I am back today with a Part Two in this series of my favourite film fashion inspiration: this time with the costumes of Jane Eyre (2011)! You can find Part One about Miss Potter, here.
One of my favourite books of all time is Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. I first read it in Grade Nine, for a book study, and fell in love with the heroine of the book’s title, Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre was published in 1847, although the time period in which the story itself takes place is a bit unclear. Most film adaptations place the story either in the same decade the book was published, the 1840’s, or slightly farther back in the 1830’s. The only film version of Jane Eyre that I have watched is the 2011 one directed by Cary Fukunaga starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. The costume designer for this film was Michael O’Connor and I absolutely love what he designed for this film: the attention to detail in each character’s wardrobe means you never run out of interesting elements to look at.
The director and costume designer chose to go with an 1840’s time period for this film, because they liked the styles from that decade more than those of the 1830’s, and I am inclined to agree with them. I am not enamoured with the large sleeves and shorter hems of the 30’s, so I’m happy they gave Jane the much more elegant looks of the 40’s.
I am not an authority on early Victorian fashion by any means, but I appreciate the, seemingly, quite historically accurate costumes of this film. Some historical dramas try to modernize the characters’ dress, which can sometimes be jarring, as well as becoming easy to spot as time goes on. (For example, the animated Snow White and Cinderella by Disney are easily recognizable as being from the 1930’s and 1950’s respectively.) In this version of Jane Eyre, they chose to keep the garments and even hairstyles accurate to the time period the story was set in, even if some of those fashions are decidedly unpopular today. Why do historical films always skip the bonnets, right? While most of us won’t be sporting 1840’s dresses for daywear anytime soon, there is still so much inspiration to be found in the costumes of Jane Eyre.
Ps. This interview from Vanity Fair gives a bit more insight into the choices of the director and costume designer.
One key feature of Jane’s wardrobe is her subdued and dark colour palette. She wears several shades of grey, black, brown, deep plum, and dark blue. She also later wears an earthy tan/pink. While these dark colours are specifically used to create a moody feel for the film, I think they also reflect an aspect of Jane’s character: her practicality. Dark colours are a sensible choice for clothing, since they don’t require as much washing or stain removal in the same way light colours do.
Queen Victoria was married in 1840 and was the first to bring popularity to the idea of a white wedding dress: the light colour of the dress made her easier to see, and was a dress fit for royalty (or at least someone who had an army of laundresses at their disposal). While Victoria’s dress caused a stir in the fashion world (that remains to this day), for most people, dark coloured clothes were a much wiser choice. Even today, many work clothes and outerwear are made of darker coloured cloth. While grey and black might not be good colours for everyone, I still take inspiration from Jane’s costumes in choosing more practicable colours for items of clothing that aren’t easily laundered. For example, instead of choosing a cream coloured dry-clean-only, wool winter coat, perhaps navy would be a smarter choice.
I also appreciate that Jane has a sort of “capsule” wardrobe; which is really what a standard wardrobe for any time period, before the modern era of fast fashion, would have been. She is consistently seen repeating the same small selection of dresses throughout the film. One nice thing about wearing dresses, is that they are such a quick and easy outfit. You don’t have to worry about finding a matching blouse or skirt, because a dress is a one step outfit, all ready to go!
Another very clever idea from the past that Jane utilizes in her outfits, is wearing separate collars and cuffs. Having one dress, but several separate collar and cuff sets to pair with that dress results in many different looks. While it might not be a dramatic change, it still adds variety to your wardrobe. Accessories really are the best tools for stretching your “capsule” wardrobe. And, on the topic of laundry again, cuffs and collars tend to get dirty before the rest of the garment, so this makes them easy to clean. Also, if the cuffs wear out, it’s easy to make new ones without having to make an entirely new dress!
Jane’s costumes are all very pared back versions of the 1840’s fashions. When you compare her black evening dress to Blanche Ingram’s, you can see how subdued Jane’s dress is. While her dresses are not as frilly and fancy as the wealthy women’s dresses, her clothing choices are still far from boring and there are so many subtle details in her clothes.
For example, the patterns in Jane’s dresses are classic prints such as plaids and dots which have been pieced to form interesting designs. In her plaid gowns, the diagonal piecing on the bodice is gorgeous. There are also lots of visually interesting bows, ruched sections and elegant V shaped bodices. There’s so much inspiration for future sewing projects!
I personally prefer Jane’s understated elegance over the frilly fashions of the early Victorian period. My favourite styles from the past are ones that are more classic than trendy- which it is still true for my wardrobe today.
I also like how Jane’s character and style stays consistent throughout. Even when she buys new dresses and bonnets and spends more on her clothing, she doesn’t slavishly follow the trends. Her more expensive clothing doesn’t clash with what we know of Jane from before.
Her wedding dress is a good look at the consistency of her style. Despite Rochester’s wish to lavish her with jewels and rich fabrics, this dress is still rather restrained compared to wedding dresses of the time. Queen Victoria’s aforementioned wedding dress is much more opulent than Jane’s, and we can’t imagine Jane feeling comfortable in something like that. Even this wedding dress is a little too fine for Jane’s taste.
Throughout the film, Jane remains true to her personal style, and wears garments that are flattering to her particular body type and style, which is a great reminder for us all to choose to wear what we like and what we look good in, despite what the trends may be at the time.
Another iconic element of Jane’s look is her signature hairstyle. I’m not a big fan of hairstyles from the 1840’s: they were really into the centre part (which is apparently coming back in?).
While lots of upper class women wore their hair in ringlets (see Blanche Ingram again), Jane wears hers in an easier to keep style- a low bun with loops over her ears. She wears variations on this look- sometimes more elaborate like for her wedding, and sometimes simpler, like when she is living in the cottage. I like that Jane has a signature look, and one that she can easily maintain and execute herself. This is a lesson that I have learned over time: find a hairstyle that works for you! This is why I usually wear my hair in a chin length bob with bangs- it just works for me. I don’t have to fight with it, or set it every night (only to find that the curls fall out by midday) etc. While it’s sometimes fun to change it up, find your signature hairstyle and run with it!
One final element of Jane’s wardrobe that I absolutely love are her capes and shawls. While capes have been mostly replaced by coats nowadays, there is just something so elegant and dramatic about a cape, isn’t there? (Especially if it has a hood!) They are perfect to wear over dresses if you have a full skirt and your coat isn’t wide enough to accommodate it. Oh, and they are cosy too. A shawl is also the perfect thing to wear on a chilly day (even indoors); they are easy to put on and take off as needed, and are nicer to wear than trying to bundle up on the sofa in a blanket!
Well, this isn’t an exhaustive list of all of the costumes of Jane Eyre, but these are some of my favourites from this film. Have you seen this version or Jane Eyre and what did you think of it? What parts of her wardrobe do you like? And which version of Jane Eyre is your favourite?