Donated to the Hampshire Country Museum Services and Archives by a descendant in 1993, Jane Austen's pelisse coat is one of only a few personal items of hers that remain with us today. It has survived remarkably well and gives us some insight into Jane's physical stature, personal preferences and individual tastes.
The pelisse coat has been dated to somewhere between 1812 and 1814, incorporating a high collar, flared skirt, and full sleeve heads. The design is typical of popular pelisses from the early nineteenth century and favours a larger collar in comparison to earlier eighteenth century examples, which when first made would have fit snugly around the neck. It features an oak leaf motif, printed on a warm brown coloured silk. Silk in the early nineteenth century was considered an expensive fabric, and many have speculated that Jane may have been able to afford such an item of clothing through the success of Pride and Prejudice, published in early 1813. The oak leaf motif is often associated with the English countryside, and many scholars have suggested it was used as a patriotic symbol during the years of Napoleonic conflict.
As an item of clothing, the pelisse coat was popular during the early nineteenth century and was often worn as a sort of coat dress or overcoat. They were worn during all seasons and made from a variety of different fabrics, from cotton muslin to silk or even velvet. Later in the nineteenth century, people began adapting the design of the early pelisse by lining them with fur so they might be worn in the colder months of the year.
Jane's pelisse coat has been recorded as around 21 inches wide, and further measurements suggest about 7ft worth of silk would have been required to make the pelisse. Hilary Davidson in her article Reconstructing Jane Austen's Silk Pelisse suggests the estimated height of 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 8 inches for Jane is a very probable guess, given the length of the pelisse and the amount of fabric required to construct it.
Although we cannot say categorically that the coat was without a doubt Jane's, she discusses a silk pelisse in one of her letters to Cassandra in 1814. She wrote:
"I must provide for the possibility, by troubling you send up my Silk Pelisse by Collier on Saturday. -I feel it would be necessary on such an occasion."
Her specification of 'silk' suggests she owned only one such pelisse, and a letter that has emerged dating from 1801 shows Jane asking Cassandra to purchase two gowns in "a dark brown, but the kind of brown is left to your own choice". Davidson finds this letter intriguing because it appears to suggest Jane had a particular favouring for the colour brown, and is useful to support the claim that the donated pelisse was in fact Jane's.
Understandably, Jane's pelisse coat is not on display to view in order to protect it from deterioration. However, several replicas have been made of the pelisse and one is on show at Jane Austen's House, Chawton.
Jane's pelisse coat served as the inspiration for our very own blue oak design, featuring the recognisable oak leaf motif. Our design incorporates delicate oak flowers and a navy background to put a modern spin on the original pattern. If you are captured by the oak design just as much as we are, you can find our collection here. A particular favourite of ours is the Blue Oak Foldaway Shopper, ideal for carrying with you in case of an unexpected spot of shopping!
Wouldn’t a dress making pattern of this be lovely 🥰