TBT: Sense & Sensibility (1995): Fanny & Lucy

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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 WinsletHugh GrantAlan 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 previous 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; then looked at the older ladies, Mrs. Dashwood and Mrs. Jennings.

Today we’re looking at two more supporting characters, the Regency bad girls of this film: Fanny (Harriet Walter), wife of John Dashwood, Elinor and Marianne’s half-brother, and Lucy Steele (Imogen Stubbs), Elinor’s rival for Edward Ferrars. Fanny is a bit older than Elinor, Marianne, and Lucy, but not as old as Mrs. Dashwood or Mrs. Jennings. She’s the richest of the bunch, with her husband having just inherited Elinor/Marianne/John’s father’s estate. Lucy Steele is not well off at all, often relying on the kindness of her “betters.”

 

Fanny’s Wardrobe

Fanny’s wardrobe kicks butt, frankly, for fabulosity. She’s also the female character in the heaviest mourning besides Mrs. Dashwood, which I guess is making the point that she can afford a new wardrobe while Elinor and Marianne can’t?

Fanny’s Black Striped Dress

A black-on-black striped gown with a chemisette that has a standing lace collar.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

There also might be another layer in there, given all the ruffles on the shoulders? Note the stripe placement on the gown hem.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

At first I thought this outfit included a spencer, but it’s definitely a chemisette. Also, PUPPEH.

1995 Sense and Sensibility
1995 Sense and Sensibility

With a big hat and purple shawl for traveling. And, PUPPY.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Fanny’s Black Renaissance Revival Dress

I talked about the Renaissance revival in the 1810s-20s when discussing Mrs. Jennings’ wardrobe. Again, the cut-outs on the oversleeves make me think they’re referencing that style here.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

There’s an overbodice with silver trim. Note also the silver net in the hair!

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Here you can see that’s an overbodice, not a full overgown.

Fanny’s Black Striped Dress #2

I THINK this is a different dress than her others? The stripes look narrower to me.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

I think the blobs are connected to the fichu? Maybe?

Fanny’s Black & Silver Evening Dress

THIS DRESS IS TO DIE FOR!!! Clearly made from a sari, but made well, with a gorgeous layout. I also love the sleeves, even if they seem a bit more 1910s than Regency.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

They’ve used the sari border around the bust and over the shoulders. Those sleeves!!

1995 Sense and Sensibility

I couldn’t stop screencapping.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

I LOVE the back layout!

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Fanny’s Silver & Black Spencer

A classic Regency bad girl look! Pale silvery lavender spencer with amazing metallic embroidered standing collar, over a solid? black gown.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

That hat! The collar embroidery! The color combination!

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Fanny’s Green & Red Gown

Another great use of a sari. I like how they’ve laid out the saris in interesting ways in this film, rather than just plomped them obviously.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

They’ve used the border to go over the shoulders again, and matched the red with the cuff.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

The way they’ve filled in the bodice front is nice, creating stripes. Also note indoor cap!

1995 Sense and Sensibility

The only full-length shots we see.

Fanny’s Lavender Pelisse

1995 Sense and Sensibility

A nice turban!

1995 Sense and Sensibility

The pelisse has a lower neckline than the undergown.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

In this behind-the-scenes shot, you can see the pelisse has some kind of floral embroidery along the front openings.

Lucy’s Wardrobe

Lucy is ho-hum, except for her one amazing spencer.

Lucy’s White Gown

At first I was going to call foul on the parasol, thinking it was switching to black and white, when I realized it’s just whether they’re shooting the underside or overside.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

The dress is basic, from a beige or off-white cotton, but the fichu, hat, and parasol liven things up.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

The hat trimming is great!

1995 Sense and Sensibility

She’s got a slight train.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Lucy’s Striped White Evening Dress

Zzzzz boring!

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Striped cotton, puffed sleeve.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

At least the stripe has a bit of color to it?

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Lucy’s Spencer

Her one ass-kicking garment, hence way too many screencaps:

1995 Sense and Sensibility

The fabric has a diamond pattern in it, and looks textured. Here you can see the undergown has some kind of floral stripe to it.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

LOVE the points along the hem, highlighted with the gathered trim, and the standing collar, and the elbow tassels!

1995 Sense and Sensibility
1995 Sense and Sensibility

New hat, and I love the squared-off shape to it. I think this is a different undergown?

1995 Sense and Sensibility

And a third undergown, this time white. Notice again the elbow tassels!

1995 Sense and Sensibility

More tassels in back!

1995 Sense and Sensibility 1995 Sense and Sensibility 1995 Sense and Sensibility

Lucy’s Lavender Evening Gown

A lavender gown with a sheer overlayer.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

I’m not a fan, the white lace is too prissy/Holly Hobby.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Her hair is nicely Grecian! Here you can see the net overlay, particularly on the sleeves.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Ugh!

Lucy’s Printed Stripe Day Dress

Possibly the first gown worn under the spencer?

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Lucy’s Lavender Day Dress

Possibly the second gown worn under the spencer?

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Lovely fichu, and PUPPY!!

1995 Sense and Sensibility

I like how her hair often incorporates fishtail braids.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

 

 

Which are your favorites from Fanny and Lucy’s wardrobes?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

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.

13 Responses

  1. Stephani Miller

    Nearly everything Fanny wears is gorgeous (not a fan of the apple green/red sari gown myself), and of the highest level of decoration. I do find it amusing, as a character device, that her entire wardrobe is essentially full mourning for her father-in-law while the actual widow makes do with a couple black gowns, some of which appear as if they could have been overdyed for the occasion, and black accessories.

    All of Lucy’s outfits are a snore–except that burgundy spencer and the squared hat (I think the style is a chopka). But they certainly fit her financial situation.

    Reply
    • Aleko

      The square-top bonnet could be referencing the Polish czapka, or the academic trencher cap (= “mortar board”). I’ve certainly seen at least one Regency fashion plate which captions square-top headgear as ‘trencher cap’.

      Reply
    • Kristina

      A better character device would have been to have Fanny come OUT of mourning sooner than everyone else. White dresses (with more colorful accessories) were the standard for stylish 1790s-1800s womenswear, so if Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters remained in plain mourning clothes while Fanny switched too quickly to fashionable white, the point would be made far more effectively. I think most audiences already understand what mourning meant for people in the 19th century. What S&S 1995 did with Elinor and Marianne seems similar to what P&P 1995 did with the Bennet sisters: put them in white and pastels to show their “innocence.” But in S&S, they should be mourning their father, so it doesn’t work as well as it does in P&P.

      Reply
  2. Aleko

    With the black-and-white striped shawl, Fanny’s silver spencer outfit has something of the vibe of Cecil Beaton’s Ascot Opening Day outfits in My Fair Lady.

    Reply
  3. Maureen

    We rewatched this last week. Most of Lucy’s wardrobe, as you say, is ho-hum, but that tasseled spencer and that hat are wonderful!

    I appreciate all the screen caps, especially of the hair – I hadn’t noticed Lucy’s herringbone braids when we watched.

    Reply
  4. Saraquill

    I’d like to steal Fanny’s clothes after Trystan takes as she wishes. She’s a blog mistress, I think that entitles her to first dibs.

    Reply
  5. Katie

    I may be wrong, but I think that making dresses out of saris was a actual thing that was done in this era.

    Reply
    • Aleko

      It was – but only in India,. There are Regency dresses in the V&A and the Kyoto costume Institute made of lovely Indian fabrics and Indian ornaments, but they were all made in India by or for ladies living in India! I don’t know any example of a surviving dress or a fashion plate showing imported sari fabric being used in Britain. There is a well-known 1790s over-robe in the V&A made out of two Indian-style shawls stitched together (https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O13819/gown-unknown/) , but in fact the shawls are English-made imitations of Indian ones.

      Reply
  6. Lily Lotus Rose

    My favorite is the puppy…and I’m a cat person! Seriously, the only costume that appeals to me out of this set is Fanny’s black and silver evening dress.

    Reply

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