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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Lydia the leopard

I really should cease being surprised by how indiscriminately purveyors of goods and services slap the name “Jane Austen” onto items with virtually no link to her life or work. And yet, I still shook my head last month when I learned of the Austen Coat, now available from the British clothing company Boden.

The coat, which retails for £220 (about $276), comes in fetching shades of navy and red, with two interchangeable faux-fur collars, one in navy and one in leopard print. The leopard, according to Boden’s website, is for those days when you want to “channel your inner Lydia Bennett (sic).” (So wearing a flamboyant coat collar is the 2019 equivalent of risking social death for a lusty interlude with a hottie in a militia uniform?)

To be fair, it’s not just Our Jane who is getting the Boden Non Sequitur treatment. The Austen Coat is part of a new line of thirty coats dedicated to “remarkable historical British women who dared to be different,” Boden explains. “Because being brave never goes out of style.”

There’s a suede-and-shearling number inspired by archaeologist Gertrude Bell, a wool-blend duffle with Paddington Bear-style toggles that is named for Emily Brontë, and a velvet blazer, available in solids or flamboyant prints, that is styled after Virginia Woolf’s lover, the daring novelist and garden designer Vita Sackville-West.

The Austen Coat, Boden tells us, riffs on pseudonymous publication: “She may have had to hide her true identity, but there's no concealing her sparkling wit and unforgettable characters (Mr. Darcy, anyone?)” According to the digital version of Woman & Home, a British magazine for women over forty, the leopard-print collar represents the true, writerly Austen concealed beneath the façade of proper ladyhood. Or something like that.

Although it’s all pretty ridiculous, I can’t stop puzzling over the significance of the price points. The Jane Austen coat appears to fall somewhere in the middle of the line – more expensive than the Mary Wollstonecraft puffer coat (£175) or the Emily Brontë duffle (£180), but less than the double-breasted Fanny Burney (£250) or the longline Margot Fonteyn (£275). And what does it tell us that the wool-blend Ada Lovelace is already marked down by thirty percent?

Are computer-science pioneers less valuable than famous ballerinas? Do we price over-the-top emotion on the Yorkshire moors at a lower rate than Regency stiff upper lips? Surely Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of us all, deserves better?

What’s that you say? Maybe I’m overthinking this? Perhaps – but it seems I’m not the only one.


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