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FASHION / SCREEN STYLE : Grecian Formula

The Movie: “Sense and Sensibility”

The Setup: The Dashwood women--mother (Gemma Jones, pictured right), daughters Eleanor (Emma Thompson, pictured left), Marianne (Kate Winslet, pictured center) and Margaret (Emile Francois)--cope with a life in near poverty in class-conscious England when the family patriarch dies, leaving his estate to his son. Based on the Jane Austen novel.

The Costume Designers: Jenny Beavan and John Bright, who shared an Academy Award for “A Room With a View.” The pair also designed costumes for “Jefferson in Paris,” “The Remains of the Day,” “Maurice,” “The Bostonians” and “Howards End.” Bright, who owns the London costume house Cosprop, also did “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” and “Tess.”

The Look: In 1800, the young and fashion-conscious took their inspiration from Greek statuary and other forms of Greek art. The English facsimiles were soft, draped, empire-style dresses--extremely simple in silhouette--usually made of very fine white muslin or silk imported from India or small floral prints. Bonnets were strikingly contained, the prettiest made of straw with taffeta bows tied under the chin. Because they are in mourning, the Dashwood daughters wear white dresses accompanied with black gauze shawls or dark dresses.

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Good Hair Day: Masses of tightly wound curls, at their most extreme on snobby relative Fanny Dashwood (Harriet Walter), fit in with the Greek look. In the 19th Century, curls were achieved with rag rollers. On the set, many of the actresses slept in pin curls and used heated soft foam hair twists for extra help, while others simply wore wigs.

You Should Know: To keep one’s costume time line straight, note that “Sense and Sensibility” begins just where “Jefferson in Paris” left off. And it just precedes Austen’s “Persuasion” (costumes by Alexandra Byrne), set in 1814. One small difference among the three films: In the era of “Sense and Sensibility,” women wore fichus, or plain gauze scarves, tucked inside their daytime necklines. In “Jefferson,” fichus were worn on the outside. A few years later, as seen in “Persuasion,” women wore more elaborate muslin chemisettes under the necklines.

Trivia: The richer and sillier the character--particularly Fanny and gossipy Mrs. Jennings (Elizabeth Spriggs)--the less Greek their silhouette. For them, lace, fur, feathers, rich fabrics and mounds of jewelry enter the picture. “They couldn’t quite give up the frills,” Beavan says. By contrast, the utterly sensible Eleanor accessorizes only with a long gold chain and a straw hat.

Scene Stealer: The wedding of Marianne, in metallic gold lace and silk net, and Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman), in a magnificent red and shiny gold braid-trimmed army uniform. “We discussed this point with the National Army Museum in London. Even though Colonel Brandon had left the army by now, he would have worn a new uniform for his wedding made by his military tailor,” Beavan explains.

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Inspiration: The paintings of English artists Thomas Rowlandson, John Hopper, George Romney and others, viewed at the Witt Library at London’s Courtauld Institute, which houses reproductions of many artists’ work. Also, fashion plates of the period from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

Sources: Principals’ costumes and hats were made at Cosprop in London. The fichuses are antiques from London dealers. Hat ribbons are made from old patterns reproduced by Alan and Vanessa Hopkins in London.


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