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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe


Somewhere out there, a Jane Austen fan—perhaps someone you know! Perhaps you yourself!—is clearing space in her trophy cabinet for a very, very expensive piece of Janeite swag. Because it’s happened: The auction is over, and Mr. Darcy’s wet shirt is now in private hands.


(Private ownership, I mean! Get your mind out of the gutter!)


Before last week’s sale of dozens of costumes from period movies and TV shows, London-based Kerry Taylor Auctions had estimated that the most famous item—the white linen shirt that, when soaked, clung so fetchingly to Colin Firth’s manly chest in the BBC’s iconic 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice—would fetch £7,000-£10,000 (about $8,800-$12,600).


I predicted that this pre-sale estimate would prove low, and I was right. The lot--which included not only the shirt but also the waistcoat, tailcoat, cravat, breeches, and boots worn, or removed, by Firth in the famous lakeside scene--eventually sold for twice as much. The final total was £25,000 (about $32,000): a £20,000 hammer price--twice the annual income of Pemberley, if you disregard the pesky matter of historical inflation rates--plus an additional £5,000 in auction-house commissions.


I would like to crow about my extraordinary predictive powers, but to be honest, this wasn’t a hard call: The Shirt is a pop-culture landmark, admired or parodied by everyone from Bridget Jones to Queen Camilla.


In fact, most of the items in the show sold for well above the pre-sale estimates. Nor was the Darcy shirt the most expensive piece: It was bested by a vintage couture ballgown worn by Madonna in the 1996 movie of Evita (total price: £50,000, or about $64,000) and a gorgeous wool suit worn by Johnny Depp in the 1996 Tim Burton film Sleepy Hollow (total price: £30,000, or about $38,000).

And with sale proceeds, including the auction-house commissions, going to a good cause—an arts education charity serving disadvantaged children and young people—all the spending came with a side helping of virtue. The overriding message seems to be that fans of period drama are more than a little obsessed, and Jane Austen fans may be especially . . . is intense the word I’m looking for? Or just deep-pocketed?

Meanwhile, I can't answer the one question I know is in all our minds: According to Business Insider, the lucky winner of the bidding was "a mystery buyer."* Time to start checking the closets of all the Janeites you know.

* But actually not such a mystery: Between my writing of this post and its publication, the buyer was revealed.


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