This was a special event - a series of talks about Regency fashion at Melbourne's National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). The talks accompanied a wonderful clothing exhibition called Persuasion: Fashion in the Age of Jane Austen. Historical costume? Jane Austen? In Melbourne? I'm there!
So on Saturday I visited the NGV with two good friends and fellow Austen devotees, to listen to three talks about the exhibition. The first was by the curator of the exhibition, a delightful fellow called Roger Leong. He spoke about the changes to the fashionable waist line during Jane Austen's life time and slightly beyond, from its natural position in the late 18th century to it sitting right under the bust in the early years of the 19th century. I learnt some interesting things about how their clothes were worn, including what a round gown is and how dresses of the period featured a clever bib front which was pinned up. A lot of pinning was used, it seems, as buttons were expensive. He also spoke a lot about how people selected their clothes, and how they were re-fashioned to make best use of expensive fabric.
The second talk was on the emerging importance of the shawl during the period, as an item of luxury, love and warmth, as well as fashion. This was a surprisingly interesting subject, addressed by Susan Scollay. I now know how to tell the difference between a Kashmir and a Paisley shawl too; you never know when that may come in handy.
And finally, academic Dr Clara Tuite spoke on 'Jane Austen’s Double History of Fashion and Politics', which was about how fashion fits into Austen's novels, in their original form and in their recent adaptations. She spoke at length about the lovely scene in Emma when the heroine goes shopping with her protege Harriet Smith. She made lots of reference to Darcy in his Wet Shirt too, which of course isn't in the novel Pride & Prejudice; however, it seems that every post 1990s Darcy now has to be wet at some point in the story. Dr Tuite didn't actually show a photo of said Soggy Darcy, so here's a gratuitous shot of him now, in which he is not only damp, but also kind of glowy.
After the talks - which were held in a large, packed lecture theatre - we rushed up to see the actual exhibition. There wasn't much time to view it unfortunately (the gallery was due to close), but my impression was favourable. The gowns were beautiful, some in dark interesting colours, and many of them featuring lovely, hand-worked details. Two things really struck us; how small most of the dresses are, and what wonderful condition they were in. Some of them were very simple, but all of them obviously for the well-to-do woman, which is why they have survived for 200 years. It's not a large exhibition, but there is plenty to see and read. It includes accessories such as shawls and jewellery, and fashion magazines from the period.
Oh, and it includes one of the costumes that Colin Firth wore as Darcy in the 1995 BBC production of Pride & Prejudice. There was a squeeeee or two heard when some people read that description.
I'm intending to go back and take a proper look at the exhibition before it finishes. It is lovely, and it's free. I will also be heading back to MoVida Next Door where we went after the gallery closed, for beers and absolutely delicious tapas. The tapas isn't authentically Austen, but I suppose the beer (ale) is...
An excellent outing all round. (I caught up with all of the food shopping, cooking and child schlepping on Sunday.)