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The shirt off his back (we wish): Mr. Darcy’s singular garment is coming to America

 It may not be Mr. Darcy’s shirt but this one nicely ‘suits’ his ever-sartorial alter ego, Colin Firth – seen here at the Venice Film Festival in 2009.

It may not be Mr. Darcy’s shirt but this one nicely ‘suits’ his ever-sartorial alter ego, Colin Firth – seen here at the Venice Film Festival in 2009.

At a time when the news – foreign and domestic – seems so terrible, here’s something to gladden the heart of many a lady (and more than a few gentleman):

Mr. Darcy’s shirt is coming to America

Yes, the shirt that is for women what the wet T-shirt contest is for men will be part of “Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity,” an exhibit opening in August at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. (And, I need not add, we are so there.) The show will feature the shirt – one of several  used, given the need for a fresh one for each take – that Colin Firth wore as Mr. Darcy in a key scene in the 1995 smash BBC miniseries of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

In that scene, Darcy – all hot and bothered by his inability to shake the memory of Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her fine eyes – returns home to Pemberley, strips down and plunges into the estate’s lake to cool his passions. When next we see him, his wet shirt is clinging to him in all the right ways, revealing and concealing as he treads to the house only to encounter the lady herself, accompanied by her uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. Oh, the joyful, painful irony.

Perhaps because clothes are considered more a female thing – Chris Rock alluded to as much at the Oscars when he said no one asks men about what they wear on the red carpet, because they all wear the same thing – men’s clothing can make a more explosive statement. Think of the varied effects of the T-shirt, courtesy of the 1950s Unholy Trinity – Marlon Brando’s (ripped and stained with sweat in “A Streetcar Named Desire”), Montgomery Clift’s (cool and crisp under a bomber jacket) and James Dean’s (sexy but fragile under a red windbreaker in “Rebel Without A Cause”).

A shirt can also be funny. Think the puffy shirt episode of “Seinfeld,” with Jerry on the wrong side of a designer’s creation.

And a shirt can be poignant. Witness the final scene in “Brokeback Mountain,” Ennis’ and Jack’s bloodstained shirts forever entwined as the wearers never could be in life, hanging in Ennis’ closet with a photo of the mountain on which they fell in love.

But mostly, a shirt – open at the throat, clinging to the wearer’s arms, molded to his chest – can be one damn sexy thing as Mr. Darcy’s pride also comes delightfully undone.