Friday 14 January 2011


'Do you know, I saw the prettiest hat you can imagine, in a shop window in Milsom Street just now - very like yours, only with coquelicot ribbons instead of green; I quite longed for it.' Isabella, Northanger Abbey
I've been reading Susannah Carson's collection of essays on Jane Austen and some of the selected letters. I've been fascinated with all the detail about fabrics and dress-making. In a letter to Cassandra dated 1798, Austen describes a hat she is customising and her intentions to replace the black feather with a coquelicot one 'and besides coquelicot is to be all the fashion this winter.'

Coquelicot was one of the fashionable Regency colours - a bright orange-red like a poppy. I love the fact that Austen was interested in clothes and fashion and I've learned that persian was used to line dresses, sarsenet is a fine soft silk and cambric is a white linen. Who knew?!


Anbolyn (Cousins Read) said...

I love reading about vintage fashions. I recently read Women in Love by Lawrence and was fascinated by his descriptions of Gudrun's outfits, especially her tights. I'll never forget Gudrun's tights!

mary said...

I must finish this, I started it ages ago and got distracted.

Bellezza said...

I'd heard of cambric before, but only because of reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's books over and over in my lifetime. The title of your post, and the other two fabrics, are indeed new to me. So, thanks for sharing!

p.s. It's one of my goals to read more Austen in 2011. How fortuitous to find your lovely blog.

Annie said...

I am so jealous. I was drooling over this book in the bookshop only yesterday but the bank manger looking over my shoulder said I couldn't have it. Do you have a nicer bank manger than me?

Anonymous said...

I love vintage fashion, and finding out colours and fabrics that were in fashion at certain times. It makes such a difference to your understanding of a text if you can know the social context of someone who wore coquelicot and someone who wore plain red, for example. I must get hold of this book! It sounds wonderful. I envy you your Austen reading!

Cath said...

I love it when authors love clothes--because I do, myself. When I visited LM Montgomery's girlhood home in PEI, they had a collection of her clothes and dresses and shoes. She was quite the clotheshound, and it just made me love her a little bit more than I already did!

Something else I love: this blog. :)

potter jotter said...

I love all these old words for different kinds of fabric - they all sound so exotic!

Joan Hunter Dunn said...

What a lovely post - the word coqueliot rolls around my mouth so beautifully too.

Audrey said...

A book about Jane Austen that I haven't read!!! That's the best news I've heard all day. :)

Sara at Come Away With Me said...

What a wonderful word - coquelicot - and probably my favorite color too....though I never knew it by this particular word before.

Grad said...

I knew about cambric but was just about to look up "coquelicot" when you defined it for me. What a lovely word. I wish lovely hats would come back into fashion. In the 50s I remember ladies would go out to buy a hat when they felt pampering was in order. Perhaps now it's shoes.

Shelley said...

Funny how the word "quite" in Austen is so often a marker for a character who's silly.

Vintage Reading said...

Anbolyn, I love reading about fashion, too. You've now made me want to re-read Lawrence!

Mary, I did find Austen's letters quite sad towards the end when she was terminally ill and trying to fight it.

Bellezza, I've not read Laura Ingalls Wilder, I do remember wonderful descriptions of fabrics in L M Montgomery's books, though. 2011 is the 200th anniversary of Sense & Sensibility so that may be a good place to start!

Annie, I'm going to have to watch my book budget this year. I want the new annotated Pride and Prej but it's £25! I'll wait for the paperback.

booksnob, I would highly recommend the essays. I didn't even know that certain colours were fashionable during the Regency period, fascinating subject.

Constance Reader, oh yes, L M Mongomery is wonderful on clothes. I feel you can trust a writer who loves clothes and fabrics!

potter jotter, wouldn't you rather have coquelicot than plain ole red?!

Joan, yes I must try to drop it into everyday conversation - difficult when you work in an IT department!!

Audrey, it's an excellent selection of essays. I preferred it to Jane's Fame, actually.

Sara, there are whole websites dedicated to Regency colours and they are absolutely fascinating - I had no idea!

Grad, yes I think shoes have replaced hats for pampering. Like you I love 50's pencil skirts and hats.

Shelley, you should read her letters - some of the put-downs are sheer genius!

Anonymous said...

I've just read a review of this over at BookSnob's blog. I really must get this book!

I love the word coquelicot, and I like the sound of the color, too. One of the reasons I took a textile class in college was because I was always fascinated by the various terms in books...muslins, sarsenet, molded wool. So much more interesting than the options we have now.