A new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma has been released and is, as I edit this post (originally published just before its release), is about to be released for streaming. I have access now only to images from the trailers–but even having seen only those tiny previews of this production, I decided I am HERE FOR IT. (Note, March 21: I’m preparing a second post now I can do screenshots—come back in a couple of days and I’ll have a post showing historic sources/examples of many of the costumes!) …Anyway, me wanting a new Austen is 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 wasn’t sure from the trailers how the script and acting would be. Editing this now after having seen the movie, I found it delightful. Having said this, I will just let the blog stand in its original format, assuming I have not yet seen it… So: 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 on the 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

At first I thought the cording and sleeves were inspired by this spencer in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection, although there are other surviving spencers and pelisses which might have served:

MMA Accession # 1987.237.2. British, c. 1820.

But I have since found the actual inspiration–the cording on the bodice is nearly exactly copied, though the collar has been simplified:

Spencer in the Chertsey Museum collection (UK)

At first I thought that Emma’s outerwear (to my count in the trailer–when I re-watch the movie I’ll check that number) 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 were a bit much. (The 1995 Pride and Prejudice gave Lizzie far too many spencers and pelisses too.) But Hilary Davidson, author of the magnificent new book Dress in the Age of Jane Austen (Yale, 2019) thinks it reasonable for the richest woman in Highbury. If we suppose that she is buying perhaps one or two pelisses a year, for example–maybe one for mild weather and one a bit heavier?–and still wearing last year’s–it starts making sense.

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)

37 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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    1. Damn. And WHY?! Why are they remaking an Austen?! Because people have found its subtle wit plenty funny. If you like crude humor go see the Spongebob movie or anything else in this asinine culture. Leave us our Austen.

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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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  9. The movie debuts in the U.S. on March 6, and I’m sure it will be enhanced by all the wonderful detail you’ve educated my eye to look for! I read the actor playing Mr. Elton describe his part as “messed-up sexy priest,” obviously hoping to garner some “Fleabag”-level popularity for his role. If he really thinks that, he doesn’t understand the role or Jane Austen’s wit. I’ll go see the film, but like many others, I’ll grit my teeth and roll my eyes at the parts that aren’t true to Austen.

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    1. Ive seen it and found it delightful. There was a trailer which was edited in a way that worried me—seemed to go for crude laughs—much downplayed in movie. Elton was no more messed up sexy priest than his character really is—his character can be attractive, but he’s still the vain foolish character Austen wrote. I think you won’t find teeth gritting necessary.

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  10. If you know the text really well, and can focus, you’ll find there’s very little in the script, including actions, that isn’t there. It’s an amazing piece of writing.

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  11. Thank you for your fascinating post! Two things from the trailer really turned me off: 1) Emma’s 1970’s-looking bottled blond hair and 2) it looked to me like Miss Bates was being turned into a slapstick character, and was not treated with the respect that, as Mr Knightly points out in the book, she deserves.

    My favorite Emma movie is the one with Kate Beckinsale (sp?). I wonder what you think of the costumes in that adaptation.

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    1. I absolutely was there with you on the trailer making Miss Bates look slapstick, but don’t worry, she’s not. I saw one trailer with a LOT of what seemed to be overdone, clumsy, stupid humor, but it’s just a trick of editing–which is silly, because it will put off anyone who appreciates Austen’s subtle wit. Don’t let it stop you from going! I hadn’t put my finger on the blondeness, and Emma’s curls are a bit over the top, but honestly I’m so grateful that unlike in Sanditon (not to mention the recent Little Women), everyone’s hair is properly UP, that I can live with the color. As for the Beckinsale version–I love it, and the costumes are terrific. Apparently Kate B warned the designer that she looks dreadful in bonnets, they agreed, but found other hat styles she could wear, for which examples can mostly be found in fashion plates ( I have been unable to find anything like that big-brimmed oddity!). I don’t think ANY Austen adaptation fits the men’s clothes well: the trousers/pantaloons/breeches should be MUCH tighter, by the way, as should many of the coats, but the cut and overall look is usually pretty good.

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      1. Well, that’s a relief (about Miss Bates). I’m always so aware on TV shows (interviews, reality shows, news shows) how edits skew things, but somehow I’d never applied that to movie trailers.

        One thing I’ve wondered about is that in fashion plates of the time, it seem that men’s collars always jutted up over the jawline. I wonder if extant pieces of clothing show that this was the norm. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Regency adaptation that showed it. Question: have you ever written (or might you write) an article about how the clothing and makeup in 18th & 19th c adaptations is altered specifically to fit our modern sensibilities?

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      2. The extant shirts definitely have very high collars! Some even have been cut away a little at the front corners, to allow a little more leeway! That’s a really good article topic–thanks for the idea, I can indeed do that–I feel as if that’s sort of implicit in a lot of what I would generally be saying (the hair, the fit of the clothes…), but you are right that it deserves to be explicitly discussed on its own. Great idea (and I need to get cracking with new posts, I’ve slacked in last couple of weeks!)! Thanks!

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  12. I would dearly love to see a close up picture of Emma’s green bead necklace in the scene of the confession from Mr Knightley!! Does anyone know where to find that?

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    1. Do you mean the one with little leaf-like shapes hanging from the main part of the necklace? No idea where it’s from, it has a vaguely period feeling in that it’s delicate but is not specifically a Regency era design.

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  13. I am searching for the earring/necklace set from the ‘Drafty Proposal’ scene where Emma & Mr. Knightly kiss behind the screens put up by Emma’s Father. Would you be able to offer me any assistance in locating these items?

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