When we think of “historical fashion,” we might think of the following: bonnets, hoop skirts, corsets, floor-length-fur-lined robes, white face makeup, bejeweled tiaras (just me? I’m getting ahead of myself) and more, thanks to popularized historical dramas like Bridgerton. If you haven’t watched the show, (and full disclosure, I have seen one point five episodes but I still want to talk about it) based on my understanding, it’s essentially the story of wealthy families and their quest to marry each other. While this show takes creative liberties in their costume design in order to make them more appealing to viewers, the costume process actually perfectly encapsulates how the historic fashion in TV and film is adapted into mainstream fashion. We know that fashion is cyclical, but it’s easy for certain styles to become lost in the sands of time. However, shows like Bridgerton remind viewers of the abstract, and sometimes fantastical details of fashion history, even if they are dramaticized.
For example, Bridgerton received a lot of criticism from experts for the historical inaccuracy surrounding the way they portrayed people wearing corsets. The opening scene is a woman literally suffocating in a corset, representative of how women’s social roles restricted their movement in the world. Thus, sometimes the fashion in Bridgerton was symbolic for social context. After the show came out, many high-fashion retailers began producing their own versions of historical fashion to be strutted in on the runway: specifically pastels, gloves, and corsets. Whatever happens in high fashion is quickly disseminated into the rest of mainstream design, and so within the last two years, the combination of fast-fashion trends and love of historical fashion caused corsets to skyrocket in popularity.
I would also be remiss to not mention social media’s overwhelming impact on the corset trend. Social media loves to romanticize things, including TV and film: so, to romanticize Bridgerton (a piece that already proudly glamorizes historic fashion ) you’re going to end up with some interesting interpretations of period clothing. I loved seeing on TikTok and Instagram how people would style their corsets— an outfit with jeans, skirts, or sneakers were my favorite. To someone in the 19th century who wore corsets daily, this outfit would seem laughably insane, but this is the fashion cycle.
Personally, as someone who regularly exercises my American right to wear pants and sneakers, sometimes the fashion in Bridgerton makes me laugh because of how ludicrous it is. I think that that is the point. In light of Covid and the many social problems we face currently, perhaps it’s healthy to try to replicate these colorful, larger-than-life costumes within the context of what we currently have in our closets at home. Bridgerton doesn’t aim to be perfectly accurate, but rather a means of escaping into the lives of wealthy aristocrats. I think all we can do is embrace the feeling of absurdity.