Transitional Fashion in Becoming Jane (2007)

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Before I get started on all the things that bug me about the costumes in Becoming Jane (2007), I want to state that I actually LOVE this movie. It’s one that I watch over and over because it really is just THAT good. As I’ve written before, it features my favorite historical dance scene ever, so trust me when I tell you that in the grand scheme of things, this is a very good flick. So everything that follows with regard to the costumes should be taken not as a sign that it is a crap film, just that I’ve got some … issues … with the costumes.

First, let’s get a bit of research out of the way. Becoming Jane is set in 1795. This is what women’s fashion in 1795 looked like:

Printed Indienne open dress with linen skirt, England,1795.

Printed Indienne open dress with linen skirt, England,1795. The overgown was altered from an earlier robe l’anglaise.

England, circa 1795-2

Note how full the skirt is. England, circa 1795.

England, circa 1795

Again, another Indienne printed open gown which could very well have been modified from an earlier robe l’anglaise. England, circa 1795.

Basically it boils down to three things:

  1. The waistline was still hovering closer to its natural position.
  2. The skirts were full, sometimes ridiculously so.
  3. Just because it was a “transitional” era, doesn’t mean that it was a big mash-up of different silhouettes.

Sadly, I think Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh, the film’s costumer, just took “transitional era” to mean exactly that because the costumes here are all over the map. Like, ALL OVER IT.

Nothing illustrates this better than the assembly and ballroom scenes where Jane (Anne Hathaway) is shown wearing something way fashion-forward in contrast with gowns that look plucked from various points between the years 1770 and 1790.

Becoming Jane (2007)

Yes, this was rural Hampshire, but these were still people of means. Young ladies likely would have made an effort to keep up-to-date with fashion, especially for balls and assemblies. Plus, purely speaking from a theatricality standpoint, there’s too much variation in silhouettes between the leads and the extras. It just looks weird when they’re all lined up together.

balldresses1

On the one end, you have Jane whose clothes look far more 1810-1820, and on the other, you have half the cast dressed in gowns that would have been fashionable 10 or 20 years before 1790. Yeah, it makes Jane stand out all right, but not in a good way.

balldresses2 copy

This gown on the far left is a really good example of the mid-1790s silhouette. Now, compare it with the 1820s frock Jane is wearing, and then look at all those 1770s gowns on the right … PICK A DECADE AND STICK WITH IT.

1820s

Stick some more garlands and ribbons on her dress and it would be the spitting image of this 1820s ballgown. Except, you know, if the skirts were fuller. SIGH.

Another strike against this film is that it came out on the heels of the Keira Knightley Pride & Prejudice, so there’s still a distinct flavor of the preceding flick in this one, and it is evident in Jane’s costumes (in fact, there’s a few recycled costumes from P&P in this one). For instance, droopy linen gowns abound, which is something that the 2005 P&P is definitely responsible for. And Jane wears quite a few throughout the movie.

Becoming-Jane-15

I’m not sure where the inspiration for this outfit came from. But it is pretty cute.

jane-gray1

I like the print here, and the fact that it looks like she dyed an existing gown black when she went into mourning. But again, the skirts are way too narrow.

jane-red

Another nice linen gown with a printed motif.

Not a very late-1790s color, but still pretty.

This color is pretty, but it’s one I don’t associate with the Regency.

Aside from the linen, Jane does get a few interesting non-linen outfits:

Jane-redcoat

Becoming-Jane-17

This reads as wool to me. How much you wanna bet it was a couple of pashmina scarves at one point?

The only place where I feel like the costumer got the “transitional” part of the silhouette right were the costumes worn by Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith). They are definitely 1770s, with some minor modifications to make them look somewhat 1790s (for instance, her skirts aren’t as wide as they’d be in the 1770s, but the gowns look an awful lot like they were designed for panniers). In this case, this actually works considering she’s supposed to be old fashioned and stuck in her ways.

maggie-smith-dinner

NICE hair.

maggie-anne

“Why can’t you see that I’m doing you a favor by letting my wimpy nephew court you?”

You can really see the shape of her skirts in this image. Looks like she’s wearing a bumroll. I approve.

Also, bitchin' calash!

Also, bitchin’ calash!

Comtesse Eliza’s gowns stick out like a sore 1790s thumb in the midst of all the other women’s costumes. But I think, at least concerning Eliza, that was the point. She is Jane’s French cousin who escaped the Terror and is taking refuge with the Austens in Hampshire, so the clothes she wears are all very much in keeping with what would have been considered “Parisian high fashion,” and would definitely look out of place among the gentry in the English countryside. I can easily imagine that Eliza would have fled France with only the clothes on her back, which explains why they look very much in style for 1790-1792. However, it doesn’t explain why she hasn’t had any new clothes made for her or adapted the ones she brought with her to look more fashionable.

Anne Hathaway - Becoming Jane (2007)

How is it that the French comtesse is less fashion-forward than her country cousin?

Eliza2

This jacket is super cute and super early 1790s.

Cassandra’s dresses are sort of a neither-here-nor-there nod to 1800-1810, and despite the fact that she gets a handful of costume changes, her dresses are pretty much variations on the same “meh” design. The only exception is the blue dress she wears to dinner with Lady Gresham.

cassandra_blue-1

BECOMING JANE, seated: Julie Walters, Lucy Cohu, Anne Hathaway, Anna Maxwell Martin, standing: James Cromwell (center), 2007. ©Miramax

Cassandra-pink

Becoming-Jane-14

Then there’s this cameo by Helen McCrory, in which she wears a kind of weird early Regency gown:

But then again, she's kind of a weird character.

But then again, she’s kind of a weird character.

Where the costumes all of a sudden get consistent in terms of historical accuracy is right at the very end, which is about 20 years after the events in the film have taken place, so c. 1815 or so:

eliza-jane_1

Eliza and Jane. Note the partlets on both ladies, which allows for a modest gesture on a fashionable low-cut bodice.

Becoming-Jane-5

hands

The detail on Jane’s sleeves is probably my favorite thing about this dress. I just love the little button cuffs at the wrists!

The men’s clothes … Well, they’re all kind of generic Regency. I would have liked the fit to be tighter and the collars much higher, but otherwise, they’re not that bad:

lefroy1

Recognize this waistcoat? It’s pretty much the male version of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, because it’s been in no less than six Regency-era films since it was made for the BBC Pride and Prejudice in 1995.

lefroy2

This frock coat is awesome, but it looks a bit big on Lefroy.

Perfect hat for the period, though.

Perfect hat for the period, though.

Becoming-Jane-13

I’m unsure about the hat on Jane’s brother, Henry. Looks a tad too “Indiana Jones” for me. Eliza’s hat, however, is fabulous. We’re going to pretend Jane’s hat doesn’t exist.

So, there you have it. A mixed bag of eras and styles, but a really good film nonetheless. I suggest watching it with a glass of good wine, good chocolate, and a box of tissues nearby because it gets pretty weepy.

 

Do you have a favorite costume from Becoming Jane? Share it with us in the comments!

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

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Sarah discovered her dual passion for history and costume right around the age of twelve. Dragged kicking and screaming to her first Renaissance Faire at Black Point, she was convinced she was going to hate it, but to her surprise, she fell head over heels in love with the world of reenactment and dress up immediately. Her undergraduate degree is in Clothing & Textile Design, and she has a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture. When she’s not hauling crap to SCA events and ren faires, Sarah enjoys reading true crime books, writing fiction, and sewing historical clothing from the Middle Ages through the 20th-century. One of these days, she might even start updating her old costuming blog again.

18 Responses

  1. Stephani

    Thank you for reviewing the costumes of this film. I’d given this one a pass just based on the crazy costuming and because it followed the wretched 2005 P&P. But maybe now I’ll give it a try. I do like Anne Hathaway in general.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      I did the same thing for a couple of years until I finally had to watch it before I showed it to a fashion history class I was teaching. My thought process was basically:

      Me: Ugh. I guess I have to watch this now.
      Me: Imma pour a bigass cocktail because this is going to be painful.
      Me: … Huh.
      Me: This… Doesn’t suck.
      Me: OMG JAMES MCAVOY IS THAT GUY I LUSTED AFTER FOR TEN GODDAMN YEARS
      Me: Shit, why are my eyes leaking?
      Me: That was unexpectedly good.

      Reply
  2. red*razors

    Not a terrible film, but I can’t get past the costumes. So, so patchy. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. Good assembly room scene though, nice and bustling. And I must say, THAT DANCE.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Yes, THAT DANCE. It’s so perfectly choreographed and filmed and it makes me catch my breath EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

      I think the one thing that made me get past the costumes was the fact that James McAvoy is the spitting image of a guy I pined over for years. Like, total unrequited, tragic, angsty young love.

      I CAN RELATE JANE. I WASN’T GOOD ENOUGH FOR MY LEFROY EITHER.

      Reply
  3. Susan Pola

    I enjoyed the film bc I love Austen and Ms Hathaway and Mr McAvoy are good in it. I too quibbled about lack of period. I kept on thinking ‘Pick a GD date, idiot and stick with it!’ My favourite costumes were worn by Dame Maggie. I too liked the sleeve detail with the button in the end.

    Reply
  4. Adela

    I wonder about the ratio of rentals/recycles to originals for explaining some of the mishmash. I think one of the issues is the pop culture audiences probably expect Jane Austen to be wearing the fashions of the time period her famous novels are set in and for her to look like the official portraits both of which are 10+ years later than this.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      That’s my theory, too. In an earlier draft of this post, I did propose that Jane wearing sterotypical “Regency” was because people expected it and would have been confused to see her in 18th century clothing.

      And yeah, there were probably a lot of pulled costumes for this production, especially for the secondary characters and extras. As for that really great 1790s gown I pointed out, I almost wonder if it didn’t belong to the woman wearing it because it just looked too good to be stock. If they used historical reenactors for that scene, it’s a sure bet that dress came with the dancer, and probably the same for the other dancers.

      I’m not that dialed into the Regency reenactor community so I don’t know if there were casting calls sent out to them, but it wouldn’t surprise me. :)

      Reply
      • Adela

        I keep forgetting when the classic regency fashion period was and often think that it stared earlier than it actually did. Then again the romantic fashion era keeps getting erased from my memories all together, but that might be a good thing.

        Reply
        • Sarah Lorraine

          The Regency period is 1811-1820 (during the regency of Prince George), which coincides with when the vast of majority of Austen adaptation films are set in. P&P (which Austen refers to as “First Impressions”) was written c. 1799, so it was about 4-5 years after the events in “Becoming Jane” were to have taken place. Fashion was more like what we think of as “typical Regency” with high waistlines and a narrower silhouette, but it was far more exaggerated than what was depicted in, say, the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice.

          I seem to recall an interview with the costume designer? Director? Someone involved in the making of the 1995 P&P where they stated that they made a very deliberate decision to push the setting to 1815ish because audiences had grown accustomed to this being a work of “Regency” fiction, not “late Enlightenment”.

          Re: Romantic Fashion

          I was late to the whole Romantic Fashion thing… Like, really it’s just been in the last year or so that I’ve started to realize I actually like the era a whole lot. The wackiness of the 1830s is balanced by this really lovely silhouette in the 1840s that I absolutely adore and wish desperately that it wasn’t on the extreme early end of the timeline for Dickens Fair, because I really detest 1850s-1860s fashion.

          That said, you’re going to see a lot more of my posts focusing on Romantic Era movies in the coming months! Got a couple up my sleeve that I need to sit down and write. ;)

          Reply
          • adela

            Twee candy is what I see in Romance Era. Bring on the cake decoration fashions then.

            Reply
  5. bristowjen

    My fav costume is the cricket dress, I made a copy of it to wear at CosCo one year. It was my first hand sewn dress! I love the story and was able to ignore/forgive the costumes because I assumed that budget and availability was the primary reason they were “all over the place” if they had just kept older costumes to older characters it would had “read” better to me. However, the sudden coordination of the costumes towards the end DOES help with my sense of completion….

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      That dress initially annoyed me before I watched the movie, because so many of the promotional stills and previews showed it and I was like, WTF? THIS ISN’T PERIOD! THIS MOVIE SUCKS. Heh.

      It’s grown on me a lot now. I still have *no* idea what source material they used to come up with it (probably none) but it’s very cute in a “jeans & t-shirt” kind of way, which I’m pretty sure was the idea. Ironically, the overall silhouette of the dress is closer to 1795 than any of her other outfits. The skirt is fuller, the sleeves are 3/4 length and tight, the waistline is natural.

      As for the costumes at the end, it seems so weird that they’d reserve a huge portion of the budget for a handful of scenes that make up about 10 minutes of screen time at the end of the movie, but who knows? Those costumes were seriously fabulous, and I don’t recall having seen them in other movies, so it argues for them possibly being made in-house. Or maybe they had some kind of amazing reenactor hook-up who loaned them…? I don’t think I’ve seen them included in the costume tours from the movie, so maybe they were privately hired?

      Gah! I wish more movie costumers were open about the inner workings of these kinds of things like Terry Dresbach is. Stuff like this will have me staying up all night wondering “Why did they do this and not that? What was the motivation? What were their reasons? WHYYYYYY??”

      Reply
  6. Eset

    I feel that audience expectations and money are to blame for most of the costume choices in the film. I thing in mind of general public fashion of late 18th century goes from ridiculously wide pannier ship-in-huge-wig court gown straight to columnar high-waisted white regency dress. It is the way how it is presented in most books on fashion, books on history even, that don’t go in to much detail. Most people don’t know there was transition period with distinctive silhouette or how does it look like. Add small costume budget and fact that not many films are set in this era and Bob’s your uncle.
    When I saw Becoming Jane for the firs time I was in the Most People group so mix matched costumes did’t really bother me. Only costume that bugged me was the green 1820’s ball gown. It is just too out of place. I guess clothes 10-20 years demode are easier to accept than time-travelling to future.
    I like the movie. James McAvoy is amazing in it and that dance scene… I use it as an explanation when people ask why do I love English country dancing so much.

    Reply
  7. jeannie

    Here it is 2018. I just watched this film because I came across it for a $1, (having avoided it for similar reasons as mentioned in comments, and text) and found myself utterly confused by the costuming; so much so, that I searched “becoming jane costume weirdness”. I found this entry, and it echoed my thoughts. Feeling validated I continued on into the comments and likewise saw familiar thoughts.

    I thought it was me, at first, being irrationally obsessive.
    I rarely leave comments, anywhere. I’m doing it now- even if it never is seen, because I wanted to express my thankfulness for the validation.
    I’m still wondering, didn’t they even check this stuff out?

    Reply

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