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All my books are available from Amazon, from my publisher Shire Publications,  also from bookshops and gift shops at museums, art galleries and National Trust properties as well as The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust gift shops and the gift shop at Blenheim Palace. If you would like a signed copy, please come to one of my events, or drop me a line via the Contact Form.

Fashion in the Time of William Shakespeare


Shakespeare felt that ‘The apparel oft proclaims the man’ and dressed his characters accordingly using costume not only to denote character, but also to drive plot through subterfuge and disguise, notably in the famous cross-dressing plots. Garments and fashions feature in almost all of his plays, occasionally even as the pivot of the story, as with the handkerchief in Othello and the sleeve given as a love token in Troilus and Cressida, and Malvolio’s stockings.


Shakespeare’s era was at the height of the English Renaissance and people wanted to express themselves with the exciting new array of fashions and fabrics gathered from an ever expanding world. Elizabethans proclaimed themselves with a vivid language of symbolism worked into every fabric and jewel; in the sculptural shapes that redefined their torsos, and a colour palette that ran the gamut from ‘lusty gallant’ to ‘goose turd’.


Taking a joyful grab-bag approach to style that saw garments from every country in Europe blended together in a purely eclectic English style. An elegant French cloak and a good pair of English boots could take a gentleman anywhere, but only one who had seen combat could wear a gilded gorget with his well sculpted doublet. Lace was a status symbol as was a well formed ruff and a gown bristling with accessories as rare and peculiar as a black silk vizard mask and a semi-taxidermied flea fur.


Those who could, dedicated a disproportionate amount of their income to a wardrobe that would represent them to the best possible advantage in the present, and for posterity in their portraits.

Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950


Exhibiting enormous power or inspiring incredible devotion, throughout history beauty has been women’s chief asset. Each age has required its own standard – a gleaming white brow during the Renaissance, the black eyebrows considered charming in the early 18th century, or the thin lips thought desirable by the Victorians. For those naturally blessed, their beauty could ensure a good marriage, offer social mobility, fame or notoriety whereas those without such obvious gifts would resort to any ends to achieve an illusion of beauty.


Ours is not the only age when beauty is celebrated but also judged and quantified. From the colour of the ear to the transparency of the teeth the benchmark for every aspect of beauty has been set and women – and some men – have applied themselves wholeheartedly,  risking their lives using poisonous chemicals, their fortunes at the threat of blackmail, or the wrath of God, to reach the desired targets.


From Queen Elizabeth I who used dangerous quantities of white lead to give her complexion the illusion of a youthful lustre, to the service women of WWII who bravely painted on a smile to greet adversity, Sarah Jane Downing reveals the fascinating and sometimes bizarre secrets of history’s great beauties.


If you’ve ever wondered why 17th century women wore black velvet masks, or pondered the symbolism of beauty patches? Mulled over the mysteries of mouse skin eyebrows, or questioned the origins of nail varnish? All the answers are here, along with a host of fascinating and incredible stories that provide an unusual intimate view of women’s history.


This beautiful book, packed with illustrations from original sources, gives a real insight into not only what was worn when, but why those looks were chosen, and how they conformed to the prevailing ideal of beauty in each era.

Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen


The broader Regency period 1795-1820 stands alone as an incredible moment in fashion history unlike anything that went before or after. The flimsy diaphanous gowns and skin-tight trousers made it the most ‘naked’ period since Ancient Greece until the 1960s. For the first time England created its own styles becoming the key fashion influence on the world stage. Men found a bold masculinity, whilst women drew upon a myriad of influences as the season-by-season flux of fashion, as we know it came into being, aided and abetted by the proliferation of new ladies’ magazines.


Such an age of revolution and innovation inspired a flood of fashions taking influence from everything including the newly discovered treasures of the ancient world, to radical new ideas like democracy. It was an era of contradiction immortalised by Jane Austen, who adeptly used the newfound diversity of fashion to enliven her characters, Mr Darcy’s understated elegance, Wickham’s military splendour, and Miss Tilney’s romantic fixation with white muslin. 


Anyone who is a fan of Jane Austen, or indeed of the lavish costume dramas on television will find this lavishly illustrated book a fascinating insight into the designs worn by both men and women in the era, the materials used and the fashion etiquette.

With extensive research, using examples from across the spectrum of Jane Austen’s literature and private letters Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen gives a fascinating insight into the fashions of a remarkable moment in history and a private aspect of Jane Austen’s personal life.

The English Pleasure Garden 1660-1860



From 1660-1860 the English Pleasure Gardens were at the centre of English social life. They showcased music by the newest talents including Handel and Mozart, and offered intimate access to art long before public galleries were available.


Their elegant verdant walks were the perfect place to take a stroll, providing a catwalk for the finest fashions and an opportunity to spot the celebrities of the day from the Prince Regent, to Dick Turpin, whilst the popular masquerade balls allowed an unprecedented social mix and ample opportunity for secret assignations.


Once immortalised by Thackeray, Austen, and Dickens, by the height of the Victorian era this fairy land of tinkling fountains and glittering coloured lights had gone into decline, becoming little more than a den of vice for thieves and prostitutes.


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