‘Bridgerton’, Netflix’s phenomenally successful early 19th-century drama series, takes a deep dive into the worlds of class, societal expectations, and romance. Most intriguing though is its exploration of the elegance and flamboyance of 1800s upper-class fashion. But how historically accurate is it?
In the early 1800s the high-waisted empire line dress, with its silhouetted corsets, had recently spread to England from Paris, the leading fashion capital. The desire to raise the waistline grew as the train of dresses disappeared, resulting in frocks complete with busty chests and hemlines finishing just above the ground.
For the male members of society, fitted waistcoats demonstrating quality tailoring, finished in rich, vivid coloured materials, were the ultimate trend.
Comparing this to what we see in ‘Bridgerton’ is fairly easy, for at first glance these historical elements are abundantly clear. It is only by looking closer that we start to see traces of costume designer Ellen Mirojnick’s own interpretation. Mirojnick has been eager to emphasise that Bridgerton is a fictionalized vision of the regency era, giving her plenty of freedom to experiment with loud colours and over-embellishment, inspired largely by Irish painter, Genieve Figgis and 20th and 21st-century couture.
Such bold fabrics are most obvious in the costumes designed for the Featherington family. Mirojnick speaks of the need to take a breath when working on the Bridgerton and Featherington costumes, respectively, because of their overt differences. It’s fairly safe to say that daring colours wouldn’t have been common among the social strata, but in Mirojnick’s fictional Regency era, it perfectly represents the Featheringtons’ staggering need to be noticed.
The Bridgertons’ attire, on the other hand, reflects a sense of elegance and refinery. Their dresses are more simple; of a softer hue. Because of the paler palette of the Bridgerton costumes, Mirojnick increased the amount of glitter and embellishment that wouldn’t necessarily have been present in 1813 England.
So, is it an issue for period dramas to be historically accurate? I would say no. If Mirojnick were to strictly stick to accurately depicting 19th-century fashion we wouldn’t see the explosion of colour from the Featheringtons, and Daphne’s soft, youthful features would be hidden by a bonnet – an element Mirojnick chooses to exclude completely. The term fictionalized is key with period dramas, as this is what allows the modernisation of costumes, making the series all the more visually enjoyable.