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:
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 As we’ve recently explained, older ladies do not need to be dressed decades out of date.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.
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.
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!
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?
Mrs. Dashwood’s Striped Black? Blue? Purple? Gown
At first I thought these were different dresses; now I think it’s just different lighting.
Mrs. Dashwood’s Leaf-Print Gown
A purpleish-brown fabric — cotton? — with printed leaves all over it.
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?
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.
Mrs. Dashwood’s Pelisse
I discussed pelisses in the Elinor post. Mrs. Dashwood’s has a cross-over front, similar to her daughters.
Mrs. Dashwood’s Diamond Print Gown
Another “workaday” dress, like her leaf print dress, in a cotton print.
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!
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:
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:
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).
Mrs. Jennings’s Grey Striped/Scrolled Dress
A very elegant dress, although the scrolls make it look fussier than it is.
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.
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.
Mrs. Jennings’s Peachy Striped Gown
One of the few dresses she rewears!
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!
Mrs. Jennings’s Ball Gown
Holy crap, lady! This dress is fabulous! Shot silk taffeta with Renaissance revival cut-out sleeves!
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.
Which are your favorites in the wardrobes of Mrs. Dashwood and Mrs. Jennings?