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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Stocking stuffer

What do you get for the Janeite who has everything?

 

You’d think it would be easy to buy for people whose fandom has spawned an ocean of merch. And yet, as we Janeites know, when birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmases roll around, our friends and relatives have a tough time buying for us—because we already own so much of what’s out there.

 

Our Jane Austen mugs have infiltrated every corner of our kitchens. Our Jane Austen tote bags overflow our closets. Our fridge doors display so many Jane Austen magnets that we can barely find room for pictures of our children. And the books! Don’t get me started.

 

Luckily, however, a solution to this gift-giving problem—an opportunity to buy an intensely coveted, one-of-a-kind object of Janeite lust--is coming your way next week. Admittedly, this particular collector’s item is likely to be on the pricey side, but surely money is no object when you have the chance to wow your favorite Austen fan.

 

Yes, my friends: Mr. Darcy’s wet shirt is coming up for auction.

 

The shirt—along with the breeches, tailcoat, waistcoat, cravat, and boots that Colin Firth removes, and then puts back on, during the most famous sequence in the most famous screen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice—constitutes Lot 13 in a charity sale called “Lights Camera Auction.” (It might as well have been called “Catnip for Period Drama Fans.”)


The auction house, London-based Kerry Taylor Auctions, estimates that Firth’s outfit, created by Dinah Collin, will fetch £7,000-£10,000 (about $8,800-$12,600). It wouldn't surprise me if this estimate turns out to be low: Besides being a beautiful example of the costumer's art, The Shirt is a pop-culture landmark, referenced in P&P knockoffs from Bridget Jones's Diary to Bridgerton and featuring in the Folger Shakespeare Library's 2016 exhibit on the literary celebrity of Austen and Shakespeare.

 

The auction, scheduled for Tuesday, includes more than sixty period costumes owned by Cosprop, the London costume house founded by Oscar-winning costume designer John Bright. Proceeds from the sale of the costumes, worn by famous and semi-famous actors in movies and TV shows dating back to 1978, will go to the Bright Foundation, a UK arts education organization serving disadvantaged children and young people.

 

The Darcy outfit isn’t the only Austen-related item on offer: Lot 12 is the lovely white silk gown that Gwyneth Paltrow wears in the Box Hill sequence from the 1996 movie of Emma, and Lot 11 is the bright yellow pelisse and matching ostrich-feather hat that Anya Taylor-Joy wears in the 2020 screen version of the same novel, and which features on the movie’s poster.

 

Nor is the Darcy outfit expected to be the most expensive among the sale items, which include glamorous ensembles from the likes of Downton Abbey, Murder on the Orient Express, and A Room With a View. That distinction goes to a stunning 1950s Christian Dior ball gown—the real thing, not a costumer’s imitation--worn by Madonna in the 1996 movie of Evita; the auction house expects this piece of vintage couture to bring £40,000 to £60,000 (about $50,000 to $75,000).

 

But let’s be honest: Much as the Janeite in your life might appreciate these other, admittedly lovely items--it’s the wet shirt, stupid. The bragging rights alone are worth a mountain of tote bags.

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