By Katie Rutter
Netflix’s Bridgerton, released on Christmas Day, was streamed in 63 million households in the four weeks following its release. It seems that this success is owed in part to the escapism offered by the setting in Regency era London – epitomised by the extravagant period dress. The flamboyant outfits were created by Ellen Mirojnick and a team of 238 people who spent five months working on the costumes for the hit TV show. In an interview for Vogue, Mirojnick highlighted the escapist and fantastical nature of the outfits as she labelled her choices as “aspirational, as opposed to historically accurate.” She injected the regency styles with silhouettes and colours inspired by the 1950s and 60s styles favoured by designers such as Christian Dior.
Besides being an aesthetic pull of a programme, fashion also acts as a cipher for subtle yet powerful messages about characters and society. Viewers’ perceptions of characters are subconsciously shaped and tailored in line with the costumes themselves. A notable example is with Penelope Featherington and her wearing of yellow. During the regency-era, yellow was particularly fashionable and the contrast between such a striking, on-trend and relevant palette and the liminal nature of Penelope’s character perhaps accentuates her naivety and the exploitation of her societal worth by her mother.
A similar attention to detail is present in Netflix’s The Crown where stylist Amy Roberts is meticulous in imagining and creating the Windsors’ outfits. All pieces of clothing in The Crown’s Season 4, except for a few statement Burberry and Barbour coats, were created from scratch for the TV programme. In an interview for The Financial Times, Roberts attributes this to needing “complete control over colour and mood and atmosphere.”
The latest season garnered particular attention due to the inclusion of Diana, Princess of Wales. The child-like outfits donned by Diana when she first meets Charles epitomise the power imbalance which plagued their courtship and early marriage from the offset. To view Charles and Diana, side by side, her in a pale-yellow pair of dungarees and him in a Savile Row suit, clearly highlights the vast comparative youth and inexperience of Diana as she naively enters a relationship with the Prince.
However, the impact of Diana’s outfits extends beyond acting as innocence. Her 80s inspired knitwear has influenced many viewers to purchase similar pieces with retailers such as Zara releasing lines of patterned, twee sweaters and Harry Styles wearing colourful, chintzy knitwear echoing styles worn by Diana, heavily featured in The Crown. Bridgerton has also had a huge impact on trends with Lyst claiming that searches for corsets have risen by 123% since the show’s release. However, the accuracy of the corset seen in the opening scene of Bridgerton has been called into question. Regency dresses fall from the bust and, therefore, a tiny waist was irrelevant. Why, then, was this scene of restriction unnecessarily featured and showcased? Why are we so obsessed with seeing restrictive, structured clothing and seeking it out for ourselves?
It seems that during a year defined by lockdown, we have become accustomed to only wearing slouchy, comfy clothing for the domestic sphere, rendering us hungry for the extravagant balls and public events exhibited by both The Crown and Bridgerton and the flamboyant and indulgent outfits which go with them. It seems that the aestheticism offered by the fashion featured pacifies us. Despite the wild contrast between our current realities and the immense wealth and extravagance shown on screen, we do not feel bitter or enraged as we are so taken in by the escapism offered through the refined yet lavish fashions of the characters on our screens.
Illustration by Serena Smart