This summer, costumes worn in movies and television shows adapted from Jane Austen novels are on display at the Taft Museum of Art. More than a dozen adaptations of her works have made it to the big screen, including Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Mansfield Park. Costumes from all four are on display in Jane Austen: Fashion & Sensibility, an exhibition revealing powerful themes of class, gender, and social dynamics in Austen’s timeless tales. Although the novelist was writing in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, these themes continue to appeal to modern day life.
Stars such as Keira Knightley, who played Elizabeth Bennett in Pride & Prejudice, and Kate Winslet, who played Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, wore these lavish and storied costumes. Each dress and accessory depicts a deeper meaning, including social status.
An example of this is in the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. Emmy award-winnning designer Dinah Collin created the historically accurate wardrobe to show the clashing social status of the Bennet family and the wealthy sisters of Charles Bingley. Because the Bennetts are in a reduced economic situation, says Taft curator Tamera Lenz Muente, Collin decided to visually show these differences by placing them in pale colors and floral-printed cotton that help modern audiences understand innocence. Bold colors and expensive fabrics represent the wealth of the Bingleys, thus showing the economic divide between the characters.
Whether you’ve read the books or seen the movies, the 40 costumes and accessories in the exhibition will tell a new story as you make your way through the newly preserved Taft historic house.
“The most spectacular dress is the wedding gown worn by Kate Winslet in Sense and Sensibility,” says Muente. “The costume designers show Marianne’s new status as a soon-to-be wife of the wealthy Colonel Brandon, and the straw embridery connects her back to her country roots.” Historically, Muente adds that in the 19th century women wouldn’t have a special dress for their wedding like brides do today. Most would wear their “best dress.” It could be any color, but eventually cream and white became popular. If you were wealthy or were marrying a wealthier man, you’d have a dress made for the occasion. Marianne’s dress features a custom made, long net train with a veil, also uncommon. In the exhibition, the dress serves as a grand finale as you make your way through the museum.
Save on tickets when you purchase online!
Experience these costumes and more up close at the Jane Austen: Fashion & Sensibility exhibition! Save on advance tickets online at the Taft Museum website or join the Taft for their free Community Day on June 26.