As a Brit, I’ve always been jealous of American Halloween for one simple reason: the costumes. Our options over here are pretty limited; we can dress as a ghost, zombie, witch, or pumpkin — and that’s about it. For Americans, on the other hand, Halloween just means one big costume party. Awesome. So over the years, I’ve put a lot of thought into what my sister and I would have dressed as if we’d grown up in the States (instead of matching Frankenstein’s monsters every year) — and every time, I’ve settled on something literary, like these Jane Austen costumes for sisters. Seriously, what better way to show your love for books than to dress as a Jane Austen character?
Full Regency dress may sound like an expensive costume choice, but it’s really not. In fact, you can pull together a convincing Lizzie Bennet outfit entirely from thrift store shopping (and perhaps raiding the back of your grandma’s closet). All you need to start with is a full length dress — preferably cotton, white (or pastel), and quite low cut. Tie a ribbon around it to give it an empire waist, and bingo: it’s Regency style. If you want to dress like you’re going to a ball, add some loose over-the-elbow gloves, curl your bangs into super-tight ringlets, and arrange some flowers in your updo.
But of course, dressing as an “Austen character” is pretty vague, and real Austenites can do better than that. So let’s take a closer look at how you and your sisters (or girl friends, which is basically the same thing) can dress as your favorite Austen siblings.
Elinor and Marianne Dashwood (and Margaret)
To turn your generic Regency costume into the Dashwoods specifically, you and your sisters simply need to add a bit of black (and style your hair into gorgeous red curls if you’re going for the Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet versions, which you should be because they nailed it). These girls were in mourning, and so if not in black head-to-toe, they would at least add a black bow or shawl to their outfits in respect. And if you have a third sister, why not include young Margaret in more childish frills?
Catherine Morland and Eleanor Tilney
Catherine and Eleanor aren’t sisters, but [SPOILER ALERT] they end up sisters-in-law, which is a pretty special bond of its own. Austen gives some pretty good clues for what to wear, too: Eleanor mainly wears white (and “always dresses very handsomely”, so no cheap-looking material here), and Catherine has a “sprigged muslin robe with blue trimmings.” Phew, that’s specific. Time to get searching the thrift stores.
Lady Bertram, Mrs. Norris, and Mrs. Price
Dressing as a married woman is a very different affair than dressing as a young girl. Instead of ornamented with flowers or pearls, your hair should be covered by feathers or caps. And you no longer need to wear white; you can get adventurous with deep colors and bright shawls. And the three sisters in Mansfield Park could not be more different from each other. Lady Bertram is very wealthy (so see if you can find a silk dress and even a pearl necklace), Mrs. Norris is in the middle, but Mrs. Price is very poor — so you can really scruff up the dowdiest cotton dress you find for her.
The Bennet Sisters
If you’re lucky enough to have a family of five, you just have to dress as the Bennet sisters. The Bennets are not a rich family, so rather plain cotton dresses will work well — though Jane, as the eldest, might have been treated to a fancier silk dress. If you want to really show off your knowledge of the book, Lydia’s dress should have a slit in it. She references this in her elopement letter, and the rather sexual imagery of the ripped dress is a pretty big clue as to what her and Wickham have been doing while shacked up en route to Scotland.
Images: ITV Classic, Movieclips, LostxinxAusten/YouTube