I’m a keen devotee of BBC costume dramas and I’ve just finished a marathon screening of the delightful Lost in Austen – so I was pretty sure that Persuasion: Fashion in the Age of Jane Austen would be right up my alley.
The free exhibition is a small and well-curated examination of the fashion cycles that dominated during Austen’s life. The focus is mainly on women’s fashions, with its vagaries of waistlines up, waistlines down, military styling here, slashed sleeves there. There are a few instances of men’s fashions on display, including the tour de force – Colin Firth’s tight wool jacket, breeches, leather boots and top hat for his role as Mr Darcy in the BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Yes swooning ladies, the one where he comes striding out of the duck pond, wet shirt and britches clinging to his manly muscular physique.
What impressed me most about the exhibition was the clothes’ extremely well-preserved condition. The fine Indian muslins were still snowy white, the burnished satin pelisse still held a polished sheen and the delicate handiwork in some of the embroidery looked freshly pressed and ready to be worn.