Mr. Darcy’s Famous Wet Shirt Sells for $25,000

Actor Colin Firth’s costume from the BBC’s “Pride in Prejudice” doubled auction house estimates

Mr. Darcy Shirt
Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC series "Pride and Prejudice" Kerry Taylor Auctions

Ever since the BBC adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” aired in 1995, viewers have been captivated by a scene in which Mr. Darcy (played by Colin Firth) emerges from a lake wearing a white linen shirt. On Tuesday, the famous garment sold for £20,000 ($25,000) at an auction in London.

The button-down—along with Darcy’s boots, moleskin breeches and velvet waistcoat—went for more than twice the pre-sale estimate of £10,000 pounds ($12,700), according to Kerry Taylor Auctions.

In the now-iconic scene, a brooding Darcy walks across the grounds of his Pemberley estate after a quick swim. Still drenched, he unexpectedly runs into his love interest, Elizabeth Bennet (played by Jennifer Ehle). The shot immortalized the shirt in TV costume history and jumpstarted Firth’s reputation as a British heartthrob.

The Lake Scene (Colin Firth Strips Off) - Pride and Prejudice - BBC

“Mr. Darcy’s ‘wet shirt moment’ was never scripted,” says costume designer Dinah Collin in the lot listing. “Because on-screen male nudity was not permitted … the idea of the ‘wet shirt’ was born.”

When the series aired, the scene “caused something of a sensation,” adds Collin. “[It] transformed Colin Firth from a respected classical actor to something of a sex symbol overnight!”

For nearly three decades, the scene has continued to resonate. In a 2013 survey, it was voted the most memorable moment in a British drama, according to the Associated Press’ Jill Lawless. Around the same time, a 12-foot-tall Darcy statue appeared in a lake in London’s Hyde Park. The scene has also inspired a number of recreations, such as a similar moment in “Bridgerton” featuring actor Jonathan Bailey.

Jane Austen’s 1813 novel does not include Darcy jumping into a lake. Still, many Janeites think the wet shirt scene faithfully portrays the tensions at play in Darcy and Bennet’s relationship.

“We cannot guess what Austen would have made of ‘the shirt,’ but her novels contain plenty of seductions and elopements, so she understood the force of sexual attraction as she understood all aspects of the human heart,” Heather Thomas, a trustee of the Jane Austen Society, tells the Washington Post’s Adela Suliman.

The auction—titled “Lights Camera Auction”—featured dozens of other costumes worn by film and TV legends. Notable items included a dress worn by Drew Barrymore in Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998), the Christian Dior ball gown worn by Madonna in Evita (1996) and the costume worn by ​​Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes (2009).

All proceeds from the sale will go to the Bright Foundation, an arts education charity founded by the renowned costume designer John Bright.

“My life’s work has been committed to costume design for film, TV and theater, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to pursue this path,” says Bright in a statement. “It is my firmly held belief that the arts and creativity can shape happier and healthier children and enable young people to reach their full potential.”

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