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:
Basically it boils down to three things:
- The waistline was still hovering closer to its natural position.
- The skirts were full, sometimes ridiculously so.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Aside from the linen, Jane does get a few interesting non-linen outfits:
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.
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.
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.
Then there’s this cameo by Helen McCrory, in which she wears a kind of weird early Regency gown:
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:
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:
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!