When first we came, all the umbrellas were up, but now the pavements are getting very white again.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
Bath, May 17, 1799
During the 17th century, ladies used parasols for protection from the sun. A century later they were using oiled umbrellas as protection from the rain as well. By the early 19th century, the design of the umbrella had improved and its use had become widespread. After Maria’s marriage, Fanny Price was overtaken by a heavy shower close to the Parsonage and sought shelter under an oak. When the Grants spotted her, they sent out a servant, but Fanny was reluctant to come in:
A civil servant she had withstood but when Dr Grant himself went out with an umbrella there was nothing to be done but to be very much ashamed and to get into the house as fast as possible; and to poor Miss Crawford, who had just been contemplating the dismal rain in a very desponding state of mind, sighing over the ruin of all her plans of exercise for that morning, and of every chance of seeing a single creature beyond themselves for the next twenty four hours, the sound of a little bustle at the front door and the sight of Miss Price dripping with wet in the vestibule was delightful. – Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
“Yes, I know exactly what you will say: Friday, went to the Lower Rooms; wore my sprigged muslin robe with blue trimmings — plain black shoes — appeared to much advantage; but was strangely harassed by a queer, half-witted man, who would make me dance with him, and distressed me by his nonsense.” Northanger Abbey Regency Footwear Jane Austen mentions shoes more often than purses in her work and as any woman knows, the shoes make the outfit! It may come as a surprise to many readers to discover that shoes worn during the Regency did not differ much from what is worn today. Previously, both men and women wore what are now know as Court Shoes—high heeled pumps made of leather or brocade fastened with a large buckle. These elaborate shoes were in keeping with the highly stiffened and embroidered fashions of the day. As dress styles changed, however, shoes did as well. In the year 1800, any sensible young lady of fashion would have had at least three pair of shoes—one for everyday wear, slippers for dancing in and boots for walking. This is a minimum, of course– Empress Josephine of France owned 520 pairs of shoes! Jessamyn Reeves-Brown, a Regency fashion enthusiast, has done careful research in this area. A glimpse of her page on shoes reveals a fascinating walk through fashion history, outlining the decline of the pointed toes and heels of the early Regency and a progression towards a more ballet slipper style of shoe. (more…)