Sanditon's Fashion on Iowa's Fans
by Bryon Houlgrave
Allison Petersen admires the fashion of the Regency Era. She’s fond of the elegance and sophistication of a time long before casual Fridays and yoga pants. Occasionally, she’ll slip into a dress from that period, letting her imagination unfurl like the ribbon off a bonnet in a salty gentle breeze off the River Severn. For a moment she’s escaped to a page out of a Jane Austen novel.
Then reality sinks in. While it’s nice to romanticize the era, she’s a big fan of modern technology, indoor plumbing, and the right to wear whatever she wants whenever she wants.
“You watch something like Sanditon or any kind of period piece and you see the clothing and they’re lying on chaise lounges and it looks lovely and romantic,” Petersen said.
Petersen continued that the realities of daily life during the time of Austen were a lot more harsh than the imagination allows itself to consider. Especially for the women.
“There were all kinds of rules for women,” she said. “At that time it was incredibly strict about what a gently-bred woman could get away with.”
Back during the Regency Era, which lasted from 1811-1820 (though unofficially spanning from 1795-1837), women possessed very few rights. They could not vote or hold office of any kind. It was difficult for a woman to own property or have a job. Those who did work were not entitled to their earnings.
In an essay published in 1988 by the Jane Austen Society of North America, Elmhurst English professor Barbara W. Swords wrote that women had little to no right to even their own children.
“Her children, her residence, her way of life were completely under her husband’s legal control,” Swords wrote. “If she were widowed, she had no control over her children unless her husband had named her as guardian; if she were separated from her husband, she was disgraced in the public eye and her husband had legal possession of the children.”
While life was unfairly restrictive back then, a woman’s clothing was anything but. Fashioned after Grecian gowns, the dresses, made mostly of muslin fabric, were flowing and loose-fitting.
“It’s a style of fashion that’s very easy to wear, and it’s very easy to wear for all body types,” Petersen said. “It’s very forgiving and easy to move in.”
Petersen is into fashion herself, and sews her own Regency Era dresses. She recently modeled some of her era-inspired dresses for us ahead of the season three premiere of Sanditon, a Masterpiece series based on Austen’s unfinished novel.
Join us for the premiere of the third season of the series on Sunday, March 19, at 8 p.m.