A new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma is due to be released on February 21, and having just watched the trailers, I am HERE FOR IT. And that’s quite something, actually, because I generally think we could put a moratorium on Austen adaptations–I know, heresy from me, a big Austen fan–because there are so many novels, and real people’s stories too, which deserve telling before we do YET ANOTHER Austen (or for that matter, Dickens or Bronte) adaptation.

I don’t know how the script and acting will be–the trailer is a quick-paced romp with very little dialogue. It looks like terrific fun in one trailer, although another I saw seemed to focus on some heavy-handed comedy…we will have to see. I can say that the argument between Emma and Mr. Knightley about her matchmaking looks promising…But here are some things I am Here For:

Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse! (Also, delicious late Georgian period wall colors and plaster work!)

Miranda Hart as Miss Bates. SUCH FUN! (Watch her series Miranda on Hulu and you will get that.)

Apparently Harriet and Emma discuss Robert Martin’s proposal while Emma is being fitted for a pelisse, so we see the tailoring stitches in the inside-out bodice. I LOVE THIS.

The costumes place the action in the late 1810s or just about 1820. Waistlines haven’t started to go down yet, but we see plenty of sleeve puffs and hem trim that come in in the mid to late teens. Costumes are by Alexandra Byrne who designed Persuasion (1995), which has some of the BEST EVER Austen adaptation costumes, so no surprise these are looking so good.

The pleats at the back of the pelisse look a lot like the pelisse below, in an 1816 French fashion plate. I SWOON at this kind of attention to detail on the part of the designer. YAY ALEXANDRA!

I’m guessing the lady on the right, looking affectionately at Emma, is Mrs. Weston and I AM IN LOVE WITH HER COTTON PRINT. We don’t see enough cotton prints in these adaptations, and they were SO widely worn. Perhaps now with digital printing making it easy for a designer to produce just enough yardage for one dress, we’ll see more designers taking the trouble to use these. (Otherwise–it’s nigh impossible to get the right period look in a print, because each period’s designs are so distinct, and are not what’s in style now.)

I am ecstatic about the cording on this spencer, along with its fabulous sleeve treatment. These openwork tabs creating a puffed oversleeve effect are SO late teens-early 20s, and I can’t get enough of them. And the cording is spot on too: very like a spencer in the DAR Museum collection, one of my favorite pieces:

Accession 4728

Searching for examples of the sleeve treatment, I found this spencer in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection which looks as if it must be the inspiration for Emma’s:

MMA Accession # 1987.237.2. British, c. 1820.

(Will we see details like this at the wrist in the movie? I’ll be looking!) Here’s a close-up of the sleeves:

Emma is the richest female in Highbury, but I do rather think FIVE spencers, three pelisses (the checked one in the photo below, a fur-lined one, and the blue one we saw being made), and a red cloak (seen in Mr. Elton’s proposal scene, I thought I could skip a photo of it) is a bit much. (The 1995 Pride and Prejudice gave Lizzie far too many spencers and pelisses too.) Emma can get away with it because she has the clothing budget, but I still question whether anyone had that many…but they look great so I’m not really complaining.)

I am Excessively Displeased (to channel Lady Catherine De Bourgh) with Frank Churchill’s waistcoat’s fabric, which looks just like some curtain fabric I got on sale at G Street Fabrics about ten years ago. It is WRONG in so many ways. But I do like the fact that Frank is wearing two waistcoats. You see this in fashion plates and portraits, and it’s a lovely touch for the self-satisfied Frank.

This chap wears one pink and one white waistcoat (1814).

But to return to things I’m excited about…we have Emma and Harriet in nightie and a corset, with their hair in rag curlers. I LOVE getting glimpses of underwear and nightwear–there aren’t enough scenes where we costume types get to enjoy the under-layers!

I am HERE FOR white muslin dresses, especially glimpses of hem trim, with bouillonnés (puffs) on Harriet’s and rosettes or something on Emma’s. The fullness of Emma’s skirts, and its length just above the ankles, is SO GREAT for the teens.

Rows of puffing at the hem, similar to Harriet’s
1813, skirts rise above the ankle

I am HERE FOR pelisses.

I cannot WAIT for ballroom dancing, especially long shots of evening dresses with hem trim and so many that are net or gauze over colored slips–so right for the period, and so seldom seen in these adaptations!

I am ALWAYS ready for some English Country House eye candy. And they’re using Wilton House (both above and below)–which you’ve seen in the ball in Sense and Sensibility (1995), Pride and Prejudice (2005), The Young Victoria, and The Crown. (Look for the ENORMOUS family portrait with the woman in pale gray satin in the center, and columns and cherubs at left, enclosed in a massive gilt frame, and you’ll start to recognize it in many more; I’m just listing the productions most likely to have been seen by someone reading a blog post on costumes in Emma.)

I’m seeing attention to costume details that THRILL my geeky costumey heart. LOOK at the woven straw in this bonnet! LOOK at the embroidered net gathered in the lining of Emma’s bonnet below!

And OH MY SAINTED AUNT, DORSET BUTTONS on Emma’s dress!

Dorset buttons are made of thread wrapped in decorative patterns around a small wire ring: here’s a closeup: AND PLEASE NOTE the topaz cross, a shout-out to one of the only pieces of jewelry we know Jane Austen owned, a gift from a brother (and if you want one of your own, my friend Taylor of Dames à la Mode sells them in a variety of colors at damesalamode.com).

The chemistry between Emma and Mr. Knightley looks good. (Oh, that’s Johnny Flynn by the way. He’s cute. I’m supposed to know who that is. He was adorable as Dobbin in Vanity Fair, anyway. I only know the Regency Flynn, apparently.)

Mrs. Elton’s hair is from the 1830s, but never mind–it does its job of making her look ridiculous: willing to look absurd in pursuit of fashion. (And OH!, her hair is even parted in a triangle from the center of the forehead! Be still my heart!) The teardrop earrings are also TERRIFIC. Compare hair and earrings in fashion plate below. (Want some? Dames à la Mode makes these too. No, I’m not getting a discount or a freebie for the shout-outs, I just love Taylor’s jewelry and if you like this period, you might too.)

La Mode, 1830

But my absolute favorite of all that I saw in the trailers is this evening dress worn by Emma. I nearly shrieked when I saw it because I recognized its source.

They’ve copied this HEAVENLY embroidered net dress from the Victoria and Albert Museum!

downloaded with permission from and copyright of Victoria and Albert Museum.

Look, side by side:

I’m dying. Just leave me here in my puddle.

And the reason I can look forward to all this this with unalloyed delight is…

THEY ALL HAVE THEIR HAIR UP. ALL THE DAMN TIME. No wispy bangs, just period-correct curls. And guess what? We are going to have NO PROBLEM RELATING to this period. We’re going to REVEL in it.

Emma comes out February 21, google tells me. Here’s Wikipedia’s entry on the production, to whet your appetite and tell you more about the cast: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emma_(2020_film)

20 thoughts on “Movie Costumes: Emma 2020

  1. I cannot think of anyone I’d rather see as Miss Bates than Miranda Hart. I can perfectly imagine her rushing through far too many words at one time and then petering out with the embarrassed realization that she’s said too much. Again. This looks really beautiful and I’m looking forward to seeing it, especially as I just finished reading it again. My first book of the new year.

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  2. Fun to read your thoughts here. I have one comment/question….We all know Mr. Woodhouse is a confirmed hypochondriac, so how do you feel about Bill Nighy (whom I adore) playing the character as a more zany, robust fellow? This I see from the trailer.

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    1. I’m not sure yet! One trailer I saw made it look as if they’ve played it all for cruder laughs overall, which will annoy me greatly (like Lady Catherine de Bourgh I’ll be Excessively Displeased!). It may be that it’s best watched on mute, to just enjoy the visuals. We shall have to see!

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  3. Loved your preview! I honestly was going to give the movie a pass, as I saw the trailer going for the cruder laughs, and I too am in the camp of “enough with the Austen adaptations”! But the attention to detail with the costumes, hair, set choices — that you so well point out — have me very interested now.

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    1. Oh good! At least—unless you hate it! I forget whether I said I saw the cruder laugh trailer and I’m a bit concerned too but with these costumes I can’t not go. Maybe plug ears?? A reverse of other movies where I have to pretend I’m not seeing the ghastly hair and the costume gaffes…

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  4. I am already disliking what I have seen from the trailers of Emma which is a shame as it is my favourite Austen novel novel. I think Bill Nighy is completely wrong for Mr Woodhouse. Emma and Mr Knightley would never have shouted at each other or talked over one another. Neither would Miss Bates shout about food over the table. As for Emma giggling at the mention of the word “tart” – oh please! It only meant a pudding then anyway. It seems such a waste when the directors have got the costumes and hair right for once. I think I will wait for the DVD.

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    1. Oh dear! The trailer I saw had hardly any words, so I missed all that. I saw one with a few more which had me a bit concerned they were going for un-subtle laughs, and what you describe sounds very bad! Maybe this is another to watch for costumes with the Mute button! 😡😩😢

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  5. I have seen three clips on YouTube and it seems to be played heavily for crude humour and it has completely set my teeth on edge. Sad sigh.

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  6. Fascinating! Loved your research and pictures of period clothing compared to the movie clothing. I learned a lot! Thank you for sharing!

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  7. Pressing a mute button is the way to go to enjoy any movie. What most don’t understand is that on a film set,the film crew watch a monitor and only a director and continuity gets the privilege to enjoy sound speeding. The rest of the Crew watch a monitor and no sound. @ the health club you want picture but still use headphones and listen to music. In a recording studio it’s quite but an artist prefer picture for inspiration instead of coughing and coughing. So most of us watch a movie to listen to dialogue through costume provided that Talent can carry an outfit. Sometimes an outfit is Glorious but Talent can’t the Piece accordingly personally they don’t like it,then the audience hates the beautiful piece of art. Most importantly, set dressing can destroy a scene if colours don’t compliment wardrobe and make up. That’s what we call # FLUFFING!!! All stories are beautiful and humor is effortlessly played because the Truth is Painful yet Hilarious because we learn by mistakes. I’m just painting pictures of my book called Rich Mom, Poor Mom inspired by Mr Robert Kiyosaki author of Rich Dad Poor Dad… My pages are Labela Figura… For Clothes speaks Volume.

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    1. Of course, mute button is available and used during production, but the visuals are supposed to enhance and complement the whole, so turning off sound is not really a preferred option–it’s a last resort and a condemnation of a poor job if it’s necessary. And yes, set and costume designers need to communicate.

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  8. I loved reading this post and it has inspired me to look a little deeper into the detail.

    Thank you for taking us through the costumes and appreciate you sharing your knowledge with us and really interesting to see your comparisons of costumes and the drawings.

    ery much looking forward to seeing this film not just for the story but also for the costumes. I loved Mary Queen of Scots for its costumes too – the blues and yellows in that were just gorgeous!

    Regards.

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    1. Thanks! I liked MQS too although you have to accept the limited color palette and lack of silks—it’s costumes more like a stage production not really trying for full “accuracy.” It’s a choice I’m willing to accept (and I don’t know 17th c well enough to be annoyed by hair and headwear from different decades). Frock flicks blog had a different response—they can’t stand it—you might check them out (they’ve been around for years and there are 3 bloggers so they have covered way way more than I ever will, but I’m doing it a bit differently so I hope I’m still offering valuable commentary).

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