How to Dress Like your Favorite Austen Heroine (in Five Pieces)

Like any self-respecting English major with a feminist streak, I have an endless affinity for Jane Austen. From the most intricate of mind work to the wittiest of one-liners, Austen is part of what secured my love for reading which, eventually, would turn into a passion for literature. This took me into college and is (hopefully) soon to take me beyond. I will always be grateful for her and her work. 

Included in my adoration of Austen is, inevitably, adoration of her characters and their many facets. (I have watched the “hand-flexing scene” dozens of times--if you know then you know). I love their relationships, their development, and, yes, their outfits. No matter their economic status or lack thereof, Austen’s characters and their endless layers, ruffles, and flares are a certain type of drama. My wanting to dress like them, at some point, was undoubtedly inevitable. 

However, as stunning as Lizzie and Emma and Fanny’s clothes are, they’re also terribly inconvenient for a modern-day college student. Anyone who has ever climbed three flights of library stairs when the elevator is broken or walked to class on an icy sidewalk knows what I’m talking about. College is not a convenient place to wear layers of petticoat or to fasten garter belts. Unfortunately, I still want to live my 18th-century fantasy of English countryside homes and carriage rides. So, here are five wardrobe essentials to make you feel like an Austen heroine without ever having to clean out any cast iron stove.

  1. 1. A Long, Flowing Skirt 

    There is probably no scene I love more (in books or in movies) than a determined woman running across a fieldーpossibly to a beloved, or her sister. Her hair comes undone from its bun, her cheeks become red and her breathing labored, and, most importantly, her skirt flies behind her. Ruffles optional, possibly my favorite thing about Austen’s female characters are their long skirts to be paired with sweaters and tights or sandals and light blouses depending on the weather. They make you feel instantly dressed up, and because flowy is the goal, you are not restricted or uncomfortable. 

  2. 2. An Airy White Blouse 

    If there is anything Austen’s women seem to love, it is white blouses. After all, they go with anything, even when covered in food or dirt from one’s latest adventure. The 18th-century equivalent of the plain white tee, white blouses go with anything and can be layered easily. Besides adding some Austen flair, airy white blouses will easily become a genuine staple of your twenty-first-century wardrobe.

  3. 3. Open Cardigan 

    Considering how cold it can get in England in the winter, and how many layers the women always have to wear, it never ceases to amaze me how many of them end up tying sweaters around their shoulders or their waists. I suppose they get bored with them. Regardless, long cardigans that don’t have buttons or ties will make this sweet style easy. Look for ones in earthy, basic colors like brown, green, or blue. When tied around a blouse or even a long-sleeved t-shirt, one feels more studious instantly.

  4. 4. Lace-Up Boots 

    Because one can’t run properly through muddy fields in Sperrys or flats when paired with the aforementioned long skirt, boots add spunk and practicality to outfits. The skirt feels much more modern as well as easier to move in when one’s shoes are sturdy. Doc Martens are always a good choice.

  5. 5. A Good, Solid Coat 

    It gets cold, certainly in the English countryside and certainly where I live in New England. Although only the men take them indoors, there is nothing better in Jane Austen verse than a coat in a dark color that sweeps one’s knees and is filled with buckles and pleats. They can be worn closed over a suit or open over a sweeping dress, indicating, either way, that you mean business.

Despite it being 2020 and my living in a different country, I would say Austen's work is relevant not only in its themes but also in its fashion.