A Frivolous Distinction: Fashions and Needlework in the Works of Jane Austen by Penelope Byrde is not a new publication. In fact, I bought its forerunner, a booklet, over 14 years ago in Bath. The short reference book, only 42 pages long, is rich in Jane lore, and filled with interesting information about clothes, shopping, and needlework. Find a fascinating description of the longer book published four years ago in JASNA. In her review, Marsha Huff describes her quest to find a more detailed description of the Mamalouc cap Jane Austen mentioned in a letter to Cassandra in 1799, and which she wore to the Kempshott ball:
I am not to wear my white satin cap to-night. after all; I am to wear a mamalone cap instead, which Charles Fowle sent to Mary, and which she lends me. It is all the fashion now; worn at the opera, and by Lady Mildmays at Hackwood balls. I hate describing such things, and I dare say you will be able to guess what it is like. I have got over the dreadful epocha of mantua-making much better than I expected. My gown is made very much like my blue one, which you always told me sat very well, with only these variations: the sleeves are short, the wrap fuller, the apron comes over it, and a band of the same completes the whole.
Ms. Huff attempted to find out more about Jane’s Mamalouc cap and what it looked like. The closest description I found (through Deidre Le Faye) was one from Constance Hill:
The battle of the Nile, fought in the preceding August, had set the fashion in ladies’ dress for everything suggestive of Egypt and of the hero of Aboukir. In the fashion-plates of the day we find Mamalouc cloaks and Mamalouc robes of flowing red cloth. Ladies wear toupées, somewhat resembling a fez, which we recognise as the “Mamalouc cap.” Their hats are adorned with the “Nelson rose feather,” and their dainty feet encased in “green morocco slippers bound with yellow and laced with crocodile-coloured ribbon.”
Click on this link to the Gallery of Fashion, 1799 to view illustrations of fashions and feathered headdresses of this period. And then click on the following links to view a regency era sewing box, and to learn more about bonnets and needlework of the period.
- Hygra Antiques: See an example of an exquisite Regency sewing box in this link
- Regency Headdress, Caps, Bonnets, Bandeaux! Linore Rose Burkhard
- Women’s turbans, 1794-1798, Cathy Decker
- Jane Austen’s Needlework, Jane Austen Today
- Although the writing is breezy, 21st century, and American in tone, this 14 page PDF document, Back Stitch to the Future, discusses the history of needlework from Paleolithic times to the present.
Make this needle case made by Jane for her “neice”, Louise, and featured in A Frivolous Distinction. Instructions are courtesy of the Jane Austen Centre.
Illustrations from A Frivolous Distinction booklet, ISBN 0 901303 09 7