Estimating lace and muslin: dress and fashion in Jane Austen and her world, by Jeffrey A. Nigro is a fabulous article about fashion in Jane’s day. This conference paper was published in Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal in 2001. Some of Mr. Nigro’s observations include:
Convenience was another reason for the increasing simplicity in dress beginning in the 1780s. Dry cleaning was not invented until the middle of the nineteenth century, and did not become commonplace until the twentieth. In Austen’s time, a silk dress that got dirty was essentially ruined. The fabrics that started to become fashionable from the 1780s onward (muslin and other cotton fabrics, linen, lawn) were much easier to care for, which was part of their appeal. Nevertheless, given the absence of modern appliances, the care and maintenance of clothing still meant much work for the servants in upper- and middle-class households.
Outerwear garments included the spencer, a long-sleeved jacket that extended only to the raised waistline. Worn by both men and women, it was named for the 2nd Earl Spencer, who, according to one version of the story, cut off the coattails of his jacket after wagering that he could invent a new fashion. For colder weather, there was the pelisse, a skirt-length overcoat, often lined and trimmed with fur, which originated in Hungary as a part of military dress. Bonnets became fashionable, essentially smaller versions of the straw hats of the 1780s, but now pulled in to frame the face. Bonnets, like shawls, would become staples of feminine dress until at least the middle of the nineteenth century.
Muslin dress, Vintage Textile (top)
Jane Austen’s Pellisse Coat (middle)
Kyoto Costume Institute, Spencer Jacket (bottom)