Wedding Dresses in Jane Austen’s World

Courtship and Marriage5

Though nearly all of Jane Austen’s works end with a wedding, she does not spend much time detailing the weddings themselves, much less the wedding dresses.


Modern brides often spend a great deal of effort and money on the wedding dress and expect to wear it only once. Honestly, it is hard to imagine another event where wearing one’s wedding dress might be appropriate. Not exactly the sort of thing you’d wear to dinner, right?

In the regency era, though, the cost of textiles was so prohibitive that only royals like Princess Charlotte and equally wealthy brides even considered dresses that might only be worn once. A bride, like Charlotte Lucas of Pride and Prejudice or Harriet Smith of Emma, wore her ‘best dress’ for her wedding. A bride with some means, like Emma or even perhaps the Bennets, might have a new ‘best dress’ made for the occasion. 

What might this ‘best dress’ look like? Unless one were quite wealthy, it would not be white. White garments required a huge amount of upkeep in an era where all wash was done by hand, so only the wealthiest wore it. Colored gowns were typical, with yellow, blue, pink and green being popular for several regency era years. Middle and lower class brides often chose black, dark brown and burgundy as practical colors that would wear well for years to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fashion plates from Ackerman’s and La Belle Assemblee illustrate gowns used for weddings. Although all these gowns are white, that is more indicative of the white gown being the most stylish of the era, rather than white being the wedding color. All these gowns followed the fashionable trends of formal gowns of the day, but were largely indistinguishable from other formal gowns. The La Belle Assemblee dress above is cited as both an evening dress and a wedding dress. To set a bridal dress apart, finer materials and richer trims might be utilized if the bride could afford them: silks, satins and lace. The trims might be altered for wear after the wedding.

Not unlike today, these fashion plates presented idealized versions of wedding gowns. The actual gowns that brides wore were often far simpler that the offerings from fashionable magazines. Here are a few pictures from the Met Museum of actual wedding dresses worn in the Regency era.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So are any of these what you imagined the Miss Bennets being married in?

 


Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen’s World, available in ebook and paperback

 

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References

A Lady of Distinction   –   Regency Etiquette, the Mirror of Graces (1811). R.L. Shep Publications (1997)

A Master-Key to the Rich Ladies Treasury or The Widower and Batchelor’s Directory by a Younger Brother, published in 1742.

Day, Malcom   –   Voices from the World of Jane Austen. David & Charles (2006)

Gener, S., and John Muckersy. M. Gener, Or, A Selection of Letters on Life and Manners. 3rd ed. Edinburgh: Printed for Peter Hill …, A. Constable & and A. MacKay ;, 1812.

Jones, Hazel   –   Jane Austen & Marriage . Continuum Books (2009)

Lane, Maggie   –   Jane Austen’s World. Carlton Books (2005)

Laudermilk, Sharon & Hamlin, Teresa L.   –   The Regency Companion. Garland Publishing (1989)

Le Faye, Deirdre   –   Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. Harry N. Abrams (2002)

Ray, Joan Klingel   –   Jane Austen for Dummies. Wiley Publishing, Inc. (2006)

Ross, Josephine   –   Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners. Bloomsbury USA (2006)

Selwyn, David   –   Jane Austen & Leisure. The Hambledon Press (1999)

Vickery, Amanda   –   The Gentleman’s Daughter. Yale University Press (1998)

12 comments

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    • Christine Rigby on May 16, 2017 at 1:38 am
    • Reply

    I believe the Misses Bennett might have been married in a gown similar to the first two but the olive is way to drab and the last too far above their station in life prior to their marriages

    1. I agree, the olive is far too drab!

    • Deborah on May 16, 2017 at 5:51 am
    • Reply

    I love the pictures added to give us the visuals. Thank you so much.

    1. I had such fun finding the images, thanks. Deborah!

    • Glynis on May 16, 2017 at 7:07 am
    • Reply

    My first choice for Jane and Elizabeth would be the second one. I would also consider the first one but the third one I could only imagine as a protest by Elizabeth if she had had to marry Mr Collins 😉. The last one is hard to see clearly on a hanger but I think it may have possibilities if worn by either of them.
    I loved this article, thank you so much Maria.

    1. The olive dress as a protest–what a neat idea! I love it!

    • Carole in Canada on May 16, 2017 at 3:14 pm
    • Reply

    I would think that their dresses, especially Jane’s would have a bit more embellishment…she would want to make her mother happy with more lace! Elizabeth, I would like to believe, would have some vines with flowers lightly embroidered around the hem, sleeves and neckline. Thank you for this delightful post!

    You know, I always thought you could do a really informative and picture filled book of fashions during Jane’s time and/or the Regency period. I certainly thought that after reading your Courtship & Marriage book! Then, I thought it might take away from all the other books you have to write! LOL!

    1. That is a really neat idea, Carole! I’ll have to keep it in mind for future projects!

    • Carol on May 16, 2017 at 3:33 pm
    • Reply

    The last one is the only one I’d consider as a wedding gown. The olive one done is a pretty color might be acceptable.

    1. They are pretty far removed from what we consider wedding gowns, aren’t they?

    • Sheila L. Majczan on May 26, 2017 at 3:57 pm
    • Reply

    These do look rather plain. I have always imagined that wedding dresses was NOT white as keeping them clean would be a problem and I would have assumed that they would be worn more than once as they were so expensive, having all been sewn together by hand. Can’t imagine having to do that for each and every dress we wear…no wonder wardrobes were limited…or that dresses were redone with various ribbons, lace, buttons, etc. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thinking about dong all that hand sewing really does put it all in a different perspective, doesn’t it?

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