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Jane Austen and Short Skirts

January 29, 2013

Think back 200 years ago, the year is 1813 and Jane Austen had (or is about to) published Pride and Prejudice, one of her biggest hits. The entertainment on offer for the respectable classes is a mixture of music and dancing, but long dresses and no cleavage on show. Careers for women are fairly low unless you were of a lower class and female writers were seen as a little bit on the edge of society.

This talk of Jane Austen gets me thinking, if we were to transport her, or any 18th century woman for that matter, to our time, to 2013. So much has changed in the past 200 years, more so than at any other time in history, we have come forward leaps and bounds in technological advances. This woman, we will call her Jane, would be confused and disorientated, there would be so many questions, obviously technology would be a big one, transport also, and the sheer fact of how busy our time has become would be a feast for the senses. But, I want to think that Jane would be puzzled by a few other minor changes in the culture of Britain, women’s clothing for starters, followed by the culture of drinking, the new form of entertainment – night clubs and lastly, the careers women can now achieve.

We can take Jane out for a night out, she would be expecting to put on one of her nice dresses, it would be long, covering her legs, it would not necessarily be too high on the neck, but equally not too low that it would be inappropriate. Her hair might be up in a curly up-do and she might wear some gloves to cover her arms. Jane would be expecting a dance, with some nice live music, maybe locals playing, and some dancing, not up close and personal, but slight touches with the other sex, each touch as intimate as the next.

What Jane would experience would be entirely different. Women in 2013 would be dressed to impress, many women (without being stereotypical) will wear a skirt so short they shouldn’t really bend over, but do. Some women ignore the golden rule, only show the top half or the bottom, not both at the same time, and will wear a low top, revealing a lot more than most people would do on a beach. Lastly, they will accessorise, high shoes that can’t really be walked in when sober and make up so thick that they are unrecognisable without it. When I think about what our Jane would think about this, I think she would be shocked, but that would expected, the change in fashion from the 80’s to today has changed fairly drastically. But, the thing that would shock Jane the most would be the fact that these women seem to have little shame or self respect.

This theme continues when to have a good time they have to drink, not one, two or even three, but many, many more, they lie in the street, have to be carried home and even get themselves arrested. This would be far different to the balls and dances at home Jane would be accustomed to. In fact, I think Jane may be a little disappointed in the females who do this to themselves. She struggled against what was expected of her, she never married and she made a living on her own, without the aid of a man.

Which brings us on to careers; I think Jane Austen would be proud of many women of today; the way women have gone forward since her time is incredible. She made a career from herself, which probably alienated her from society in some way. She was the start of the female career, in which women could have a life outside of the home, and do what they wanted, not just what was expected of her.

I would like to think that despite all the negatives of some women in England, the fact that women have a choice, can have a career, literary or not, and can bring up children at the same time, would give Jane Austen some kind of hope for women of the future. I would also like to hope, that the shocking parts of society for Jane calm down at some point, and don’t escalate further.

  1. Terry Tyler permalink

    Really interesting, what a great concept – to bring Jane Austen into today! I like the way you’ve looked at both sides; what she would be shocked at and what she would be impressed with. Think the subject as a whole has much mileage!

    • Thanks! There was so much more I wanted to write about but it was probably a bit too long for a blog post! I do often wonder how much of a shock it would be for someone to travel into the future.

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