Jane Austen “It Girls”…What They’re Wearing Now
Jane Austen wrote six novels with some of the most interesting, fully-realized heroines ever put into words. Their personalities spanned from self-assured, bold, witty and smart to uncouth, silly, flippant and downright rude. As well-rounded and three-dimensional as her characters were in their natural habitat of 18th and 19th century England, let’s remove them from their indigenous petticoats and corsets and place them in the here and now. Where would Emma Woodhouse shop? What kind of trouble would Marianne Dashwood be causing today? Who are Elizabeth Bennet’s favorite designers? I know that this is hallowed ground, as Austenites don’t mess around when it comes to their leading ladies, but after spending decades getting to know these women personally, I attempted to pinpoint their favorite looks, fashion icons and shopping stomping grounds of today.
Lizzy is arguably the most beloved of Austen’s protagonists. Straightforward, honest and good-humored, Elizabeth’s style is no-frills. She doesn’t fuss with her wardrobe, but she has good taste – modern, simple, tomboyish, androgynous. In P&P she’s constantly and cleverly crossing boundaries – refusing marriage proposals to the chagrin of her mother, declaring herself an equal to Darcy’s classist aunt and sticking up for herself left and right, saying things like “My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me” (You go girl). Translating that into modern looks, she likes to push the boundaries of fashion in subtle ways and feels very comfortable in traditionally masculine apparel. Darcy admires her “easy playfulness.” She is the kind of girl who loves to have fun, to go out dancing with her friends and let loose. But watch yourself around her. She come off as all fun and games but, if you cross her, she’ll put you in your place faster than you can say “Pemberly House.”
We can use Austen’s own lines to sum up Emma – “handsome, clever, rich.” To put it bluntly, Emma is full of herself. The narrator describes her this way: “The real evils, indeed, of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself.” She’s an heiress; she’s spoiled, but she truly believes in using her position to do good and to be charitable. But, as they say, the road to hell is paved with trying to do good deeds but always messing them up in the end (or something like that). In the book, Emma is zeroed-in on her hometown (more like home village) of Highbury and sees it as the center of the universe. The world has changed a lot since then, so she knows Highbury isn’t the apex of the known world, but she still believes England is. As our resident Anglophile, she shops and dresses all things traditional UK. She wears A-line, knee-length tartan plaid skirts with stockings and cashmere cardigans. She has tea at four o’clock every day and she will never get over not being Emma, Duchess of Cambridge.
Fashion icon: Princess Di
Favorite Designer: Burberry, Harrod’s of London
Favorite places to shop: Harrod’s, Boden
Played by: Gwyneth Paltrow, Alicia Silverstone (Yes, Clueless is a loosely-based, modern-day retelling of Emma!)
Why not Elinor, you may ask? Elinor is the quietly suffering, properly British, sensible heroine of Sense and Sensibility, after all. But let’s be real – Elinor is kind of boring. The middle Dashwood sister, Marianne, has much more emotion, pizzazz and spirit. She is honed-in on her style and can be a bit of a snob to those who don’t meet her high standards. To put it in her words, “I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every point coincide with my own. He must enter in all my feelings; the same books, the same music must charm us both.” She knows what she likes, and she’ll settle for nothing less. Marianne has a flare for dramatics – she loves plunging necklines, heavy fabrics weighed down by sequins and beadwork, colorful feathers, thick fur, bold animal prints – anything that will draw all eyes to her. She wears evening gowns to brunch, white to weddings and sleeps in silk pajamas. And how does she afford this lavish life of luxury, though her family has a comparably tiny income after the death of her father? One word: Consignment. The girl can thrift.
Fashion icon: Zelda Fitzgerald
Favorite Designer: Jenny Packham
Favorite places to shop: eBay, Gilt
Played by: Kate Winslet