-willed and didn’t suffer fools gladly unless she found humour in them. In Lizzy’s words “Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can”.

Perhaps this is why Elizabeth is one of the most beloved heroines in literature – her creator’s wit and vivacity can’t help but shine through.

Lindsay Robertson
Lindsay Robertson, Senior Customer Services Assistant

Lindsay Robertson, Senior Customers Services Assistant

Kensington Central Library

Leisure and fashion in the Regency period


Regency Dress from ‘Jane Austen In Style’ by Susan Watkins

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Triborough Reference Librarian, Debby Wale has found some Austen connections with Chelsea as well as some amazing Regency fashion images.

Jane Austen was born on 16 December 1775 at Steventon, Hampshire. Her father was the Rector of Steventon and Deane. At the age of thirty-six she emerged from relatively sequestered existence to becoming a published novelist. In 1801 the family moved to Bath. In 1809 the Austen sisters and their mother settled in Chawton and Jane Austen’s career as a published author began.

In Chelsea Past, Barbara Denny describes Jane Austen’s association with Chelsea as transitory, but letters to her sister Cassandra describes a musical evening. She lived with her brother Henry and his wife at 654 Sloane Street from Spring 1811 for two years. Between 1813 – 1815 she visited him when he moved to 23 Hans Place.

Chelsea by Thea Holme describes from Jane’s letters a party at Sloane Street with 66 guests and musicians arriving in two Hackney coaches.

Regency fashion was governed by a strict social etiquette. For women, there were outfits for every activity. Ladies might change several times a day to suit the hour or the occasion. Magazines such as Belle Assemble (La Belle Assemblée or, Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies) had fashion plates which were a guide to suitable attire for every circumstance.

Jane Austen was a prolific letter-writer and these letters give an interesting insight into her life. One activity suitable for a lady was walking. More promenade than serious hiking, there is a reference in one of her letters.

Your lilacs are in leaf, ours are in bloom. The horse-chestnuts are quite out, and the elms almost. I had a pleasant walk in Kensington Gardens on Sunday with Henry, Mr. Smith, and Mr.Tilson; everything was fresh and beautiful.

Jane Austen to Cassandra 25 April, 1811

These pictures from Chelsea Library’s costume collection give an idea of the style Jane or her characters, might have worn, or aspired to wear. They are from the magazine La Belle Assembléwhich Chelsea Library has more or less a complete archive.

Kensington Gardens Fashionable Promenade Dress, July 1811
Kensington Gardens Fashionable Promenade Dress, July 1811

Kensington Garden Fashionable Promenade Dress, July 1811
A round robe of jacconot muslin, with a bodice of violet sarsnet, trimmed with rich silk Brandeburgs of Austrian green, a half pelisse of fine transparent muslin, with Bishop’s sleeves, fancifully tied with green riband. A Hyman hat of purple brocaded ribband and lace, ornamented with a green military plume; a Chinese parasol of purple sarsnet, shot with green; gloves and shoes of York tan.

Walking Dress, 1811
Walking Dress, 1811

Walking Dress,  June 1811
A pelisse of pink sarsnet, lined with white, and ornamented with rich silk Brandenburg trimmings of correspondent pink, or pale brown; a high standing ruff round the throat,; a Persian mantle of pale blue, or white, thrown over the dress. A basket hat of straw, ornamented with a demi-wreath of half blown roses. Shoes of blue kid; gloves of York tan.

Promenade or Carriage Walking Costume, November 1811
Promenade or Carriage Walking Costume, November 1811

Promenade, or Carriage Walking Costume, November 1811
A fawn colour of amber velvet three quarters pelisse; faced and ornamented around the bottom and sleeves with Regency purple velvet and faced down the waist, shoulders and half way down the side of the skirt, with rich cordons of purple, terminating with a tassel; a purple velvet collar stands up, is rounded behind, and comes down to a point below the throat; the cuffs are of purple velvet, trimmed with fine blue lace. Over the sleeve is a demi-sleeve divided; between which division small purple ornaments, in the form of  aiguillettes, but without tags, are sometimes introduce when this dress is made of twilled sarsnet instead of velvet.

Promenade Dress, August 1811
Promenade Dress, August 1811

Promenade Dress, August 1811
A round robe of India jaconot, trimmed around the bottom with ribband; a mantle of fine India muslin, or white crape, with ficher front, ornamented with drawn ribband and tassel, and confined to the waist on the same side. A village hat of white chip, with a crown of blended crape and sarsnet, bound and tied under the chin with ribband, over a lace cawl, and raised form the face by a short wreath of French roses. Parasol and ridicule of purple and green shot silk; gloves of York tan; Roman boots of white morocco.

Regency Walking Dress, February 1811
Regency Walking Dress, February 1811

Regency Walking Dress, February 1811
A pelisse of scarlet Merino cloth, buttoned down the front and up the arm with small gold buttons; the collar and cuffs of purple velvet; but during the mourning, of black, striped with scarlet; an ermine tippet pointed in the back, and muffet of the same. A bonnet of scarlet cloth, turned up with velvet, and formed to come over the face; the veil passed through the front and brought round the neck. Boots of scarlet cloth trimmed with velvet.

Debby Wale
Debby Wale

Debby Wale, Triborough Reference Librarian

Chelsea Reference Library


Additional information

Resources held in Chelsea Reference library:

  • Jane Austen In Style by Susan Watkins
  • Chelsea by Thea Holme
  • Chelsea Past by Barbara Denny
  • La Belle Assemblee magazine archive

Online resources:
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – for more information about Jane Austen (you’ll need a library membership to access this database outside of the library) 

Glossary – fabrics

  • Jaconot: light weight cotton fabric
  • Sarsnet: noun a soft thin silk used for dresses, veilings, or trimmings.