Best Costumes in Jane Austen Adaptations

Jane Austen’s books are set during the Regency period when fashion was inspired by classic Greco-Roman art. Instead of the elaborate silks and hoop skirts of the 18th century, fashion evolved into something simpler. Men’s fashion was also simplified as a result of the Great Male Renunciation, which shifted men from ruffled and colorful garments to sober, athletic, and “democratic” fashions.

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Jane Austen’s adaptations over the past 30 years differ widely not only in how they represent the stories, but also in how they represent the fashions of the characters. Adaptations that strictly adhere to the storylines of the books generally have the most historically accurate costumes, while more imaginative or modern interpretations take more creative liberties in costume design. The best costumes are the costumes that pay homage to the context of the story and personify the character themselves.


Lalita’s Wedding Dress – Bride And Prejudice (2004)

Bride and Prejudice is one of many Jane Austen adaptations.

One of the few Bollywood stars to make it in Hollywood, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan stars in one of the most colorful renditions of Pride and Prejudice. In Marriage and prejudiceLA meets Bombay when Lalita Bakshi falls in love with Mr. Darcy, a wealthy American businessman who is visiting India with friends for a wedding.

Lalita wears a traditional Indian wedding dress in saffron red which includes lavish embroidery and beadwork. It is appropriate that she wears a traditional dress because she had judged Mr. Darcy for looking down on his culture. She was far from right!

Isabella Thorpe’s Ball Gown – Northanger Abbey (2007)

Felicity Jones and Carey Mulligan at Northanger Abbey chat at a ball.

Before taking on the role of Kitty, Carey Mulligan played the enemy of the young heroine Catherine (Felicity Jones), Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey. Isabella’s role is a far cry from Kitty’s. Isabella is a social climber and she knew how to dress.

One of her best costumes was her dress for the White Ball in Bath. This dress is found in a painting of the time. Her Grecian dress featured a plunging neckline, puffed sleeves, and gold embellishments accented with a beautiful jade necklace. With this dress, Isabella is far from penniless.

Bridget’s Playboy Bunny Costume – Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

Bridget shows up at a party in a Play Boy Bunny costume in Bridget Jones's Diary.

Some fans may not realize this Bridget Jones Diary is a modern tale of Pride and Prejudice. Clothes are implicated in a surprising number of Bridget Jones accidents. Her tiny skirt is the subject of her first conversation with Daniel Cleaver, her pink bra is a prized possession in a Thai prison, and her struggle with underwear is a frequent one.

But, one of her best mishaps comes when she mistakenly wears a Playboy bunny costume to a party that isn’t a costume party anymore. It’s an awkward moment for Bridget that she handles with a certain kindness. Although she tries her best to become more confident and attractive, she realizes the opposite in this scene.

Marianne’s pink dress – Sense And Sensibility (2008)

Marianne's dress in Sense and Sensibility is symbolic of her character.

Marianne’s pink dress in Sense and sensitivity is symbolic of her character’s personality in many ways. Just like Marianne, the dress is simple and embodies a girly freshness and coolness that is both playful and relaxed. Marianne pairs it with worn hair or a loose bun and ribbon when she’s feeling particularly romantic (on her date with Willoughby).

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She also wears a bright yellow suggesting an Indian origin or influence which hints at her hopeful and adventurous spirit at this point in the film. This look contains a mix of elements that don’t quite fit the Regency period, but do a great job of painting Marianne at this point in history.

Elizabeth’s Brown Collar Dress – Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice 2005 in a fan favorite costume.

In Jane Austen’s best adaptation, Elizabeth Bennet was more tomboyish and at one with nature than other iterations of this Pride and Prejudice personage. This is very pronounced in Lizzie’s wardrobe as she wears a variety of earth-toned dresses in worn fabrics. Costume designer and three-time Oscar nominee and winner Jacqueline Durran also wanted Lizzie to look smart, shiny and uninterested in current fashions.

The dress that best optimizes these characteristics is the brown dress she wears with a white collared tunic. This dress has an academic side to it and is softened by her beautiful dress which also reveals her romantic dreamy side. Although the dress is not representative of women’s fashion of the time, it combines various elements of men’s fashion.

The Bennet Sisters Party Dresses – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

The Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies prepare to fight.

Not only Pride, prejudice and zombies taking creative liberties with the story (by adding zombies) but he also took creative liberties in the design of several costumes. For example, the film ends with Lily James in pants!

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However, the costumes most faithful to the story were the best in the film. Costume designers have found a way to make Regency-era robes and bonnets quite appropriate for zombie hunting. Sister Bennet’s day dresses and spencer jackets were not only perfect for the era, but were perfect for each of the characters.

Lydia and Kitty Matching – Pride And Prejudice (2005)

Kitty and Lydia were dressed to mirror themselves in Pride and Prejudice.

In the Pride and Prejudice Companion Book, costume designer Jacqueline Durran described Lydia and Kitty as Tweedledee and Tweedledum teenagers. She designed their costumes to be mirror images of each other, so that when one is wearing a yellow jacket, the other is wearing a yellow dress creating an asymmetry between the two.

It suits sisters who are attached at the hip and have very similar personalities. Kitty and Lydia’s dresses combine Regency-era fashion with the retro styles worn by their mother, whom they follow closely.

Mrs. Elton’s Orange Dress – Emma (2020)

Mrs. Elton's costume in Emma is a perfect representation of her character.

One of Emma’s best adaptations, the 2020 film is full of lavish outfits and a visual treat. The costume that best personifies a character is the ensemble Mrs. Elton wears when she and her new husband visit the Woodhouses after their wedding.

The Eltons are looking forward to their recent nuptials, and the orange dress typifies Mrs. Elton’s rude and selfish personality. The dress itself is solid apart from the color, however, it is accessorized with a ruffled collar and a large bow atop her head. Surprisingly, this ridiculous look fits the era perfectly, making it one of the best costumes in the film.

Cher’s Yellow Schoolgirl Plaid – Clueless (1995)

Alicia Silverstone in Clueless

Cher’s yellow plaid Dolce & Gabbana schoolgirl uniform with Mary Jane shoes and knee high socks in this modern take on Austen Emma is one of the most iconic costumes in film history. A key element of openness clueless scene that lives rent-free in everyone’s head, the whole thing was a perfect introduction to the character who is playful and fun but takes himself very seriously.

This look alone defined an era in 90s fashion and sent girls across the country shopping for knee high socks and plaid skirts. More than 25 years later, the outfit remains relevant in pop culture. In an interview with Today, Alicia Silverstone revealed that there were also blue and red versions of the outfit and that yellow was a last minute decision.

Mr. Darcy’s Wet Shirt – Pride and Prejudice (1995)

The 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice set the bar high for every Austen adaptation that has followed. A beloved scene from the miniseries occurs when Mr. Darcy takes an impromptu swim in the lake. Surprisingly, this scene wasn’t in Jane Austen’s novel, however, it does show a turning point for Mr. Darcy beginning to take himself less seriously. Mr. Darcy is now the one to act inappropriately when he meets Elizabeth moments later.

The wet shirt symbolizes taking action outside of society’s expectations for him. His perfectly acceptable and historically accurate ensemble is an excellent representation of menswear of the era. His long trousers, riding boots, double-breasted waistcoat and accompanying shaggy hair suit a man of his social status.

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