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
“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).
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
A Swedish curator and costumer just posted these pics of this ensemble when it was on display at Skokloster Castle:
View this post on Instagram
Again, I am a completionist!
Made of grey wool, with a ribbed slightly blue-ish fabric for the collar and revers lining.
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”:
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.
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.
A lot of people have connected the robes in the film to this extant robe at the Victoria & Albert Museum:
Which is patterned in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion books:
They also remind me of this robe, also at the V&A (but you can find many examples of this style from the 1790s):
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:
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).
I love her fabric-crowned capote shown above; she also has several straw-only bonnets/hats:
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:
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:
You do these looks in the period, but by c. 1800 all-up styles are more common:
Nonetheless, her hair has more variation than I remember:
Which is your favorite of Marianne’s costumes? Stay tuned next week, as we dive into some of the other supporting characters!