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Corset controversy: 'Bridgerton' prioritizes character-defining aesthetics over historical accuracy

The uniquely gaudy outfits of the Featherington family on "Bridgerton" hit some character beats, but the historical accuracy is weak. – Photo by Bridgerton / Twitter

With the second season of "Bridgerton" coming out on Netflix, there’s a lot of buzz on the internet about the new juicy scandals — and the tension between Kate Sharma and Anthony Bridgerton. Another topic of discussion has been the costumes on the show, which people seem to either love or hate.

Being very into fashion history myself and especially interested in the Regency era, I spent a long time avoiding "Bridgerton" just based on the horrible things I’d heard from fashion history experts.

Let me just say: This show is not for someone that wants to nit-pick at every costume inaccuracy. No one has that kind of time. And it’s clear, especially in the second season, that the show isn’t attempting to be fully accurate.

Costume designer Ellen Mirojnick even said that she wanted to be faithful to the silhouettes and vague look of the time but also that they took liberties with the colors, fabrics and some of the styles worn.

I love the use of vibrant colors in the show, especially considering the fact that period dramas often portray the fashions of the time as being dull in color.

The costumes are beautiful to look at, and the different shades say a lot about the characters. For example, the Featheringtons' bold and vibrant colors are meant to reflect the matriarch’s brazen character, especially when it comes to showing off her single daughters.

On the other hand, the members of the Bridgerton family wear gorgeous pastels that are supposed to reflect their high standing in society. Next to the Featheringtons’ sometimes gauche outfit choices, the Bridgerton clan look classy and respectable.

Now that I’ve sung the show’s praises, I have to go into my more harsh criticisms. 

There’s one major offender in this show whose costuming choices I cannot understand: Lady Featherington. Her outfits and hairstyles are more reminiscent of the 50s and 60s than the Regency era.

While I don’t mind blending more modern styles with older ones for creative and artistic purposes, I find Lady Featherington's outfits a fashion crime. 

First of all, her tight waist and sharp shoulders are about as opposite as you can get from the soft, flowing Regency-era silhouettes. Lady Featherington spends the whole show clinging to polite society despite facing scandal, yet wears clothing that stands out from the trends and the rest of the characters.

Considering she’s so concerned with how she and her family look, it would make much more sense to see her wearing the latest fashions. Not only is her costuming unfaithful to the character and the time, but they’re also, in my humble opinion, just plain ugly.

One thing I cannot stand is corset slander. We have this misconception, showcased especially in film, that corsets are torture machines that were always too tight and impossible to breathe in.

One of the first moments of the show displays one of the Featherington sisters getting laced tight into a corset which would not be accurate for the time.

Tight lacing is meant to accentuate an hourglass figure, which is especially out of place in the show considering the Regency era is famous for its loose silhouette — a fact that "Bridgerton" knows and accurately displays at times. So when the women have tight-laced corsets under their billowy dresses, it doesn’t really make sense.

In addition to this, corsets would always be worn with an undergarment like a chemise underneath, which would stop chafing. It’s no wonder many actresses complain about wearing corsets when this step is nearly always skipped. Of course, if you wear a corset wrong, it’s not going to feel great.

Actress Simone Ashley, who played Kate in season two, said that she couldn’t eat in the corset and was in extreme pain, nearly tearing her shoulder.

When you consider the fact that women back in the past wore corsets all the time and poorer women would work and run households in them, it’s strange that we make them so restricting when recreating them.

I think most of the misconceptions about corsets come from actresses wearing poorly fitted ones, which shouldn’t speak for corsetry as a whole.

Honestly, I don’t mind the costumers taking creative liberties with accuracy and the styles of the time. But I do think they have to be faithful to the basic trends, silhouettes and attitudes of the time. "Bridgerton" missed the mark in a few areas but succeeded in others.

I also have to applaud the costuming department of "Bridgerton" for the impressive job they took on. Mirojnick apparently had 5,000 costumes made for the first season, an impressive feat — and one of the reasons that the "Bridgerton" world feels so rich.

Look, "Bridgerton" isn’t meant to have fully historically accurate costumes. They’ve clearly set themselves in a fantasy world, but I’ll admit that I found some of the inaccuracies to go a bit too far.

But if you want to watch a Regency-era love story with near-perfect costuming, watch the 2020 version of "Emma." And if you want to get into a costume-accurate historical show about scandal, romance and strict British society, then check out "Downton Abbey."

But "Bridgerton" isn’t about that. It took me a few episodes to understand that and fully accept the show’s costumes for what they were: flawed and inaccurate but beautiful and richly detailed storytelling pieces.

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