Mr. Darcy’s Puffy White Undershirt From That Unforgettable ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Lake Scene Goes on View at Jane Austen’s House
The garment will be on display in "Jane Austen Undressed" a costume exhibition at the Jane Austen House in Hampshire, England.
When it comes to wet, Regency-era shirts, there is no contest.
In the 1995 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a sex symbol was indelibly cemented in the minds of romantics, when Colin Firth, playing leading man Mr. Darcy, emerged dripping wet—but fully dressed—from a swim in a lake. As he unexpectedly came across Elizabeth Bennet (played by Jennifer Ehle), the dynamic between the misunderstanding-prone but soon-to-be couple subtly shifted. The scene’s star was, without argument, neither Firth nor Ehle, but Mr. Darcy’s sopping, and semi-transparent, white shirt.
Now Janeites have the opportunity to see the iconic costume item in the exhibition “Jane Austen Undressed” opening on Saturday, March 26. The show, at Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, Hampshire, England, looks at the role of clothing in the author’s works and their continued legacy.
The white shirt, which will be displayed dry, is expected to be a major draw. “I think people will be excited to see it in the flesh and hopefully no one will go up and hug it,” Sophie Reynolds, curator of the exhibition, noted to the Guardian. “As a 30-something, I am excited, I have to say. Most women of my generation seem to be Pride and Prejudice fans. The BBC version really has converted a whole generation, especially young women, to Jane Austen.” The shirt has certainly inspired fervor over the years: in 2013, a mysterious and monumental statue of Mr. Darcy in his white shirt appeared right in the middle of the Serpentine in Hyde Park.
Now, the famed soaking wet men’s Regency-era shirt is having a new moment of cultural appreciation; in the just-released second season of Shonda Rhimes’s Bridgerton, Lord Anthony Bridgerton (Johnathan Bailey) recreates what can only be a tribute to the original Pride and Prejudice lake scene.
Austen-purists might plan to snub the shirt, however. The romantic post-swim encounter wasn’t part of Austen’s original Pride and Prejudice text, but was a cinematic invention by screenwriter Andrew Davies, who adapted the novel for the home screen. The scene can be read as an important character development for the at-times-stuffy Mr Darcy, as he strips away social conventions to embrace a truer self.
Even so, Darcy’s shirt is the centerpiece of the Austen House exhibition, which will also showcase a wider array of both historical and cinematic Austen-related garments. One section of the exhibition will dive into the complexities of Regency-era women’s undergarments, with shifts, chemises, stays, and petticoats abounding. Another will include costumes from the silver screen, including a stay—a boned and laced bodice worn beneath dresses—worn by Anya Taylor-Joy in the 2020 film adaptation of Emma.
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