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The Fantastical Costumes of Bridgerton: What's Accurate, Inaccurate, and Straight Up Fantasy

Bridgerton book series by julia quinn romance
The Bridgerton book series by Julia Quinn

If you have Netflix, you've probably at least HEARD of Bridgerton. It’s a very popular show on Netflix which is based on an equally popular book series by Julia Quinn. Each book features a different romance trope and a different member of the Bridgerton family in their pursuit of love. The setting is 19th century England or more specifically the very short lived Regency era. Or, as I learned it in school, the Empire Era named for the very distinctive empire waistline that was popular in women’s clothing at the time.

The empire waistline in clothing is really what people know it for and this style of fashion was around from the 1790s to the 1820s. The official Regency Era only lasted from 1811 to 1820 and it really didn’t refer to the fashion but rather the Regency Act of 1811. The Regency Act of 1811 passed the power of the throne to the prince of Wales when King George III’s mental illness rendered him unfit. His duties were suspended and the Prince of Wales was made Prince Regent.

Now that we got that tiny history lesson out of the way, let’s get into the clothing

regency era fashion with an empire waistline painting of a woman
Regency Era fashion with an Empire waistline

because if you’re like me, that’s about half the reason you watch Bridgerton. Fashion during this time was extremely specific compared to previous decades because the entire concept of an exaggerated or false silhouette was all but abandoned for something less physically demanding. And then we picked it back up in the mid 1800s, but we’re not talking about that!

period fashion with hoop skirts in the mid 1800s
1855-1859 Costume with Hoop Skirts

False silhouetting is the practice of changing the silhouette of a person via their clothing. From wearing tightly cinched corsets to giant hoop skirts to leg o’mutton sleaves that made the shoulders look like… legs of mutton. We went from trying to get the tiniest waist we could to triangular corsets that flattened the chest. Then we got into the Chevalier period when everyone was riding horses, including women, so corsets were slashed at the waist to allow more movement. Fashion has evolved and corsets with it. And, contrary to popular belief, men were also keen on changing their silhouette for a short time and often, upper class men wore corsets to achieve an exaggerated hourglass shape or “smooth” silhouette.

Statue of a roman woman in draped fabric fashion
Roman Statue of a woman

But, as interesting as corset evolution is, these concepts of false silhouetting were not present in the Regency Era. In fact, the era was extremely influenced by Grecian and Roman art and sculptures and if you’ve seen those sculptures, you know that the feminine body was not altered by any corsets, but it was in fact barely clothed at all most times.

Like I said, the Regency Era was very much influenced by Grecian art, much like the 1920s were because if you know anything about fashion, you know that it recycles itself.

Now to the show! It’s no secret that Bridgerton is not historically accurate and this is something the creator, Chris Van Dusen, stated was intentional many times. The comments on racial diversity were brought up very early on when the show began and this was also intentional as the creator said this show was meant to be a loose parallel reality or a fantasy and not at all accurate to history. So, you could say that the inaccuracies when it came to fashion and culture were more than forgivable to me at that point. I mean, as long as the showrunners admit it, right?

The first thing I noticed upon watching the very first episode of Bridgerton was poor

Prudence Featherington being tightly laced into a corset. Corsets during this period were not a thing. Why would they be? Women didn’t even show their waist. The absolute most you would wear under your dress is something called a “stay” which at the time was a short and soft undergarment that was never heavily boned and it was meant mostly for bust support or to push up the ladies. I also noticed a small detail in episode one when Daphne’s hand maiden is removing her corset and there is a brief glimpse of corset sores on her back! Which would not be a thing unless these cruel mothers were just stuck in a previous era and forcing their daughters to wear these horrible undergarments.

Which…who knows, because Portia Featherington always seemed to have a form fitted dress on with a very clear cinched corset underneath… this fashion did not exist at this time. Her wardrobe was in a whole other decade that definitely was not regency.

Strange empire wasitline in costume design of bridgerton
Penelope Featherington from Bridgerton

Another thing I noticed immediately was the strange waistline. While the Regency Era was known for a high waist, mainly what’s called an empire waistline which cinches just below the boobs, in the show, they went a weird step further and raised the waistline TO the boobs, sometimes cutting the breasts in half and widening the profile silhouette of the figure. Typically, the waistline being under the bust instead of on it pushed up the ladies and created a very feminine look. This whole putting the waistline on the bust was super strange to me and made no sense and my OCD brain zeroed in on it so fast.

What was even stranger was that sometimes the designer, Ellen Mirojnick, seemed to come to her senses and placed the waistline in the right spot, making me think she’d corrected herself, but in the very next scene, it would be higher again. It was a weird inconsistency that I’m sure very few people noticed, but I definitely did. I do wonder perhaps if designers took some inspiration from art depictions of regency fashion where the breasts were literally in the armpits, but I interpreted that as a more of a desired look than a literal one because they wanted those tatas as high as they could get them!

Moving on to yet another very obvious inaccuracy and that is the amount of dresses

bridgerton regency inspired costumes
Costumes from Season 2 of Bridgerton

worn. In the show, the upper class consistently buys new dresses for every social occasion and the Featheringtons remark more than once that they would never want to wear the same dress to two functions. This was not really a thing because the production of elaborate dresses was not something a modiste could do overnight. In fact, the first sewing machines to be introduced to the public didn’t come out until around 1830 and sewing machines didn’t really make an impact on production until the 1840s, twenty to thirty years after the show takes place. As in, dresses were hand sewn… and as someone who hand sewed my sisters entire lace wedding dress because the beading couldn’t be fed through a machine, I know exactly how long that takes.

Around this time, Napoleon actually was trying to make France the most fashion forward country and therefor forbade women to wear the same dresses to court more than once, so I’m inclined to believe that’s where the inspiration of this concept came from, but in England, women certainly re-wore their gowns and many times even wore the same one to every social function for the season. To spice things up, they’d change out the lace or ribbon to give basic aspects of their dress a different look, but that’s about it.

regency era fashion on a woman in a green dress
Regency Era Fashion with an empire waistline

Dresses during this time were made of muslin mostly, which is the most basic cotton you can get these days. I mean, when I was in school for fashion, they gave us rolls and rolls of the stuff to make clothes out of for practice. It’s thin, breathable, and can cling to the shape of the body, which led people to speculate that women actually got their dresses wet for public appearances to make it stick to their legs like it does on Greek statues. But this is very much speculation and many people will say it’s not true and that muslin is just a clingy material.

White was also something very popular among the upper class since it was so easy to get dirty, so keeping it clean all season was kind of a symbol of status.

Since we’re on the topic of fabric, it was also blatantly obvious that the material in Bridgerton was perhaps the most inaccurate aspect of fashion. I saw a lot of brocade, satin, and embroidery, all of which didn’t really exist. Why? Because there were no machines! In fact, in many scenes at the modiste when women are looking at fabric for their next dress, the fabric is pre-embroidered on bolts.

No… absolutely not.

Embroidery would have had to be done by hand and therefore any embroidery was done on the dress once it was already fitted and finished and it certainly did not cover the entire garment. Same goes for brocade. It just wasn’t a thing. But was it beautiful? Yes. Did I absolutely love it despite how wildly inaccurate it all was? Absolutely. Everything about this show is fantastical and it makes me happy.

Queen Charlotte costumes from the 1800s
Queen Charlotte Mecklenburg-Strelitz

Lastly, and this one actually surprised me a bit when I did a little research because I saw another channel do a feature on the Bridgerton fashion inaccuracies when the show first aired and she absolutely reamed Queen Charlotte’s fashion for not being accurate to the times. Now, I know I said this show is fantasy and it is, but there actually was a Queen Charlotte in England in 1813, but in reality, during this time she would have been very old because she died in 1818 at age 74 after catching pneumonia.

Charlotte was born in Germany and she married George III in 1761. They had 15 children and their marriage was said to be happy aside from the king’s episodes of mental illness, which is depicted in the show, and which inevitably led to the Regency Act of 1811.

Despite Chris Van Dusen taking many liberties in other aspects of Queen Charlotte’s character, the fashion was actually more accurate to history than you might think. Or at least inspired by accuracy, I guess.

While it was vastly exaggerated, Queen Charlotte did actually insist on wearing more

Painting of Queen Charlotte vs Bridgerton's Depiction
Painting of Queen Charlotte vs Bridgerton's Depiction

conservative fashions from the Georgian era. She also insisted all the women of the court wear old fashioned hoop skirts that created a wide silhouette. This was long after this type of fashion kind of fizzled out, but in all of her portraits, she was actually consistently in this type of dress.

Now, when I wrote this blog for my YouTube channel, I hadn't yet seen season 3 of Bridgerton and therefore did not add my input on the absolutely horrendous and exaggerated turn the costumes took. Now, I know what most people will say. "The costumes aren't meant to be accurate!" Well, in previous seasons I would

The weird fashion of bridgerton season 3
Cressida and her Mother in Strange High Fashion

have argued that as well and I have in fact, but season 3 took such a sharp turn into lala land where even the sense of Regency inspiration has all but turned to ash. I no longer feel as a viewer like I am in some beautiful, lavish Regency world and there is a strong sense of separation. Not only with the strange fashion choices that do not resemble Regency in any way, but with the obvious fake nails, awkward silhouettes and... neck corsets?

While I absolutely adored the costumes from previous seasons, I can't say I like anything about the costumes in season 3. If it's doing it for you, that's great, but I feel personally like the magic has been stolen a little.

Do you agree or disagree? Let me know! And watch my full Youtube video with even more references HERE.



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