As the daughter and sister of Anglican clergymen, Jane Austen was intimately familiar with the rites, rules and habits of church ministers. Clergy members and their families were among her closest friends and feature strongly in all her novels.
What, however would a clergyman of her time have worn?
Portraits of the era give a good idea of what they would have had in their closet:
The well dressed Clergyman, then, would have dressed somberly, in a black suit, with with stock or cravat. Over this, while preaching, he would have worn the black Cassock, mandatory to his office. Many clergy chose to augment this sober attire with white bands, also known as Geneva bands (named for the birthplace of the reformation). Additionally, while performing some sacraments, such as weddings, baptisms and funerals he might add a white surplice (hence the fee paid for such services was called a "surplice fee".)
The cassock derives historically from the tunic that in ancient Rome was worn underneath the toga and the chiton that was worn beneath the himation in ancient Greece. An Anglican cassock is often double breasted (then more correctly called a “sarum”), fastening at the shoulders on the opposing side of the breast and at the waist with one concealed button. The Sarum usually has a single small stem-button sewn at centre front about 12–15 cm / 4½–6" below the centre-front neck line which is used to secure the academic hood, worn for Choir Dress. The single-breasted cassock worn by an Anglican clergyman sometimes had thirty-nine buttons rather than the Roman complement of thirty-three (for the number of years in Christ's ministry). This is often said to signify the Thirty-Nine Articles
, though it may have developed from an older fashion. Cassocks are more frequently cinctured with an ordinary buckled leather belt, rather than a sash.
Bands are a form of formal neckwear, worn by some clergy and lawyers, and with some forms of academic dress. Bands is usually plural because they require two similar parts and did not come as one piece of cloth. Those worn by a clergyman are often called preaching bands, tabs or Geneva bands; those worn by lawyers are called barrister's bands.
The bands are two strips of bleached holland
or similar material, falling down the front from the collar. Plain linen 'falling bands', developed from the falling collar, replaced the ruff about 1640.
By 1650 they were universal. Originally in the form of a wide collar, tied with a lace in front, by the 1680s they had diminished to the traditional form of two rectangles of linen tied at the throat. Bands did not become academically significant until they were abandoned as an ordinary lay fashion after the Restoration in 1660. They became identified as specifically applicable to clerical, legal and academic individuals in the early eighteenth century, when they became longer and narrower in form.
They continued in ecclesiastical use well into the nineteenth century in the smaller, linen strip or tab form- short-bands. These are retained by some priests of the Church of England, academics, lawyers, ministers of the Church of Scotland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the English non-conformist churches . Bands were adopted early in the eighteenth century, by parish clerks and dissenting ministers, as well as by clergymen of the established churches in Europe. The bands were fairly wide, set close together. The outer white edge is the hemmed linen fabric which, being turned over onto itself three times, is opaque.
The second Anglican Prayer Book, that of Edward VI in 1552, prescribed the surplice as, with the tippet or the academic hood, the sole vestment of the minister of the church at "all times of their ministration", the rochet being practically regarded as the episcopal surplice. The more extreme Reformers furiously assailed its use, but in spite of their efforts, Elizabeth's Act of Uniformity (1559) retained the garment, and the advertisements and injunctions issued under her authority enforced its use, though they ordered the destruction of the "massing vestments" - chasubles, albs, stoles and the like.
Until 1965, the surplice had remained, with the exception of the cope, the sole vestment authorised by law for the ministers, other than bishops, of the Church of England. Apart from clerks in Holy Orders, all the "ministers" (including vicars-choral and choristers) of cathedral and collegiate churches, as well as the fellows and scholars of colleges in chapel have worn surplices since the Reformation.
The traditional form of the surplice in the Church of England survived from pre-Reformation times: a wide-sleeved, very full, plain, white linen tunic, pleated from the yoke, and reaching almost, or quite, to the feet. Towards the end of the 17th century, when large wigs came into fashion, it became convenient to have surplices constructed gown-wise, open down the front and buttoned at the neck, a fashion which still partially survives, notably at the universities. In general, however, the tendency followed continental influence, and curtailed the surplice's proportions. The ample vestment with beautiful falling folds has thus in many churches given place to a scanty, unpleated garment scarce reaching to the knee.