Inquiring Reader: Emma, the author of this post, lives in Melbourne, Australia. After she interviewed me for a class assignment, I asked her if she would give us her impressions of the the fabulous fashion show at the National Gallery of Victoria. Happily, she said yes. Click here to read an article on Jane Austen Today and for more images from the exhibit. I first featured this post on Jane Austen Today and decided to embellish it a little, adding more images of the museum and items in the exhibit. New links have been added, as well as additional comments about the dresses. About 50 costumes were shown in the exhibit. If you click on all the links to view images on other sites, you will see about 20% of the outfits and a few of the Regency items that accompanied them.
The National Gallery of Victoria has a permanent space for textile exhibits that is often overlooked by visitors. So, you can imagine my surprise when I entered the Persuasion space and found it far from empty. There were young children, middle aged couples, elderly couples and a selection of tourists, all gathered in the rooms openly admiring the clothing and documents behind their glass cases.
The collection was set up beautifully in their cases, decorated to become rooms – painted blue, with pianofortes, writing desks and sitting chairs.
It was interesting listening to the thoughts of those around me, with many observing the “heaviness of the walking dress” and the “gorgeous detailing on that white muslin.” Of course every woman in the room stopped to admire the outfit worn by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, no doubt reliving the lake scene.
With so many pieces to choose from I had no idea how I was going to pick one or two to write about, but finally I have settled on the ball and the walking dress.
Having read many ball scenes in Austen’s works it what inevitable that I would love the ball dress. The dress was an empire line, with a skirt that went outwards into a cone shape, and the sleeves were puffed with lace detailing. It was interesting to read the plaque which revealed just how complicated the ball dress actually was – with there being gauze, embroidery with silk floss, lace, satin, piping and some sort of plants vine used in its construction.
And then there was the walking dress, a dress that I’m not sure I’d like to go for a walk in myself. I’d expected something lighter so I was very surprised by the heavy bronze satin dress in the case. It appeared very restrictive – fitted, long tight sleeves – but was incredibly beautiful and well made.
The exhibit closes at the gallery on November 8, 2009. I encourage anyone that can make it to go. It’s free of charge and definitely a collection not be to missed.
Click here for an audio tour of the exhibit. In it you will learn that this exhibit shows the more provincial, country dresses that were designed for walking and outdoor activities. Empire dresses allowed for a greater freedom of movement than in previous eras. The thin cotton, often low-cut gowns also revealed more of a woman’s figure than before, prompting Jane Austen to write about a vicar’s wife that she was “nakedly and expensively dressed.”