How the Fashion-obsessed Jane Austen Would Love What’s Under My Christmas Tree!

Two books I have wanted found their way under my Christmas tree by way of Santa and his sleigh.  These are books to savor, perhaps even drool over on these cold dark winter nights! Here is just a quick summary: 

Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century Fashion in Detail, by Avril Hart and Susan North.  Photographs by Richard Davis; Drawings by Leonie Davis.  London:  V&A Publishing, 2009.  [First published by V&A in 1998 as Historical Fashion in Detail from the 17th  and 18th Centuries].  ISBN 978 185177 567 5

From the introduction:  

These remarkable photographs of the V&A’s collection of historical dress capture the essence of each stylish garment, opening up new perspectives on high fashion between 1600 and 1800.  Offering a lively survey of fashionable patterns, fabrics and colours, the images depict a wide variety of styles and effects, from the minimalism of mid-18th-century white-work to the flamboyant excesses of high Baroque flowered silks…

Each chapter offers close-up photographs showing the varied details of dress, accompanied by line drawings and a full description of each piece.  I give as an example the description of “long sleeves” in the chapter on “Collars, Cuffs and Pockets”:   

Long sleeves in women’s dress became fashionable in the 1780s, and with them, new ways of fastening and decoration at the wrists.  In this very simple cotton gown from the late 1790s, the sleeve is closed with a narrow band of fabric, edged with piping, which fastens with hook and eye. 

While the pattern of the fabric is similar to that of the jacket on the left, the crispness and precision of the English printed cotton seen contrasts with the loose, flowing execution of the Indian printed fabric.  Block-printing on cotton began in England in the 1750s, imitating designs of imported Indian fabrics.  The pattern of floral trails seen here exhibits a blend of influences from Indian-painted and printed textiles, and rococo woven silks, a style which remained popular until the end of the century.  [Pictured is a woman’s gown of printed cotton, English, 1795-1799, followed by sleeve detail]  [p. 94-95]


Austen of course was concerned about her longs sleeves:  “I wear my gauze gown today, long sleeves & all; I shall see how they succeed, but as yet I have no reason to suppose long sleeves are allowable … [and later] … Mrs. Tilson has long sleeves too, & assured me that they are worn in the evening by many.  I was glad to hear this.– ” [Ltr. 99, 9 March 1814]

Chapters included: 

  • Stitching, Seams, Quilting and Cording
  • Gathers, Pleats and Looped Drapery
  • Collars, Cuffs and Pockets
  • Buttons
  • Trimmings
  • Applied Decoration
  • Slashing, Pinking and Stamping
  • Knitting, Lace and Openwork
  • Stomachers
  • Gloves and Shoes
  • Glossary and Select Bibliography 


The great overlap of the 18th and 19th centuries meant that Santa had to do double duty and also leave the Nineteenth-Century Fashion in Detail, by Lucy Johnston, with Marion Kite and Helen Persson.  Photographs by Richard Davis; Drawings by Leonie Davis.  London:  V&A Publishing, 2009 [first published, 2005].  ISBN: 978 18177 572 9. 

Many of the Influences, innovations and stylistic changes that shaped nineteenth-century fashion are brought to life by the garments illustrated in this book.  The delicate embroidery on neo-classical gowns, elegant tailoring on men’s coats, vibrant colours of artificial dyes and profusion of ornate trimmings reveal some of the details which make this period so rich.  They also show how a woman’s silhouette was transformed during this era through whalebone corsets, cage crinolines, bustles and skilful garment construction…. [Introduction, p. 7]

Again, each piece of clothing is presented with a photograph, a line drawing, and a full description .  Chapters included: 

  • The Male Image
  • Historicism
  • Romantic Styles
  • Exoticism
  • Innovations
  • Construction Details
  • The Natural World
  • Glossary and Select Bibliography 

Two quite amazing books, filled with sumptuous detail, lovely patterns and fabrics, showing the clothing of the fashion-conscious middle and upper class men and women of these times.  If you have any interest in fashion, these definitely need to be added to your collection!  Thank you Santa for paying attention and seeing how much I needed these!  Makes one want to drag out the sewing machine…

P.S. There is another book in this series, titled, Underwear Fashion in Detail – [V&A Publishing, 2010] perhaps Santa was too embarrassed to bring this one?

Illustrations from the V&A website.  Books are available at the V&A online Shop, and also available at other booksellers.

Copyright @Jane Austen in Vermont, 2008-2010.

5 thoughts on “How the Fashion-obsessed Jane Austen Would Love What’s Under My Christmas Tree!

  1. Thanks for visiting Jennifer and Adriana! – the books are visual feasts, and for someone who makes historical clothing, the detail in the photographs and description will be invaluable.
    Happy New year!


  2. Pingback: Regency Fashion: Printed Cotton Fabrics « Jane Austen's World

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