Early on in this series, I promised to discuss costumes and hair. I’m no expert, but I do take an interest in this aspect of filmmaking and the pleasure it gives viewers. I’ll focus on Jane and Rochester, although many of the other costumes are interesting: the starched, lacy matron’s caps worn by Mrs. Fairfax, Adèle’s short dresses with their flounced drawers beneath, and Blanche Ingram’s magnificent evening gowns.
Mrs. Fairfax (1970) in an eye-popping starched cap. No doubt this has a historical model, but my searches have turned up nothing comparable. I call it the “Mother Goose cap.”
The key to the costumes is the time setting of a given film. As I have noted before, the book is not set during the Victorian period, but before it, during the reign of George III or at the latest, the Regency. This fact seems to be universally ignored in favor of a Victorian setting, because the book has many autobiographical elements and was published in 1847. If a Victorian setting is chosen, Jane’s dresses ought to follow the style of the 1830s or thereabouts.
The early to mid 1830s silhouette was defined by voluminous sleeves, a waistline lower than the “Empire” waist of the Regency, with a horizontal line where the bodice meets the skirt, and a full but not bell-shaped skirt. The sleeves often required padded “plumpers” worn on the arms in order to keep the fabric from sagging.
Starting in the late 1830s and through the 1840s, the big sleeves gave way to close-fitting ones, the bodice got tighter to emphasize tiny corseted waists, dropping to a point on the front of the gown, and the skirts became fuller and more bell-shaped. This is what we usually think of as the “Victorian” look, and it became more extreme as the Queen’s reign wore on (hoop skirts were characteristic of the 1860s).
Of our five films, 1943, 1970, 1996 and 2011 favor the 1840s silhouette, as though Jane’s time at Thornfield takes place simultaneously with the publication of Jane Eyre. Obviously this is anachronistic, but I think the filmmakers and costumers preferred the aesthetics of the later style, which dramatically exaggerates the female figure. Only 1997 uses the 1830s look, which is closer to what Charlotte Brontë would have worn during her years as a governess.
Now, what about Jane’s wardrobe? According to Chapter XIII, Jane owns a grand total of three dresses. One is a black “stuff” dress (“stuff” meant a lightweight, coarse woven cloth of wool), and this is Jane’s everyday garb. More than once she is compared to “a Quakeress,” a member of a religious sect known for their sober garments.
A Quaker “plain dress” of the 1830s.
With this she wears a tucker, a white cloth or (if one can afford it) a piece of lace tucked into the neckline for modesty and ornament. Jane also possesses a black silk gown which is more dressy. Her very best garment is a light grey silk which “in her Lowood notions of the toilette” she thinks “too fine to be worn.” The only jewelry she has is a brooch, “a single pearl ornament” given her by her teacher, Miss Temple.
As to hair, for the ladies it will be necessary to generalize and simplify. Needless to say, we will pass over the complicated confections which mid-nineteenth century ladies of fashion adopted for day and evening wear.
Elaborate styles for ladies of the 1830s.
Hair pulled to the back, with abundant side curls (both fake and real) are typical of the 1830s.
The classic “Jane Eyre” style which every film seems to adopt is this hairdo from the 1840s, which was indeed very popular. The hair was parted in the middle and either curled down over the ears (with varying degrees of volume) or looped up to the back. The back was a bun, usually constructed from braids.
Our one portrait of Brontë probably determined the screen Jane’s hairstyle as the simple one, parted in the middle. In this image, however, Brontë wears ribbons of lace braided into the hair in back and allowed to flutter toward the neck.
How do the films present Jane’s wardrobe and hair? Filmed in black and white, 1943 faces the technical obstacle that a black dress will disappear into the background, especially in the gloomy Gothic atmosphere of Thornfield. The solution is to put Jane in a dress that will appear grey on film (its actual color may have been different). Costumes for 1943 were by René Hubert.
1943: The dress has the 1840s silhouette, with a pointed bodice and close fitting sleeves. Here Jane wears a shawl for warmth. Jane’s hair is the 1840s style, quite severe.
1943: For the fire scene, Jane is given fake braids–and they look fake, because during the day she does not have this much volume in back, and she does not have a part dividing her front and back hair.
1943: The dress does not quite meet the “Quaker” standard of plainness. It has a pinstripe pattern for visual interest, and an attractively frilly and feminine “tucker.” Jane always wears the ornament, a ribbon-shaped brooch (given her by Bessie in this version).
Despite the attractive detailing of the dress, suggesting fine tailoring, Jane’s wardrobe is limited. She wears the grey striped gown in almost every scene requiring daywear, but there is an interesting exception when she has her first interview with Rochester.
1943: For the first interview, Jane wears a darker dress with fuller 1830s style sleeves and buttons down the front. It has a collar and bodice detail in velvet.
Dress number three, her only evening wear, is a plain black gown, with sleeves slightly fuller toward the cuffs.
1943: Jane’s black gown has a Quakerish but still slightly frilly collar and cuffs. She now wears the ribbon ornament at her neck. Notice how much of the detail is invisible against the dark background.
For 1970, English costume designer Anthony Mendleson gave Jane a plain black dress, just as in the book. The dark color makes the detail difficult to see, but clearly the sleeves are tight-fitting, more along the lines of the 1840s. The “tucker” looks like a blouse worn under the bodice, and there is no ornament, although the buttons are a contrasting color. The dress is not as structured as real nineteenth century garments, which were worn with corsets and padding.
1970: I thought this version was courageous in remaining so faithful to the book for Jane’s daily wear: sober black. Jane’s hair is parted in the middle and has a loose bun in back: it is softer and less tightly styled than the historical examples.
Jane wears her bun high on the back of the head, which is more reminiscent of the Edwardian period.
1970: Even at the dinner party, Jane wears the same black dress. The collar and placket have a delicate lace border.
The surprise is that after the night of the fire, Jane gets out her best dress, which is a fetching design in baby blue. This is a bit of a shock, but visually speaking, the dress reflects Jane’s happy mood and her hope that Mr. Rochester finds her attractive. When she realizes he has decamped without a word of good-bye, she puts on her black dress again. The blue dress foreshadows what will happen with Jane’s wedding finery. (Note: I will deal separately with Jane’s wedding gown.)
1970: The blue dress is a departure from the book, but for good directorial reasons. This is definitely an 1840s style, with tight, slightly pointed bodice and tight sleeves. Susannah York may be wearing a corset here.
Jane also has this cute sun-hat which she wears when painting outdoors, but it looks wrong for the period, with its flat, wide brim. Several times she also appears outdoors in the sun without a bonnet.
1996 also opts for the 1840s silhouette, the better to show off Charlotte Gainsbourg’s slender, willowy figure (no doubt enhanced by a corset). Costume design was by Jenny Beavan, who has done many period pieces.
1996: Note the low waist, pointed bodice and tight sleeves. The dress is not black but navy blue. The V-shaped “yoke” of fabric extending over each shoulder echoes Joan Fontaine’s dress in 1943.
1996: Jane has a modest lace collar.
Jane’s only other dress is a black or dark blue gown in a similar style.
1996: The gown is very severe, except for a hint of lace at the neck, and a touchingly small pearl (?) ornament, like the one Jane mentions in the book.
1996: It’s hard to find a full-length shot of this gown, but this image of Jane going up the stairs shows that the skirt is very full.
1996: The front of Jane’s hair is not cut and curled under, but twisted and joined with her bun in back.
1996: For travel, Jane has a rather attractive black bonnet with a soft crown, ribbon ornament, and a dark cloak. Here she seems to wear a different tucker with her dress.
1997 is the only one of our five versions to use the more historically accurate, earlier silhouette. Costumes are by Susannah Buxton, who has designed for Downton Abbey.
1997: Jane’s dress is grey rather than black, but other than that, it is very plain, with no pattern or detailing on the bodice. The only concession to ornament is the smocking on the sleeves. She doesn’t even have a tucker to relieve the grey, though there seems to be a very thin lace border on the neckline. Note the relatively high waist, indicative of the earlier period.
1997: Detail of the smocking on the sleeves. The fabric looks slightly coarse, which is just right. Jane doesn’t have sleeve plumpers and would probably find them ridiculous. As in 1996, the front hair is looped back over the ears.
1997: The severe, double parting of the hair (front to back and side to side) is evident in this photo.
1997: The only other dress Jane owns is a moss green one for evening, clearly of silk rather than stuff. She has no jewelry (unless the tiny spot at her neckline, above the buttons, is an ornament).
1997: Jane’s sober cloak and plain Quakerish bonnet, worn over the grey dress.
2011 departs most from the description of Jane’s wardrobe in the book. It adopts the 1840s look, but modifies it, mostly ignoring the pointed bodice in favor of a horizontal waistline. London designer Michael O’Connor also made the exquisite costumes for Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, and his talents are fully evident here–it’s just that Jane’s wardrobe is a bit more varied and pretty (and expensive-looking) than it ought to be.
2011: Dress #1 is slate grey with a delicate dotted pattern, a fine lace collar, and buttons on the sleeves (allowing them to fit very tightly). 2011 is also the only version in which Jane clearly wears a bustle (a pad fastened around the waist to force the skirt into a bell shape). The skirt is finely pleated.
2011: In order to vary the look, Jane wears different tuckers with the dress.
2011: The stylist usually lets Jane’s ears peek through.
2011: Dress #2 is a dark plaid, cut on the bias in the bodice. It has a smocked sleeve detail and lace cuffs as well as collar.
2011: Dress #3 is light grey, in a style similar to the slate grey dress. It has a V-neck and is worn with a lace tucker and ribbon tie. The cuffs also have lace, and the waistline is enhanced with a bow. Here you can clearly see that the bustle pads her all the way around, front and back.
2011: Dress #4 is a silk evening gown (note the wide, low neckline) with lace insert. The bodice is pointed but the sleeves are fuller. She wears no jewelry.
The overall effect is not one of poverty, but of refined taste; the beauty of the gowns is not in their colors but in the attention to detail. I think it’s safe to say that the literary Jane would have been pleased with these gowns because she appreciated fine clothing and disliked anything showy. But she certainly did not own day gowns like this until much later in the book.
And what of Rochester? Let’s look at some gentleman’s garb from these two decades, to get an idea of the styles. (I will not try to distinguish between the 1830s and 40s, as the differences are more subtle.)
A Viennese fashion plate showing men’s styles from 1841: at-home wear is a brocade dressing gown over loose plaid trousers. The collar of the white shirt is relaxed (shirt points not up) and worn with a red neckcloth. Daywear for visiting is a frock coat with narrow waist, patterned waistcoat, neckcloth, top hat, and trousers, full at the top but slim-legged.
On the left, French evening wear of 1832. Note the slender waist emphasized by the tight coat (with the same pose as in the fashion plate), the showy waistcoat, and the full cut of the trousers. On the right, daywear for an English gentleman in 1837: frock coat, fancy waistcoat, dark neckcloth, top hat. (The model, Edward Cross, is holding a feline because he was a zoo keeper.) Images from Wikipedia, “1830s in Western Fashion.”
Two men without coats. On the left you can see the dropped shoulders of the shirt; this is to prevent the puffy part from bunching under the tight shoulders of the coat. Decorative braces like the ones in the picture were popular. On the right, the same dropped shoulders and a tight waistcoat with a high shawl collar. Both shirts have stiff high collars, around which the neckcloth is to be tied. The trousers are baggy around the hips, with extra fabric because of the drop front.
Complicated rigging on a gentleman’s pair of trousers. There is a partial button fly to open the high waist, but also a wide drop front secured by four buttons. Plus two buttons for the braces. That makes a lot of buttons!
Detail of an open shirt, with the starched collar sticking up. Many shirts had these fine pleats in the shirt front. The shirts were very long, covering the hips, and did not have buttons all the way down. For this and more images, see the excellent Tumblr site “Virago” (Ellie Valsin).
The hair on the head was not necessarily worn to cover the ears (although it often was), but men favored upswept and otherwise dramatic hair with a full look on top or on the sides. As to facial hair, you can see from these examples that facial hair was not required (especially for a young man), but it was fashionable to have a mustache, mutton chops, or both.
In a fashion plate ca. 1940, even the young men have mustaches and curly hair just long enough to cover their ears. One has mutton chops. Notice that the mustaches are neat but have pointy, waxed ends that curl up.
This fashion plate ca. 1834 favors fullness for the hair at the top of the head; if no mustache is worn, the tendency is to grow sideburns instead. Notice the wasp waists (not expected in the older man, but essential for the young and fashionable). Men wore corsets in order to achieve this look.
Orson Welles’ clothes for 1943 don’t quite match the historical styles, but rather suggest a mid 19th century look. His costumes tend to be showy and ornate, which at least is in keeping with the colorful garb of the early Victorian gentleman. They still delighted in wearing elaborate fabrics and bright colors.
1943: Rochester wears a puffy shirt with a frilly placket, but the collar does not stand up the way it ought to. It doesn’t look like he’s been wearing a neckcloth.
1943: A long coat with matching contrasting shawl collar and cuffs, but a low bow tie rather than a neckcloth. The coat lacks the high, wide lapels of the nineteenth century, which tend to stick up behind the neck.
1943: Evening wear, again veering more toward the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Welles has a 20th century hairstyle and no facial hair.
1943: Notice the full boxy cut of the coat. It ought to be tightly fitted around the upper body and have a “skirt” around the hips. This looks like a modern man’s overcoat. The split collar with velvet on the upper part is an authentic touch.
1943: I always enjoy the dressing gowns, a luxury of the 19th century gentleman (often worn with an ornate, tasseled pillbox hat). This one has a quilted sateen collar and fancy chains connecting the buttons, something I’ve not seen in the original styles.
In 1970, Rochester spends most of his time in evening dress, a black tailcoat with white waistcoat, and white neckcloth. The black and white ensemble feels rather 20th century, but it does include the high shirt points held up by the neckcloth.
1970: A tuxedo-like evening costume. The hair is as full as he can grow it around the sides and back. He has minimal sideburns; in real life this older Rochester would likely have had more facial hair.
1970: The starched collar is in evidence here, but the shoulder line of the puffy shirt should be a few inches lower.
1970: Rochester looks “veddy English aristo” here with his horse and his dog and his country house. He wears the slim-legged trousers of the time, with puffy shirt and tight waistcoat in baby blue. A black neckcloth completes the look. But for a hike around the grounds with his estate manager, I would have expected breeches and boots.
1970: This is his other stab at a colorful ensemble, a coat with contrasting green piping. But it seems wrong for daywear: it is a tailcoat rather than a full-skirted frock coat.
1970: This Rochester has one of the loveliest brocade dressing gowns.
1970: After driving Mason to Millcote: no neckcloth. The stray lock is a nice touch.
1970: Higher exposure shows that this is another tailcoat, with smallish lapels, and the look is almost modern, especially with the matching dark trousers. Nineteenth-century day trousers were more often a contrasting, lighter color than the boat.
Generally speaking, the tailcoat was a dressier, more old-fashioned option, still daily wear during the Regency and also used for riding, where its shape was more utilitarian. During the Victorian period, however, the frock coat was the standard for day dress. I suspect that the anachronism here is a deliberate choice intended to appeal to American audiences who might find the frock coat too feminine.
The Rochester of 1996 also favors old-style tailcoats, though his wardrobe varies more.
1996: This Rochester is fond of earth tones and avoids anything bright or colorful. Here he wears a brown tailcoat with contrasting trousers, a neckcloth with extra fabric (held with a pin?) and a grey-green waistcoat.
1996: The brown tailcoat worn properly, with baggy breeches and boots (as though for riding).
1996: His evening dress is a more stark black and white, but with a touch of purple at the neck. His hair is thinning in front, but longer in the sides and back, and not carefully styled. He has mutton chops but no mustache.
1996: A top hat and voluminous overcoat for riding on cold days, worn with a cutaway coat. The overcoat has a plaid insert or cape attached to it.
1996: He also wears a frock coat. Here the frock is worn with a long waistcoat and the usual contrasting trousers.
1996: A reddish-brown dressing gown for evenings without guests.
1996: An authentic-looking shirt with dropped shoulders, puffy sleeves, and braces.
Susannah Buxton dressed the 1997 Rochester in earth tones also, but used a slightly brighter palette of green and brown.
1997: This forest-green frock coat seems to be Rochester’s favorite. The waistcoat is short. He wears contrasting dropfront trousers, a dark neckcloth and the expected upturned shirt points.
1997: Another view of the green frock coat with its full skirt.
1997: For riding he needs a cutaway, but this is probably the same coat worn with breeches and boots. He has a watch chain on his waistcoat, and what looks like a scarf tucked in where the vest is open, as well as a dark neckcloth.
1997: Another riding picture shows the pouchy front of the breeches (no doubt more comfortable for riding). He wears a greyish-brown cutaway riding coat and a warm, thick waistcoat.
1997: This looks to be almost the same outfit. Note the wide, high lapels (bigger than on the green coat) and the riding boots.
This Rochester is the only one to wear a mustache AND mutton chops as well as the longish, wavy hair popular ca. 1840. Ciarán Hinds’ black hair makes the look more dramatic. However, it’s not clear that Rochester himself wore a mustache, because when he appears as the Gipsy woman, he doesn’t have one. In real life the mustache would likely have been longer at the corners of the mouth, with waxed, upturned ends. This is a good illustration of how modern tastes rule out certain fashions in film adaptations, however authentic they may be.
1997: Detail of the neckcloth. The waistcoat is worn open at the top for a more casual look.
1997: The breeches have a bit too much fabric in the crotch to be à la mode. But even the fashionable ones were baggy in the seat. You can see the “cutaway” effect of the coat here.
1997: Evening wear is a black coat with black neckcloth tied neatly in a bow, and contrasting brocade waistcoat..
1997: Rochester’s dressing gown is emerald green, here worn with a fine cream waistcoat and dark, full neckcloth. I found myself wishing he had an ornate velvet hat to match.
He also wears the green dressing gown when recovering from his ankle sprain. For the first interview with Jane, he doesn’t bother with a neckcloth.
Michael Fassbender is the only Rochester to boast the sort of figure beloved of the mid-Victorian illustrators: tall with a very slender waist and hips. In the book, Rochester was more broad and stoutly built.
2011: Rochester wears a frock coat with tight shoulders and sleeves, and light trousers with a fly rather than a drop front. He has long sideburns.
2011: More than once, Rochester is shown in his shirt sleeves outdoors. But he still wears his waistcoat; otherwise the shirt would be baggy around his middle and ruin his trim figure! Here he wears tight breeches and riding boots, plus an interesting straw hat.
Another shirt sleeves outfit, with a showy plaid waistcoat and breeches. The snug breeches may be the only dropfronts he wears.
2011: A glimpse of a dressing gown in red and green with a braided belt, but we don’t see much detail because of the gloom.
2011: Rochester wears a pleasing evening ensemble with black coat, velvet upper lapels, a brilliant blue brocade waistcoat, and black neckcloth tied in a bow. His hair has the expected fullness on the sides.
2011: In the Fire Scene, we see that the puffy shirts were loose and long enough to serve as nightshirts. They must have been difficult to tuck in.
2011: All that extra fabric was confined within the tight sleeves and waistcoat.
2011: In interview scene, he wears a dark coat with brown trousers and a low-cut contrasting gold waistcoat. Again the trousers have a fly front–this is either to reflect the later time period chosen for the costumes, or simply an aesthetic choice to avoid the pouchy look of dropfronts.
So who wins for authenticity? 1943 and 1970 are the most anachronistic in style, but they do give Jane a very limited wardrobe, as expected. 1996 and 1997 seem pleasingly authentic to the period and to the book (assuming that we have dismissed the actual setting in the reign of George III). 2012 has beautifully detailed costumes, but the object is less exact reproduction of a particular decade than a consistently “mid nineteenth century” look and feel, while Jane’s wardrobe is a bit too generous and luxe for a penniless girl from Lowood.