The shirt that turned the actor Colin Firth into a heartthrob — and helped fuel the continuing global Jane Austen pandemonium —is coming to the United States.
The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington confirmed that it has secured a loan of the billowing white shirt worn by Firth in an indelible scene in the 1995 BBC miniseries of “Pride and Prejudice.”
It will be on view starting in August as part of the exhibition “Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity,” alongside relics including a bundle of wood collected at Shakespeare’s birthplace, a bottle of Austen-inspired Bath Gin (tagline: “Gin of a different persuasion”), and Will and Jane action figures.
In the scene, Firth, playing the aloof Mr. Darcy, dives into a pond and emerges with the garment molded to his strapping physique.
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The Regency wet T-shirt moment appears nowhere in Austen’s novel, but it has inspired homages like the 12-foot fiberglass-coated Mr. Darcy that temporarily rose out of a London pond in 2013 and a photo re-enactment by Benedict Cumberbatch, done as a charity fundraiser, that caused heart palpitations across the Internet in 2014.
“The shirt seemed like a celebrity object that demonstrated the kind of fun that people have with Austen as an author,” said Janine Barchas, a University of Texas English professor who is a curator of the show with Kristina Straub of Carnegie Mellon University. “It exemplifies the kind of play that is central to our whole exhibition.”
”The Shirt,” as the exhibition label will call it, belongs to the British costume supply house Cosprop, which said it received several requests a year for Mr. Darcy’s garments. (Like Rin Tin Tin, the Shirt was actually played by several shirts, given the need for a dry one before each take.) And no, you can’t rent it to wear, say, to your prom.
“The costumes hired from Cosprop’s exhibition department are for display purposes only and must not be worn at any time,” a representative said by email.
A half-serious proposal to keep the shirt wet and molded to its display dummy by using misters like those in grocery store produce sections was deemed “curatorially unsound,” Barchas said. But outside the protective glass case, the library is bracing for a humid reception.
“We will be giving the Folger some Windex, to be used in what we anticipate will be a daily wiping-down of lipstick marks,” Barchas said.