Congratulations to Sarina Dorie of Eugene, Oregon, the September recipient for the Penn Cove Award.
Undressing Mr. Darcy
by Sarina Dorie
“It’ll be fun,” Val, said. She wanted me to come to a fashion workshop at her chapter of Romance Writers of America. “This is right up your Pride and Prejudice alley.”
The mention of my favorite book hooked me.
When we arrived, the meeting had already started. The only seats left in the community center’s room were in the front row. We squished in between two women in business suits.
I glanced at a handsome man sitting on the other side of the room. He wore suspenders and a bowler hat. His side-burns gave him an old-fashioned look, and I wondered if he was one of the presenters. He smiled when he caught me staring and tipped his hat at me.
When they introduced Mr. Darcy, I sat up. A man strode down the aisle, donning a top hat, cravat and frock coat. The model was tall and dark haired—exactly how I imagined my favorite Jane Austen character. The beauty of the costume made me want to drool.
Ms. Gardener, the presenter, wore a high-waisted gown similar to those I’d seen on Regency era book covers. I leaned forward with interest.
Ms. Gardener talked about costuming and the Jane Austen Society. My jaw dropped when the presenter undressed Mr. Darcy.
I’d read enough classical literature to know that a man without his frock coat was considered naked in the Regency era. Mrs. Gardener explained every nuance of his costume. I wasn’t sure which idea I fell in love with more: the idea of a gentleman—or the idea of a man dressed as a gentleman.
I grabbed Val’s elbow. “This is my dream come true.”
She put a finger to her lips. The man in suspenders and the bowler hat across the room must have heard because he raised an eyebrow.
As the layers came off Mr. Darcy, ladies in the audience waved their faces with their handouts. The presenter only undressed him down to his undergarments before she called for Mrs. Darcy. Mr. Darcy retired to the side room, while the presenter undressed the female model down to her chemise. I was riveted. I’d always wondered what these layers of clothes looked like. They were so fitted they were physically difficult to remove.
After the meeting, the models came out from the dressing room. Women flocked to the model who had been presented as Mr. Darcy. He now wore ripped jeans and a rock band shirt. He’d replaced his nose ring and wore his hair down. It wasn’t so much the modern attire, as much as the disdainful attitude he wore that made the illusion of Mr. Darcy fade. His laugh was obnoxiously loud and I was pretty sure I heard him curse in most ungentlemanly manner that would have made Elizabeth Bennet blush. That didn’t stop the gaggle of women who surrounded him. Then again, maybe his arrogance made him more authentically Darcy-esque for them.
I turned to tell Val how disappointed I was, but she stood talking to another woman. The let-down must have shown in my posture because a man said from behind me, “Can’t judge a book by its cover.”
The man in his bowler hat was packing a bag. He was tall and trim, and now that I was closer, I could see how refined and handsome his features were.
“Are you an author?” I asked.
He shook his head and laughed, his cheeks as round as apples. “No. I’m James, the tailor. That’s my work ‘Darcy’ modeled.”
Learning he was the one who had “created” Mr. Darcy was enough to make my heart skip a beat. Studying his more modest attire, I suspected he’d made that as well. He was a master of his craft.
“Your costumes are beautiful,” I said. “Do you make women’s clothing too? I have my heart set on a Regency wedding dress.”
His green eyes were intently fixed on my hand. “I don’t see a ring.”
I blushed. “Well, no. I’m not—I don’t have a boyfriend. I just want a dress that I could wear someday. . . .”
“I see you’re as smitten with Regency fashion as I am. The problem with period clothes is they’re meant to fit so well they’re impossible to put on yourself. That’s why you need servants. Authors never get the scenes right where people remove their clothes. Those laces, buttons, and hooks take time. Just like real life romance.” His eyes met mine.
We talked for so long about period fashion that I eventually noticed when our laughter filled the empty room. Val sat in a chair, a smirk on her face.
“Did you get his number?” she asked later.
“Better, I got a business card,” I said. Plus, an invitation to be fitted for a day dress to be modeled in a vintage fashion show.
Just over a year later, James did end up making my wedding dress, an empire-waisted gown with layers of petticoats underneath. And he was right. It did take assistance to put on—and to take off. Fortunately he helped with the latter on our wedding night.