Regency Dressmaking and Bridgerton Costumes: Fiction and Actual Reality

Regency Dressmaking and Bridgerton Costumes: Fiction and Actual Reality

Like many of my fellow Janeites, I recently indulged in season 2 of the series Bridgerton.

Although Bridgerton does a marginally better job to follow Regency customs and etiquette than other shows (Sanditon, I’m looking at you), it does little more than find inspiration in the era. 

Instead, Bridgerton builds a fantasy world based on the Regency period with the purpose of providing its viewers with sheer escapism and little regard for actual reality. 

The worst culprit is the costume design department. Because, beyond the general Regency flavour of high-waisted silhouettes, many of the sartorial choices of the series are far from historically accurate. 

Let me explain.  

Bridgerton Costumes: a Splash of Colour – and Fantasy

I will not deny that Bridgerton is a feast for the eyes. The rich fabrics, the frills, the flounces, the ribbons are delightful, not to mention the beautifully curated colour palette. 

There is serious consideration to the wardrobe of each of the characters’ stories and personalities. You can see that clearly in the colour themes for each of the families in the series, as in the example below of the Featherington sisters.  

But the truth is that the vivid colours would have been impossible to reproduce during the Regency. Although many fashion plates of the era show brightly coloured gowns, in reality the shades would have been much fainter.

There is only so far you can go with natural tints and fabrics. Not even the wealthy Miss Darcy would have been able to sport a dress in the deep purple favoured by the elder Miss Sharma.

A Bonnetless World

In the fantastical London of Bridgerton, accessories abound. Jewels and brooches dripping with precious stones and pearls are everywhere, as are embellished shawls and glamorous opera gloves. 

However, while some ladies are partial to hats, and many use parasols, particularly on a sunny day, bonnets are a big no-no in Bridgerton-land. Not even the formidable matrons in the series wear them. 

Perhaps bonnets were considered by the costume designers as too dowdy or traditional for the intended visual magnificence of the series.

It’s a pity, because they would have come very handy for certain scenes. For example, there is nothing better than a fashionable poke bonnet for ladies who don’t wish to be recognised in the street – just ask the many caricature artist of the era!

Bridgerton’s Views on Undergarments and Bare Skin

Underneath those wonderful dresses, nobody in Bridgerton seems to bother with chemises. Instead, they wear their stays on bare skin – a practice that in real life would have been uncomfortable and unhygienic. 

The short corsets are historically accurate, as is the high bust-line, but the amount of flesh on display would have been much less during the era. Very low-cut gowns were acceptable as formal evening wear, but respectable women often wore scarves, neckerchiefs, fichus or other bits of fabric designed to cover the chest in the daytime (as shown in Austen’s most famous portrait).

Bridgerton Costumes -and their Zips

The thing that has most annoyed me when watching Bridgerton, even interfering in my enjoyment of the storylines: the abundance of zips on display in the series. 

In the Regency, zips were obviously not an option. Dresses were adjusted to the wearer using a convoluted combination of buttons and ribbons, and the process of dressing and undressing oneself using those methods was difficult, tedious and time-consuming (hence the need for servants to help with the task). 

But was there really no other way for the Bridgerton designers than to plant long zips on the back of most gowns on display? They really were everywhere… 

Bridgerton. (L to R) Ruth Gemmell as Lady Violet Bridgerton, Elle Meadows as Aubrey Hall Maid, Phoebe Dyvenor as Daphne Basset in episode 204 of Bridgerton. Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022

 

If you have watched the Bridgerton series, is there some other element that particularly struck you when it comes to the costume design? 

And on the topic of colour themes, which ones would you pick for your favourite fictional Austen families? For some reason, I think the Bennets would suit blue…

 

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20 COMMENTS
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Terri
Terri
May 1, 2022 9:11 AM

Going into Brigiton you just have to suspend regency era and watch it as a fantasy which it is.
Beautiful but not acrate at all.
I can’t watch Sandition at because the main girl runs around with her hair down. Its just not right imo.

Jean Stillman
Jean Stillman
May 1, 2022 7:23 AM

I am most likely one of the few women on the planet who has not watched Bridgerton, yet. I just prefer reading to watching TV. Also, with a husband , one addicted to old westerns, war movies, and action films, there is little opportunity to watch historical romance or chick flicks. But if I picked a color for a family, I would select yellows and creams for the Bennets. With the exception of Mary, the Bennet family is cheerful, friendly, and outgoing.

DarcyBennett
DarcyBennett
April 27, 2022 11:36 AM

I would love to see some bonnets on Bridgerton.

Caryl Kane
Caryl Kane
April 27, 2022 9:30 AM

Wonderful post!

Riana Everly
AuAu
April 27, 2022 9:18 AM

I’m another who hasn’t watched the show or read the books.
The best approach to these that I’ve seen, however, is to think of the shows as Regency-like fantasy. No historical accuracy required.

Jane DeGray
April 26, 2022 9:25 PM

One other thought on colors and fabrics. Many silks were imported by the East India company and others from India and the Orient, so I think those lovely colors from the series might have been accurate. As can be seen in these garments from the 18th century, deep colors were possible even then. https://blog.americanduchess.com/2021/06/fabrics-for-the-18th-century-and-beyond.html

Jane DeGray
April 26, 2022 9:15 PM

I thought the women’s designer used only one high waisted silhouette with gathers in the back and repeated it throughout. Short cap sleeves abounded. Surely there could have been a few more variations than that!

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
April 26, 2022 8:09 PM

I read the Bridgerton books but didn’t watch the show. I agree I think the Banners would suit blue.

Linda A.
Linda A.
April 26, 2022 7:47 PM

I’m with J.W. I have neither watched nor read the series. Weren’t some of the items used to dye cloth pretty expensive?

J. W. Garrett.
J. W. Garrett.
April 26, 2022 9:59 AM

No, I have not watched Bridgerton nor have I read the series. In spite of that, I did enjoy your post. In the 2005 P&P movie, the ladies were dying ribbons using beets. Plants and other components were what they used to dye clothing. As you stated, they didn’t last and were not vibrant. No, I’ll stick to my era and the bright colors.

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