Marcela Bonet is an economics freshman and Mustang News opinion columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
I fell in love with historical fashion my freshman year of highschool. Seattle is cold and rainy, which contributed to my pre-existing inclination to stay inside and spend hours pouring over lengthy historical novels and watching YouTube videos about various corset-making techniques by decade. I’m snobbish about it, too. When I watch “Downton Abbey” with my mother, she complains at my barrage of comments on the fabric choice of Kitchen Maid #2’s apron. I suppose for her, it ruins the fantasy.
For fans of historical fashion, “Bridgerton” is one of those period pieces that leaves a bad taste in our mouths. It all starts with the opening scene – Daphne’s mother tightlacing her into a mid-Victorian corset.
“I’m sorry,” we gasp, clutching our yellowed copies of A History of Costume, mouths open in a furious gape. “I thought this was supposed to be set in the 1810s, not the 1850s! What’s Regency about all this!”
To be fair we – and by we, I mean historical fashion snobs like myself– have a point. Daphne, in her fashionable Regency gown, would have had no use for a mid-Victorian corset, much less tightlacing. For one thing, the silhouette is all wrong. Victorian corsets nipped the silhouette in at the waist, whereas Regency gowns favored flowing, loose waistlines tucked in just below the breast. Regency women wouldn’t even have worn corsets – they would have worn stays, which featured light or non-existent boning and a wooden busk in the center.
Historical accuracy-wise, “Bridgerton” commits other infractions. Court gowns are the wrong shape, day dresses are the wrong color and the chemise – a vital underlayer ever-absent from period pieces to the intense aggravation of any historical costumer worth her salt – makes rare and sporadic appearances. Don’t even get me started on the costumes of Queen Charlotte and her court, which are, egregiously, of mid-1700’s style, with their wide panniers and triangle-shaped bodices.
But the thing about costumes – the thing that historical fashion purists are loath to admit – is that inaccurate costumes are part of the story.
Costumes tell a lot about the characters, who they are and what they wish to present, and sometimes, historical accuracy must be sacrificed for the sake of the character. Using your clothing to stand out and show your personality is a relatively modern concept, something that didn’t really exist in the 1810s.
Take, for example, the costumes worn by the Featherington characters. Upon first glance, they commit a variety of historical sins. For one, the costumes, in their cheerful pinks and yellows, are entirely the wrong hue. The silhouettes, for the most part, are correct (even if Penelope’s gowns tended to be ill-fitting), with the large and glaring exception of Lady Featherington, whose silhouette places her firmly in the American 1940s, worlds away from Regency England.
When you consider the character of the Featherington family, however, these historical sins begin to resemble creative choices. The Featheringtons were supposed to be sort of trashy, the nouveau-riche of the ton, obsessed with appearances and money. The costumes, in this context, make sense– they even expand this image.
The bright colors and almost cheap-looking fabric of the Featherington gowns make a stark contrast with the elegant, pale-colored gowns of the high-class Bridgertons. Even Lady Featherington’s particular brand of tackiness manifests itself in her gown’s out-of-place, 40’s silhouette.
I sigh and shake my head as I write this, but even the corset-lacing scene, in all its offensive inaccuracies, has a point. The corset is, to my great distaste, a popular symbol of female oppression, and Dahne is laced into it just before being carted off to the marriage mart. The corset: a tight-laced symbol of the prison of misogyny. A bit on the nose, perhaps, but a statement nonetheless.
“Bridgerton’s” s gowns bring its characters to life. They’re inaccurate – too bright, too tight, styled with the wrong decade’s undergarments – but they tell a vital part of each and every character’s story. “Bridgerton,” in all its inaccuracies, makes a statement; when it comes to entertainment, historical accuracy matters, but stories matter more.