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Portrait of Hilary Davidson

Associate Professor / Chair

Hilary Davidson

  • School of Graduate Studies
  • Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, Museum Practice

Dress in the Age of Jane Austen / Jane Austen's Wardrobe

A comprehensive and beautifully illustrated examination of dress, clothing, fashion, and sewing in the Regency seen through the lens of Jane Austen’s life and writings

This lively book reveals the clothing and fashion of the world depicted in Jane Austen’s beloved books, focusing on the long Regency between the years 1795 and 1825. During this period, accelerated change saw Britain’s turbulent entry into the modern age, and clothing reflected these transformations. Starting with the intimate perspective of clothing the self, Dress in the Age of Jane Austen moves outward through the social and cultural spheres of home, village, countryside, and cities, and into the wider national and global realms, exploring the varied ways people dressed to inhabit these environments. Jane Austen’s famously observant fictional writings, as well as her letters, provide the entry point for examining the Regency age’s rich complexity of fashion, dress, and textiles for men and women in their contemporary contexts.

Lavishly illustrated with paintings, drawings, historic garments, and fashion plates—including many previously unpublished images—this authoritative yet accessible book will help readers visualize the external selves of Austen’s immortal characters as clearly as she wrote of their internal ones. The result is an enhanced understanding of Austen’s work and time, and also of the history of one of Britain’s most distinctive fashion eras.

New book, Jane Austen’s Wardrobe, to be released in September 2023.

Cover of Dress in the Age of Jane Austen / Jane Austen's Wardrobe

How did you first come up with the idea for this work?
I was doing research into the Regency period in connection with work on a garment once belonging to Jane Austen. It was frustrating that there was no single-volume good book covering this rich and exciting era of clothing history, so I decided to write one. My time period became the ‘long’ Regency, around 1795-1825. It was natural to connect it with the life and work of Jane Austen as she is the quintessential Regency author, and so many people come to dress of the period through adaptations of her work.

What was your research process like?
I looked at absolutely everything I could get my hands on to do with Regency-era clothing, both primary and secondary sources. Dress is so essential to human culture, and appears in so many ways in texts and images, no source was too obscure to try. I read on military and medical history, in housekeeping texts, customs reports, many minor novels, and much more. Images came from caricatures, anthropological studies and washing bills as well as traditional portraits and fashion plates. I wanted to start fresh on the topic, and surprise myself with what I found. I also studied many original Regency garments very closely to understand the bigger picture contained in the smallest details.

How long did you work on this before it was published?
I spent five years in researching this, across Britain and Australia, then another year in pre-production making all the text and images look beautiful together.

Does this work relate to your role at FIT? If so, how?
As Chair of the MA Fashion and Textile Studies, this is an example of new research in the field which builds on object-centred research and adds to the rich history of dress the program promotes. I wrote a book that will form a good accessible yet authoritative scholarly text for students to start engaging with Regency clothing culture.

What was your biggest challenge? What was most rewarding?
The breadth of scope I set myself. The book covers everything from mundane underwear to global trade and politics, so I always felt there was more I could be researching. It’s rewarding to discover new information about Jane Austen, one of the world’s most biographies people. Studying her life and contexts from the clothing perspective turned up a number of new insights and information.

Is there other information we should know?
Dress in the Age of Jane Austen is the first full-length scholarly work on Regency fashion. Its follow up, Jane Austen’s Wardrobe (September 2023) will dive into the clothing of the author herself, and form the first systematic exploration of her wardrobe.

  • Professor at FIT since Fall 2022