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Fan of ‘Bridgerton’? This is a defense of ‘inaccurate’ costumes in period dramas

Netflix recently announced that its new series, Bridgerton, is the company’s most popular program to date. Adapted from the historical novels of Julia Quinn, Bridgerton depicts a set of upper-class families at the beginning of London’s “season” in 1813. The show has attracted audiences and critics alike, but not all the attention has been positive. . His creative and sometimes inaccurate representation of the fashion in the period it has been the subject of some criticism.

It is not the only period piece that has attracted so much criticism. Enola Holmes (2020) Netflix and Greta Gerwig’s critically acclaimed adaptation of the novel Little women (2019) Louisa May Alcott, have also questioned the veracity of their historical costumes.

For some commentators, the “inaccurate” wardrobe choice can, understandably, detract from viewing pleasure. However, the artistic license these shows take could actually be in keeping with 19th-century novels, which also sometimes adapted and idealized fictional fashions.

While Bridgerton is very correct in his interpretation of the Regency era, his daring costume choices have been the subject of growing debate. Created by American costume designer Ellen Mirojnick, the costumes, of which there were 7,500 pieces, unapologetically plays on notions of historical accuracy.

Although they largely adopt the long flowing silhouette reminiscent of the 1810s, the bright colors, the almost absurdly high waists and other apparent inconsistencies in the dresses the female characters wear have raised questions among viewers about the legitimacy of these fashions. An article also aptly points out the fashion misstep that Bridgerton makes with his inaccurate use of corsets. In one scene, for example, Daphne Bridgerton’s back is cut and bruised from her overly tight corset, but Regency women would have worn a camisole, a linen undergarment, against your skin to prevent this from happening.

Dafne in the Netflix series 'Bridgerton'.Dafne in the Netflix series ‘Bridgerton’ YouTube Netflix

Enola Holmes and Little Women received similar scrutiny.

Although the costume designer for Little Women, Jacqueline durran, won an Oscar for Best Costume Design, critics have argued that the award was “undeserved.” The film effectively uses temporal changes to enhance emotional moments and make family history new. However, viewers have noted that the use of inaccurate silhouettes complicated such movements in time. There is not a noticeable difference, for example, between the wide skirts worn by the March sisters as children and the dresses they wear as adults, at which point the shape of the skirt would have changed significantly.

Similarly, the costumes used in Enola Holmes, set in 1884 and based on young adult fiction from Nancy springer, is a combination of styles from different periods, which generates confusion about the timeline of the story.

In one scene, two artificial cage crinolines hang from a shop window. Made from a series of steel hoops to expand a skirt, this type of crinoline appeared in June 1856 and had gone out of style in the 1880s, in which the film is set. By then the stores would have been selling bustles: a padded underwear at the back of women’s dress which is used to add fullness.

But the anachronistic wardrobe of such productions has a historical precedent. Some 19th century writers adapted fictional fashions to suit their own tastes and those of their readers.

One of the most obvious examples is the novel Vanity fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, which was first published serially between 1847 and 1848. Like Bridgerton, Vanity Fair meditates on upper-class society, gossip, and property issues in the first decades of the 19th century.

However, writing in the mid-19th century, Thackeray departs from the historical fashions of the Regency era in favor of fashions of his own time. In an early edition of the novel, a footnote addressed directly to the reader states:

The intention of the author, true to the story, was to represent all the characters in this story with their appropriate costumes, as they were worn at the beginning of the century. But when I remember the appearance of the people in those days… I don’t have the heart to disfigure my heroes and heroines in such horrible costumes; and, on the contrary, they have hired a rank model dressed according to current fashion.

Thackeray caricatured the fashions of the early 19th century. The angular lines of the man’s hat and trousers and the woman’s elongated cap, reflecting the straight line of her dress, are supposed to exemplify the “hideous” fashions of the Regency.

In contrast, other Vanity Fair illustrations show Thackeray’s characters in typical mid-century dress.

Furthermore, historian Anne Hollander points out that Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), whose second edition was dedicated to Thackeray, also plays with the presentation of historical fashion. Although not as overtly as Thackeray, Jane Eyre, which is supposedly set at the turn of the century, also “evokes those same contemporary romantic clothes to its authorship”.

In this sense, just as costume dramas do today, some nineteenth-century novels adapted, idealized, and even sexed fictional fashions to suit the public’s taste.

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* Here you can read the original note.

* By Danielle Dove, visiting scholar in Victorian literature at the University of Surrey.

* The Conversation is an independent, non-profit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.