TBT: Sense & Sensibility (1995): Mrs. Dashwood & Mrs. Jennings

17

The 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen‘s Sense and Sensibility is, for me, one of the ultimate frock flicks. It’s one of a spate of films from the 1990s that made a strong attempt to achieve period accuracy. Its screenplay was thoughtfully adapted by Emma Thompson, and it was directed with care by Ang Lee. The performances — by Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, and more — are strong and pretty much everyone is well cast. I’ve put off doing a real, thorough review of this film because while it’s not the flashiest, it’s so pivotal to me. So I’ve finally decided to break things up, looking at each main character individually, as well as some of the supporting characters in groups. According to Thompson’s script, the filmmakers have chosen the round year of 1800 in which to set the film – at least, the opening scene is March 1800.

In the first two posts, I reviewed Elinor’s wardrobe and went over the basics of English women’s dress around 1800; then looked at Marianne, and got into how her wardrobe reflects some specific styles of the 1790s.

Today, let’s look at the older ladies: Mrs. Dashwood (Elinor and Marianne’s mother, played by Gemma Jones of Fall of Eagles, The Duchess of Duke Street, Jane Eyre, The Winslow Boy, and Gentleman Jack) and Mrs. Jennings (Elizabeth Spriggs). There’s three themes to note with both of them:

Generational Differences

Both are certainly the older generation (quite literally), but not ANCIENT. As we’ve recently explained, older ladies do not need to be dressed decades out of date. On the other hand, both modern and historical women CAN choose to stick with looks that are SLIGHTLY dated based on what we feel is comfortable and flattering.

William Redmore Bigg, 1755–1828, British, Christening of the Heir, ca. 1799, Yale Center for British Art

As this painting demonstrates, the older lady (red arrow) looks slightly dated (her cap and fichu style) but not decades out of date | William Redmore Bigg, 1755–1828, British, Christening of the Heir, ca. 1799, Yale Center for British Art

Silhouettes

We discussed fashions of this era in more depth in our first two posts, but here I’ll note Mrs. Dashwood’s wardrobe in particular demonstrates the fullness seen in gowns of the late 1790s, while her daughters look much more turn of the 1800s in being slightly more streamlined.

Regency fashion timeline

Regency fashion timeline, courtesy https://mymodernmet.com/womens-fashion-history/

Caps & Accessories

As is typical for modern filmmaking, older ladies get caps and multiple accessories while younger ladies don’t. This has become a truism for screen costuming, but Mrs. Dashwood in particular wears all of the kinds of caps, mantles, and other accessories that are actually straight out of fashion plates. It’s difficult, in fact, to FIND fashion plates showing women’s hairstyles in this era, because almost all of them are wearing a cap, turban, hat, or other head accessory!

Fashions of London and Paris - 1801 - Full dress

Full dress, Fashions of London and Paris, March 1801. Left: “Round dress of pink silk; over the train is worn a loose covering of black lace; full black lace sleeves; a handkerchief of black lace crossed over the bosom, and fastened with a gold clasp. Cap of pink crape, or muslin, ornamented with one large white ostrich feather.” Right: “Parisian robe of white muslin, trimmed all round with coquelicot and black velvet; the sleeves and bosom confined with velvet, and trimmed with lace. Turban of white muslin twisted carelessly, and finished with a very long end.”

Mrs. Dashwood’s Wardrobe

Mrs. Dashwood was until the opening scene the wife of a well-off man. Yes, now she’s down on her luck and living in a cottage (gasp) on a limited income, but she should have some decent clothes in her wardrobe. Of course, she’d have to quickly move into mourning attire, which we discussed more thoroughly when considering Elinor’s wardrobe. Suffice it to say, throughout the film Mrs. Dashwood mostly wears black, sometimes burgundy or purple, as befits her status as a widow (mourning “rules” were strongest for widows).

Mrs. Dashwood’s Dotted Black Gown

This looks to me like a sheer black fabric with dotted stripes laid over a lighter fabric… but it could be grey?

1995 Sense & Sensibility

The gown fullness is much more c. 1796 than c. 1800.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

Mrs. Dashwood wears this cap A LOT — and she should! It’s fabulous!

1995 Sense & Sensibility

Looks like a front closure?

Mrs. Dashwood’s Striped Black? Blue? Purple? Gown

At first I thought these were different dresses; now I think it’s just different lighting.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

Here it looks like a striped black overgown with a low front closing with a silver medallion buckle, over a gathered black dress.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

I’m pretty sure, based on what all the actors are wearing in this shot, that this is the same gown. Here it looks like a royal blue with black over it.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

You can see everything more clearly here, where the overgown looks very purple. Love those mitts!

Mrs. Dashwood’s Leaf-Print Gown

A purpleish-brown fabric — cotton? — with printed leaves all over it.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

The skirt is pleated in back; there’s the same cap, plus a black fichu.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

The front is gathered.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

She wears this A LOT — with different caps and fichus.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

Full length looks.

Mrs. Dashwood’s Burgundy Gown

I’m surprised Mrs. Dashwood pulls this sucker out so soon in her mourning — she wears it at the family home (Norland Park), before they’ve moved out. I think the fabric is wool?

1995 Sense & Sensibility

Looks like it buttons closed in front? Same cap again! Love that she’s got two fichus, one white, one black!

1995 Sense & Sensibility

Here you can see that back fullness and bump we discussed in the Elinor post.

1995 Sense & Sensibility 1995 Sense & Sensibility
1995 Sense & Sensibility

Is this the same dress?

1995 Sense & Sensibility

Definitely the same!

Mrs. Dashwood’s Sheer Striped Gown

My favorite! I can’t tell if it’s an overgown or just one piece, but it’s SO pretty.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

So much going on here, from the chest bow to the mitts to the black fichu. This is at dinner at Norland Park.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

Again for a party at Mrs. Jennings’.

Mrs. Dashwood’s Pelisse

I discussed pelisses in the Elinor post. Mrs. Dashwood’s has a cross-over front, similar to her daughters.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

Over it she’s got a cape, plus sheer black fichu, plus hat, plus a white fichu around the neck, plus gloves…

1995 Sense & Sensibility

Is that white collar knitted? Is it attached? Note she’s got a sheer cap on UNDER her black hat.

Mrs. Dashwood’s Diamond Print Gown

Another “workaday” dress, like her leaf print dress, in a cotton print.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

These caps should be worn by Elinor and Marianne too. Mrs. Dashwood is working here, hence the apron.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

The back pleats are nicely arranged.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

More great cap details!

Mrs. Dashwood’s Wedding Ensemble

It’s very hard to see! It looks like a cream gown with a pinkish spencer over it? She’s obviously out of mourning now!

1995 Sense & Sensibility

Keep an eye on that hat!

1995 Sense and Sensibility

I see: cream skirt, pink sleeve, burgundy-ish cuff?

Mrs. Dashwood’s Cloak & Hats

I promised in an early post to discuss hats here. There are a number of styles worn in the film, and they’re all gorgeous (and many, if not all, were made by Mela Hoyt-Heydon, who we hope to interview at some point!). I may get into some of the other styles in later posts, but here I want to discuss these straw or wire brimmed, fabric crowned poufy numbers:

1995 Sense & Sensibility

Black straw brim, bouffant fabric crown. Note the cord trimming the join.

1995 Sense Sensibility hats

Here in lighter colors. Mrs. Dashwood’s is larger than her daughters, while Elinor’s is the smallest.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

I believe this is the hat from the wedding scene. It has a wire-framed brim, which is covered with sheer materials.

Mostly what I want to say here is all of these style of hats look much more like those worn in the 1780s than later. Of course, there’s a NUMBER of different hat styles worn in this period, I’m just zeroing in on those of this style. And my own expertise really ends in the 1790s, so Regency experts, correct me if I’m wrong! But here’s what I’m seeing in portraits and fashion plates:

1780s hats

The 1780s iteration of this style looks very similar to the hats worn by Mrs. Dashwood, and even that one on the right (from 1789) looks like Marianne’s. This tracks for Mrs. Dashwood, who might be dressing slightly out of date, but less so for her daughters.

1790s hats

In the 1790s, this style becomes more vertical. I’d expect to see Elinor and Marianne more in this look.

1800s hats

By the 1800s, this look seems to have mostly gone out of fashion. Instead, hats are much smaller and more “coal scuttle” (i.e. horizontal) looking.

Mrs. Jennings’s Wardrobe

Mrs. Jennings is also older, but she’s also very well off. Her wardrobe reflects her character, as discussed in the LA Times:

“The richer and sillier the character–particularly Fanny and gossipy Mrs. Jennings (Elizabeth Spriggs)–the less Greek their silhouette. For them, lace, fur, feathers, rich fabrics and mounds of jewelry enter the picture. ‘They couldn’t quite give up the frills,’ Beavan says” (Fashion/Screen Style: Grecian Formula).

… but I’d also argue that it reflects her money. All those frills and accessories show she’s got an extensive wardrobe. And, importantly, she hardly ever rewears dresses, unlike the Dashwoods who do so constantly.

Mrs. Jennings’s Plaid Pelisse

Everyone’s got one! Mrs. Jennings’s appears to be wool, and it has a shoulder capelet that echoes a look also worn by men (pelisses having been modeled on the male greatcoat).

1995 Sense & Sensibility

She’s got SO MANY accessories: hat, fichu, bow, gloves, and all worn over a print dress.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

There’s that capelet, which appears to be split in back. Note the hat style — Mrs. Jennings very much sticks to this hat shape throughout.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

She wears it when out and about, first meeting the Dashwoods and then when traveling to London.

Mrs. Jennings’s Grey Striped/Scrolled Dress

A very elegant dress, although the scrolls make it look fussier than it is.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

I really like how they fitted the bust with pleats or darts — it’s flattering to her figure. note the braided trim at the waistline, and that gorgeous fichu.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

On the left you can see how well the shape suits her.

Mrs. Jennings’s Chintz Gown

“Chintz” was one of the more common English terms for printed cottons made in India, or copies of these made in Europe. They tend to have Indian florals on light backgrounds.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

Once again, SO MANY ACCESSORIES. Is this the same hat as above?

1995 Sense & Sensibility

The hat has the vertical look of the 1790s.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

At first I thought this was a different dress based on that bodice front, but the full length shots show it’s not — is she wearing some kind of sleeveless overbodice? This hat looks much more 1800s, btw.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

Here you can see it’s that same print… or wait, maybe it’s two different prints??

Mrs. Jennings’s Asymmetrical Gown

Not my favorite. It looks like a sheer crepe fabric, with interestingly gathered (but maybe not the most flattering?) sleeves, and then a printed (silk?) overlay that covers only side of the bodice (and all or part of the skirt). At a glance it makes me think of someone wearing a nude body suit with a “Tarzan” leopard print wrap.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

Mrs. Jennings’s Peachy Striped Gown

One of the few dresses she rewears!

1995 Sense & Sensibility

Here with another tall hat plus velvet cape. Remember that hat!

1995 Sense & Sensibility

Simply styled on the left, worn with a cap on the right.

Mrs. Jennings’s Light Brown Gown

I can’t tell what the fabric is made of. This gown seems more like a base for everything else put on top!

1995 Sense & Sensibility

There’s the same hat worn with the previous ensemble. She’s got THREE fichu/shawl layers! I love the shot of her running down the street with her dress hoicked up.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

SO MANY LAYERS. She’s all fussy!

1995 Sense & Sensibility

She’s got a brooch/bow combo, and here you can see the details on two of those fichu/shawl thingies.

1995 Sense & Sensibility

She wears it again more simply for morning. Note the skirt pleats at the side and center back.

Mrs. Jennings’s Ball Gown

Holy crap, lady! This dress is fabulous! Shot silk taffeta with Renaissance revival cut-out sleeves!

1995 Sense & Sensibility

The sleeve underlayer lace matches the bodice fill in. She’s got asymmetrically placed silk flowers, plus some kind of hair jewelry going on, PLUS a giant honking necklace…

1995 Sense & Sensibility

Sadly she’s always in the crowd so this is the best I could do. This MIGHT be an open-front gown, with a sheer red skirt showing in front — what do you think?

Auguste Amalie de Baviere by Stieler, c. 1816 Château de Malmaison

The medieval/Renaissance revival tends to be more 1810s-20s, but I’m letting it slide | Auguste Amalie de Baviere by Stieler, c. 1816, Château de Malmaison

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Before heading into the ball, Mrs. Jennings is wearing this faaabulous shot silk cape.

Mrs. Jennings’s Green Gown & Hats

We only see Mrs. Jennings in the crowd at wedding, where she’s wearing that same pink hat — now retrimmed with different ribbon and the addition of flowers — and a bright green dress.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Sadly the best I can do!

1995 Sense & Sensibility

And, of course, fichus and flowers…

1995 Sense & Sensibility

Here’s that final-scene-version on display.

Which are your favorites in the wardrobes of Mrs. Dashwood and Mrs. Jennings?

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About the author

Kendra

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Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

17 Responses

  1. Kathy

    For Mrs.Jenning’s chintz dress, she is definitely wearing some sort of overbodice in the later images. Her ball gown is so lovely, I did not know there was a Renaissance revival in the early 19th century!

    Reply
  2. Boxermom

    Ironically, the thing I keep coming back to is Mrs. Jennings’s pearl necklace (I love pearls). That thing must have cost a fortune, and of course she could afford it. :)

    Reply
    • GinaP

      This was an add on line. When the director felt that the scene needed more dialogue, he’d send someone to Emma’s trailer. This is one of many. Another is in the library, “These are mostly foreign..”

      Reply
  3. Rowen G.

    I remember thinking that Mrs. Jennings’ “light brown gown” moved like silk. Might have to go watch again.

    Reply
  4. Kristina

    Beavan must be a fan of those fabric-crowned hats. The Kate Beckinsale Emma has hat design that looks somewhat better than S&S, but at least one poufy-crowned monstrosity makes an appearance: https://austenprose.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/kate-beckinsale-as-emma-woodhouse-in-emma-1996-x-350.jpg?w=640. It doesn’t make much sense there, either.

    Another point about S&S: there are nowhere near enough white cotton dresses. That family portrait posted near the top clearly indicates – like most late 1790s portraits do – that white was the standard for fashionable women’s dresses at the time. Portraiture depicts many, many older ladies in white. Colors in dress usually came from the accessories, not from the gowns themselves. This is something that the Netherfield ball scene in P&P 2005 surprisingly got right.

    Reply
  5. Addie

    I absolutely love Mrs. Dashwood’s wardrobe in this. I love all of the characters’ costumes but Mrs. Dashwood’s hats/caps/bonnets are particularly fabulous.

    Reply
  6. 992234177

    While I don’t love the asymmetrical dress I love that they had one. It’s such a common thing in contemporary fashion plates and you rarely see it them on screen. My favourite sort of asymmetrical outfit is when miss Crawford wears a red shawl over her pale dress in Mansfield park.

    Reply
    • Kristina

      P&P 1995 uses that Mary Crawford dress on one of the extras, I think. Actually, there are several asymmetrical dresses in P&P 1995, but they are all on extras and bit players.

      Reply
  7. Diana

    I want all the millinery from this film, whether accurate or not. I’m also feeling the urge to reread Emma Thompson’s published diary from the filming, which is delightful on the order of drinking a strongly spiked hot chocolate. Apparently Gemma Jones is wonderfully foul-mouthed in real life.

    Reply

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