Regency Fashion Guides, Trimming Bonnets, and More – Pride & Prejudice Chapter 2
Were men and women held to the same standards of fashion during the Regency Era? What exactly did trimming a bonnet entail? How important were social norms to Mrs. Bennet? Find out the answers to these questions and more, in this episode of My Cousin Jane.
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Books referenced in this episode
Note: Transcripts on this site are the scripts I used when preparing to record the show. They may or may not be a 100% faithful representation of the final recording. Audio clips of Pride & Prejudice come from Karen Savage’s narration of Pride & Prejudice, courtesy of LibriVox.org.
Welcome to My Cousin Jane, a podcast about Jane Austen and her works. With your host, Lee Falin. Season 2 – episode 2.
Welcome back everyone, or if you’re a first-time listener, thanks for joining us. Though you can of course listen to these episodes in any order, I highly recommend that you listen to each season from the start.
In each episode, we look at what you might think of as the behind the scenes featurettes or deleted scenes of a particular chapter in Austen’s books. And sometimes, I’ll refer back to the content of a previous episode. So be sure to go back and listen to those when you get a chance.
As always, if you enjoy the show and would like to see it continue, please consider supporting us by going to mycousinjane.com and clicking the little donate button.
Chapter two is even shorter than chapter one by my estimation, and two important things take place in this chapter. First, we find out that Mr. Bennet secretly visited Mr. Bingley without telling anyone, despite what he told his wife. And second, we meet some of the daughters of the Bennet family and get some hints as to their personalities.
Just so we’re all on the same page when we discuss the family, I want to talk briefly about the five Bennet daughters, even though they’re not all explicitly mentioned in this chapter.
The eldest is Jane. Throughout the book we learn that she is considered the most beautiful, rather shy, and the least judgmental.
The second eldest is Elizabeth, though her father often calls her “Lizzy”. She is our main protagonist, and most of the novel takes place from her point of view.
Third in line is Mary. Austen isn’t very flattering when she talks about Mary. Mary’s defining trait in the novel is that she works really hard to improve herself both in reading and in musical performance, but her opinion of her talent exceeds her actual abilities.
Welcome to the club Mary.
Next is Catherine, known as “Kitty” in the novel. She doesn’t play a very large role in the novel, acting mostly as her younger sister’s comrade in arms so to speak.
Finally, we have Lydia, the youngest sister. Lydia is an impetuous young woman who appears to have little regard for the restrictions of propriety.
Though on the bright side, she is the tallest of the girls.
So, with those introductions out of the way, on to an important topic: Hat Trimming.
Hat Trimming and Fashion
When Mr. Bennet reveals his big surprise to the family, Lizzy is in the middle of trimming a hat. I want to talk about this, because it comes up again later in the book. And fashion was such an important aspect of Regency life.
Just like today, during the Regency era what was considered fashionable was constantly shifting.
Fashion advice at the time pointed out that while it wasn’t easy to judge someone’s talents, learning, or character, your sense of fashion was under constant scrutiny.
Men and women were given similar advice as to fashion trends. In the 1837 Pocket Book of Etiquette, the advice is given that:
Etiquette requires some attention to the prevailing mode, but not a servile imitation of any fashionable idiot.1837 Pocket Book of Etiquette
Meanwhile, the section on bonnet trimming and construction in the 1853 Ladies’ Self Instructor cautions:
No doubt, in the choice both of material and of colour, considerable defer- ence must be paid to the prevailing fashion. It is well to avoid the two extremes into which some people are very apt to fall. The one is an entire disregard to the prevailing taste, and the other a servile submission to its tyrannic sway. A medium course is the only sensible one, and, in this, good sense will dictate how far to go, and where to stop.Ladies Self Instructor
There was also a strong sense among some women of the time that rather than having your dress follow the prevailing fashion of modern England, your choice of clothing should be dictated by your body type and complection.
The 1811 fashion guide The Mirror of Graces (written by “A Lady of Distinction” warns:
Some women will actually disguise and disfigure themselves, rather than not appear in the prevailing fashion, which, though advantageous to one character of face, may have the direct contrary effect with another. I hinted at this in the earlier part of this dissertation; now I come closer to my subject, intending to enter into a minute detail of what ought or ought not to be worn by women of different moulds and complexions.The Mirror of Graces, by A Lady of Distinction
But regardless of this which school of fashion you belonged to, everyone felt the need for a good bonnet. And the Ladies Self Instructor gives extensive details on construction, modification, and trimming of bonnets and a host of other things, claiming:
An acquaintance with the directions here given will soon enable any one to make a bonnet of almost any shape. The principles are the same in all, and details cannot be learned from books. They can only be the result of observation and experience.Ladies Self Instructor
Maybe one of the reasons details couldn’t be learned from that book is because it has no pictures.
The instructions for reforming a bonnet from an existing foundation state:
Detach the crown from the front, and shape the material by the pattern, tack the lining and the outside to the front and cord, or otherwise secure the edges. Then make the crown, covering the top first ; then put on it the piece of the material that is to go round, in a proper manner, and secure it at the top by a single or double row of cord, fit it as tightly as possible to the frame you had before pre- pared, and fasten it on at the back. You then turn in the edges and set it on the front. The edge of the crown is to be outermost, or over that of the front. You put in the head lining and attach the curtain as in the former examples, and trim it as you choose.The Mirror of Graces, by A Lady of Distinction
Patience required indeed.
The Next Ball
Leaving fashion behind for now, last episode, we talked about the etiquette of introductions. Mrs. Bennet is determined that in this particular instance, the social norms be properly adhered to.
But this chapter shows us that there’s at least one Regency-era social norm that Mrs Bennet is apparently quite happy to ignore—allowing all of her daughters to be “out”. As shown in this clip, courtesy of Karen Savage and Librivox.org:
Lydia, my love, though you are the youngest, I dare say Mr. Bingley will dance with you at the next ball.”
“Oh!” said Lydia stoutly, “I am not afraid; for though I am the youngest, I’m the tallest.”Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 2
That wraps up our second episode of season 2 of My Cousin Jane.
As always, if you enjoy the show and would like to see it continue, please consider supporting us by going to MyCousinJane.com and clicking the little donate button.
Either way, thanks so much for listening.
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