Well, it all depends...
Posted by JennieC on August 28, 1998 at 09:10:59:
In response to Low necklines, written by Bethany on August 27, 1998 at 21:05:12
Did women in Jane's time really wear such low necklines as were worn by women in the movies "Sense & Sensibilty" and "Emma"?
HC is correct that some of us have criticized the recent Miramax "Emma" for its rather unrealistic (albeit beautiful) costumes. Most of the women in that film would have been freezing all year 'round. Higher necklines were indeed worn, especially during the colder months (quite a long time in England!), and low necklines were reserved for evening wear (balls, supper parties, card parties, etc.). Highly fashionable ladies who followed the French styles more closely would probably be the ones most seen in the lower-cut necklines, while your everyday parson's daughter would be a bit more practical. See the costumes for Anne Elliot in the 1994 "Persuasion" adaptation to see a more conservative neckline (and one probably more representative of the vast majority of women at the time).
Jane Austen herself commented about necklines in a letter to her sister, Cassandra. I don't have my Letters book at hand, but she essentially wrote that she thought the latest fashion for daringly low necklines was absurd and she would not be caught wearing such an outfit.
Women also wore chemisettes or fichu scarves, which covered the bare skin at the neckline and prevented catching a cold. In a Regency diary, one writer noted that these items were called "bosom friends." ;-) The fashion plate here shows a woman with a chemisette and a cape.
P.S. - I have a page full of Regency fashion plates, paintings, photos of original gowns, etc., which you might enjoy peeking at. I'll link to it below.
- Link: Regency Fashion Images
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