This issue, Maria Henry explores the sensation that is Netflix’s ‘Bridgerton’ and how it is influencing the fashion of the future, by digging up the past
A couple of months ago, a new trend began to emerge on social media. This trend involved big skirts, ballgowns, costume jewellery, pin-curled hair and dainty shoes. Yes, you guessed it – I’m talking about the ‘Bridgerton’ trend. When the television show Bridgerton (based on the novels of the same name by Julia Quinn) was released on Netflix last month, it was hit with rave reviews as audiences quickly warmed to the colourful cast of characters and Regency-era settings. The show, which focuses on the Bridgerton family, is set in the historical English city of Bath and shows the girls as they attempt to find love, build friendships and debut into their society.
The show is characterised by a blend of old traditions and modern mindsets. The maximalist aesthetic of the costumes reflect this mindset well and feature beautiful pastel-colours, florals, ruffles beyond-belief, fabulously dramatic puff-sleeves and are almost always accessorised with jewels, tiaras, and feathered headdresses.
A Romantic Revival
One remarkable thing that came out of the show was the power of escapism that it held for audiences. People instantly fell in love with the world that Bridgerton offered; the balls and dances, the romances, the dinner parties and grand houses. People enjoyed the romantic idealisms of this lifestyle so much that a range of Bridgerton inspired trends began to sweep the internet.
Many of these began on TikTok, for example, a trend in which people would switch from wearing regular, every day, ‘lockdown’ clothes to full ballgowns and period clothing, including lace gloves, corsets, long dresses and petticoats. As the UK had entered its third national lockdown when Bridgerton was released, the trend offered a unique way of getting out of the ‘quarantine slump’ that so many were feeling oppressed by. It gave people motivation and opportunity to get themselves all dressed up and experiment with a new (old) style.
This spiralled into a further appreciation for Regency fashion, with people sharing videos of outfits inspired by characters in the show and by general 19th-century fashion trends, it even adopted the name ‘Regencycore’. This involved things such as incorporating satin corsets into more modern aesthetics, creating period-inspired hair updos and layering dresses and skirts to create a dreamy, ball-gown-like look.
Regencycore is all about escaping to another world through fashion – it is about fantasy and revival. In these current times of being trapped inside, with little to do and few opportunities to dress up, the trend offers people the chance to immerse themselves in a wonderful dream-like world. It allows them the chance to find fashion inspiration in long-gone eras and allows us to adapt these things into our modern style.
To Corset, or Not to Corset?
Corsets quickly became a staple of the Bridgerton trend, with search engines such as Lyst reporting a massive spike of over 100% in the number of “corsets to buy” searched for. The regency-era staple was, for a while, was seen as a negative by many, who felt like corsets were by their very nature oppressive to the women who wore them. In period times, the corset was made to shape the woman’s figure in order to make her more appealing to male suitors and this in of itself has negative connotations as it heavily presents itself to the male gaze.
Originally an undergarment made of whale-bone or steel, the corset was made to pull in the natural waistline – this often became dangerous and harmful to the women who would wear corsets every day for many hours at a time, as their ribs were being pushed into unnatural positions for hours upon hours. This could result in back pains, breathing issues and even internal organ damage. Doctors in the 19th century reported that prolonged use of them could also result in miscarriage or damage to an unborn child due to the pressure being placed around the womb.
The corset disappeared from fashion’s view around the seventies, as athleisure become all the rage and body-sculpting was instead achieved through workouts and dieting-trends. In recent years, much enhanced by influencers such as the Kardashians, we have seen the corset return to the public eye, rebranded as a ‘waist-trainer’. The waist-trainer is meant to be worn for a few hours a day, instead of consistently like a corset, however, the effect is the exact same – it pushes the ribs into a certain position and over time they move into that shape permanently due to the consistent pressure, giving the appearance of the much-desired small waistline. In many ways, the original use of the corset, to give the body a certain societally desired look, is still very much alive. However, we find it now often replaced with waist-trainers, shaping underwear, plastic surgery, and cosmetic procedures. There is no longer just one way to create this look for yourself, but rather a variety of options that devote themselves to sculpting a woman’s body to meet societal expectations.
The new corset, however, almost acts as a way to re-define and re-claim the original use of the corset. Women are using the corset to make themselves feel good – not to make themselves look a certain way for men. The Bridgerton trend is less about looking the way that our modern society deems ‘attractive’ but more about escaping into another era, experimenting with new and old fashion trends and combining them to make something personal and unique. The trend is not catered towards the male gaze as it has been in the past, it is rather reclaimed by the women who were previously oppressed by it.
“You Shall Go to the Ball!”
The Bridgerton trend also took an interesting turn to reality as it spiralled into a variety of videos of people sharing real Bridgerton balls they had attended, such as the ones during Vienna’s famous ball season – a yearly event in which people can attend and partake in various themed dances in historical venues and get a taste of regency life. The season usually takes place each winter (with the exception of this year) and is usually referred to as “the fifth season”.
It involves attending several traditional balls, in which participants will dress up and partake in formal dinners, traditional dances, and listen to live orchestral music in grand venues. An example of this is the Concordia Ball which takes place in the staterooms of the Vienna City Hall, and the Ball of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra which was first held in 1924 with set rules for attendance that remain to this day. The dress code is white tie, meaning that women or debutants wear their best floor-length gowns and the men dress in tailcoats, vests, wing collars, bow ties, and wear any medals of honour that they have received – playing into the traditional aspect of the culture.
Whilst to many this may seem like an archaic element of a much older society, in these times of vastly changing circumstances people have found a comfort in the simple enjoyment of the ballroom fantasy. This represents how it feels to enter a grand room full of art and music, to dance with an attractive and noble stranger, to eat the finest foods and drink the finest drinks. The ballroom fantasy is the height of escapism, of trading in modern pleasures for the simpler times and grander dreams.
Digging Up the Past?
Now more than ever, people are in need of escapism. This is where media such as television and film offer the perfect distraction from the perils of everyday life. It is no secret that lockdown has become increasingly hard for people to deal with as the months have rolled on. With no social outlets, many young people have found themselves in positions in which they feel lonely and dissociated from the world. It is truly one of the strangest periods that most of us will live through and at the moment it seems somewhat endless.
However, with all of this isolation has come so much creativity and hope. People have turned to creation when all else failed and this trend, this return to the past, is a prime example of how people have chosen to do this.
With no set fashion rules, people have decided to wear ball gowns to eat breakfast and throw on a corset and long lace gloves to walk the dog. People have set up ballrooms in their bathtubs and banquet halls in their bedrooms, they’ve created Regency-era film masterpieces using just their phones.
The Bridgerton trend is simply an example of how media can inspire so much creativity and wonder into the hearts of many and how fashion inspiration can be found in the strangest of by-gone times and places. There is always room for cultural revival, and often as our culture alters to fit different circumstances, we see the past rear its head – as it is now.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you can find more of Maria’s work over on Twitter @mariawriteshere