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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

The Shirt, unveiled

Sometimes launching a museum exhibition is a complicated process, as catalogs are researched, international loan agreements negotiated, and priceless artifacts packed and shipped. All of this can take years.

 

Other times, not so much.

 

Less than twelve weeks after acquiring one of the world’s most coveted pieces of Jane Austen merch, a public museum in the northern English county of Yorkshire has put its prize on display: Mr. Darcy’s wet shirt can now be seen at the Bankfield Museum in Halifax, in an exhibition that runs until Christmas Eve.

 

"We know that many people have been eager to see it for themselves," local council member Danielle Durrans told the BBC, in a charming example of the British talent for understatement.

 

At a charity auction in March, the shirt—which clings fetchingly to the manly chest of Colin Firth as he strides across a meadow in the most famous scene in the most famous TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice--sold for £25,000 (about $32,000). The lot included not only the shirt but also the breeches, tailcoat, waistcoat, cravat, and boots that Firth wore—or didn’t wear—during the sequence.

 

The price was well above the auction house’s initial estimate, no doubt because the shirt is more than a fine example of the costumer’s art: It’s a pop culture landmark, referenced in everything from Bridget Jones’ s Diary to Bridgerton. Arguably, Firth’s sexy smolder helped ignite fin-de-siècle Austen fandom.

 

It’s not clear what the museum, which is publicly funded and charges no admission, plans to do with Firth’s outfit once its exhibition wraps up in December. But costuming seems to be one of its specialties, so no doubt the shirt—shall we just call it The Shirt?--will find a prominent place in this newly minted stop on the Austen Pilgrimage Trail.

 

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