TBT: Sense & Sensibility (1995): Marianne

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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 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.

Last week, I reviewed Elinor’s wardrobe and went over the basics of English women’s dress around 1800. Today, let’s look at Marianne, and go into how her wardrobe reflects some specific styles of the 1790s.

Costuming Marianne Dashwood

As discussed last week, the costumes were designed by the great Jenny Beavan and John Bright. According to an article in the LA Times, the two did their research using:

“The paintings of English artists Thomas Rowlandson, John Hopper [they mean Hoppner], George Romney and others, viewed at the Witt Library at London’s Courtauld Institute, which houses reproductions of many artists’ work. Also, fashion plates of the period from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum” (Fashion/Screen Style: Grecian Formula).

Here’s a few examples of artworks by those artists, so you can see what Beavan and Bright were going for. It’s interesting to note that these are more “18th century” artists than “19th century,” which again points to the film’s design being more 1790s than 1800s (or 1810s).

Portrait of the Frankland Sisters by John Hoppner, 1795, National Gallery of Art

Portrait of the Frankland Sisters by John Hoppner, 1795, National Gallery of Art

Barbara, Marchioness of Donegal, third wife to Arthur Chichester, 1st Marquess of Donegall by George Romney, 1793, Sotheby's

Barbara, Marchioness of Donegal, third wife to Arthur Chichester, 1st Marquess of Donegall by George Romney, 1793, Sotheby’s

Comforts of Bath: The Concert by Thomas Rowlandson, 1798, Yale Center for British Art

Comforts of Bath: The Concert by Thomas Rowlandson, 1798, Yale Center for British Art

Obviously Marianne’s wardrobe is subject to the same financial limitations that we discussed last week regarding Elinor’s, and she would be in the same kind of mourning as her sister. Marianne, however, is the “sensibility” of the novel and film’s title, which in this period meant more what we might call romanticism: feeling things deeply, being attuned to nature and emotion. However, that doesn’t mean her wardrobe should be fluttery and frilly; as one scholar notes,

“Marianne’s simple but elegant dresses reveal her good taste” (The Cambridge Companion to Literature on Screen).

Marianne’s Purple Gown

It’s cut similarly to many of Elinor’s dresses, with what looks like a drawstring neckline, which does appear to have been an option in this era — although a less common one:

Dress, 1810-15, Victoria & Albert Museum

Dress, 1810-15, Victoria & Albert Museum

More common would be a “drop front,” where the front is attached at the waistband, but there’s a separate piece underneath that closes, then the front flips up and is pinned at the side — like this:

Gown, 1800-05, Victoria & Albert Museum

The ovals show where the front is pinned up to cover the underpieces | Gown, 1800-05, Victoria & Albert Museum

Drop front gown - 1808, Isobel Carr

Here you can see the underpieces, with the front folded down | Drop front gown, 1808, Isobel Carr collection

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Marianne’s dress is gathered at the neckline, and there’s no overlap at the side bust indicating a drop-front. But check out how lovely that black and gold shawl is!

1995 Sense and Sensibility

There’s an actual waistband piece, not just a seam.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

The back pleating is lovely.

Marianne’s Dark Green Gown

Although the purple dress is semi-somber, I think this is her nod to mourning. She doesn’t wear it often — for a quick scene where they’re searching for houses, for washing Margaret’s hair, and for the scene where she reads Willoughby’s “I’m an asshole” Letter.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

It has what again looks like a drawstring neckline, but then a center back closure, which is a little odd.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

The fabric has a small woven sprig pattern.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

It looks like it buttons closed in back?

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Marianne’s Blue Evening Dress

Made of light blue silk taffeta, Marianne wears this for almost all the evening occasions. This one is an actual drop-front! The fabric looks like silk taffeta, and there’s gold trim around the waistline, as well as two gold “things” where the drop front fastens.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Costume designer John Bright mentions in this interview that the director asked him to add waistline accents so that the ladies’ dresses didn’t “disappear below the frame.” I’m guessing this mother-of-pearl (?) brooch is there for that reason.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Here you can see the drop-front flap, and the gold thingies at the attachment point. Note the fabric has a subtle woven pattern.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

The dress has a train, which adds to its formality.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Marianne’s Sleeveless Overdress

I think she generally wears this over her dotted dress discussed below. I’m thinking the fabric is silk taffeta? I was all set to say “WTF” to the sleeveless-ness, but then I found this sucker:

Costumes Parisien, 1802, Tunique a la Mameluck

1995 Sense and Sensibility

I like the low V neckline and the turn-back revers.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

There’s a subtle scroll-y pattern in that fabric.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

A Swedish curator and costumer just posted these pics of this ensemble when it was on display at Skokloster Castle:

 

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Marianne’s Nightgown

Again, I am a completionist!

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Marianne’s Pelisse

Made of grey wool, with a ribbed slightly blue-ish fabric for the collar and revers lining.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Please tell me that’s note fine-wale corduroy?

1995 Sense and Sensibility

I like the slightly double breasted front.

1995 Sense and Sensibility 1995 Sense and Sensibility

Marianne’s Peach Formal Gown

This is one of my favorites. I’m saying it’s a formal gown because she wears it to lunch at the Jennings’ and then again to an evening party at their house. I wish she wore it more!

The gown’s cross-over front makes it one of the styles that dates more to the late 1790s than the early 1800s. Cross-over fronts were generally Middle Eastern/Asian references, like this gown with “Turkish front”:

Gallery of fashion, 1797-98, Pink muslin robe with Turkish front

Gallery of fashion, 1797-98, Pink muslin robe with Turkish front

1806 Morning Dress American Met

Here’s an extant dress with a slight cross-over front | Morning Dress, American, 1806, Metropolitan Museum of Art

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Again, there’s a subtle pattern in the fabric. Note the gold trim along the waistband, just at the crossover, and then around the cuffs.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

A rare back view on the left. The gathers are really focused at the center back, which gives it a nice drape from the side.

Marianne’s Sheer Dotted Dress

She wears this WAY more than I remember! Looks like a functional gathered neckline, and it’s worn over a solid medium blue underdress.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

A short train.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Now I see it’s both dotted AND striped.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

The wet scenes actually show us a ton, like the opening at the center front!

1995 Sense and Sensibility

And you can really see the line of the underdress.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

No back closure.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Like I said, she wears this a LOT!

1995 Sense and Sensibility

This is one of the best views of the fabric.

Marianne’s Peach Robe

This is the other style worn by both sisters that really nod to the 1790s — the “robe.” These were essentially open-front overdresses, although they could have a bodice front closure, and they were worn over lighter underdresses. From my research, they seem to be vestiges of late 18th-century robes à la française, turque, etc., in that they often have pleats along the side front (like the française) and no waist seam in the back.

Gallery of Fashion, 1794, Robe a la turque

Gallery of Fashion, 1794, Robe a la turque

A lot of people have connected the robes in the film to this extant robe at the Victoria & Albert Museum:

Gown, 1790-95, Victoria & Albert Museum

Gown, 1790-95, Victoria & Albert Museum

Which is patterned in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion books:

Janet Arnold's drawing of the same robe from Patterns of Fashion

Janet Arnold’s drawing of the same robe from Patterns of Fashion

They also remind me of this robe, also at the V&A (but you can find many examples of this style from the 1790s):

Gown, 1790-95, Victoria & Albert Museum

Gown, 1790-95, Victoria & Albert Museum

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Marianne’s robe is a self-striped peach, and now I’m finally noticing she’s wearing it over a floral sprigged gown.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Slight train in back, and she often wears it with a ruffled, lacey fichu.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

A bit more of that fichu.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

The back is cut without a waist seam.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Note the stitched-down pleats along the side, and then the bit that closes across the bodice front.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

On display.

1995 Sense and Sensibility 1995 Sense and Sensibility

Marianne’s Short Cape & Spencer

Which she wears over her dotted dress. The spencer is velvet with a cross-over front. I’m still dubious about the low-necked spencers, but they certainly wore short contrasting overbodices:

Costumes Parisien, 1798

Note this is sleeveless, however | Costumes Parisien, 1798

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Hood up, hood down. Note the fringe on the shoulder area.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

It’s basically a horizontal rectangle that hangs low in front.

1995 Sense and Sensibility 1995 Sense and Sensibility

Marianne’s Wedding Gown

A beautiful dress, described when exhibited as:

“One-piece cream mesh fabric with straw worked standing collar and long trained skirt bordered with open work straw braid, heavy gold and silver beading over cream gauze underskirt studded with tiny silver stars. Cream full-length petticoat. Lace bonnet and veil with small flowers” (Costumersguide.com).

A contemporary newspaper article describes it as “metallic gold lace and silk net” (Fashion/Screen Style: Grecian Formula).

1995 Sense and Sensibility

So much to look at! The standing ruff, the overgown, the lace ,the embroidery, the veil…

1995 Sense and Sensibility
1995 Sense and Sensibility

Note the veil has a wired brim.

1995 Sense and Sensibility 1995 Sense and Sensibility

Marianne’s Hats

I love her fabric-crowned capote shown above; she also has several straw-only bonnets/hats:

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Beautiful edging.

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Marianne’s Hairstyles

I think a lot of us remember Marianne’s hair as worse than it was because of the weird, hyper formed curls on the DVD cover:

Sense and Sensibility 1995 dvd cover

Luckily, it looks much more naturalistic in the film. The LA Times reported,

“Masses of tightly wound curls … fit in with the Greek look. In the 19th Century, curls were achieved with rag rollers. On the set, many of the actresses slept in pin curls and used heated soft foam hair twists for extra help, while others simply wore wigs” (Fashion/Screen Style: Grecian Formula).

Marianne’s hair is more early- to mid-1790s, with the shorter curls around the face and longer in back:

English women’s hairstyles, 1786-1800 (all culled from Wikimedia Commons)

You do these looks in the period, but by c. 1800 all-up styles are more common:

Gallery of Fashion 1794-1803

Various hairstyles from Gallery of Fashion, 1794-1803

Nonetheless, her hair has more variation than I remember:

1995 Sense and Sensibility

Which is your favorite of Marianne’s costumes? Stay tuned next week, as we dive into some of the other supporting characters!

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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.

3 Responses

  1. Constance

    Hmmm…not being recognized as a patron though was billed for February…will keep trying I guess?

  2. Aleko

    Are you going to do the male characters’ costumes as well, or only the women?