“The Bridgertons”, historical dramas and myths of the corset

“The Bridgertons”, historical dramas and myths of the corset

Period dramas are reinterpretations of historical data generally guided by stereotypes ("The Bridgertons" / Netflix)
Period novels are reinterpretations of historical data that are usually stereotyped (“The Bridgertons” / Netflix)

When we think of a corset, we imagine vintage women clinging to a bed while an exuberant maid aggressively laces them. Nextflix’s drama inspired by the UK Regency period, The Bridgertonsshows similar scenes.

In the weeks leading up to the show’s second season premiere, Simone-Ashleywho plays new heroine Kate Sharma, he complained to the magazine Charm of the horrors of wearing a corset. She said the brace caused her “a lot of pain” and “changed her body”.

In the first season, Prudence Featherington (played by Bessie Carter) wore a very tight corset. Prudence’s mother urged her daughter to do so: “I was able to squeeze my waist down to the size of an orange and a half when I was Prudence’s age.” Something superfluous when the Regency dresses fall from an empire line under her bust, hiding her waist. Unlike their later Victorian counterparts, Regency corsets focused on enhancing a woman’s assets, not shrinking her waist.

This scene is ubiquitous in costume dramas, from Elizabeth Swan’s passing out Pirates of the Caribbean to Rose DeWitt Bukater’s inability to breathe titanic and, of course, Mammy’s iconic line: “Hold on tight and hold your breath!”, while Scarlett O’Hara he clings to the bed gone With the Wind. What you see on the screen may be an analogy for the limitations that have existed for women throughout history, but it stems from a fundamental misunderstanding about corsets and women alike.

After centuries of women (and some men) wearing corsets to support and shape the body, it was Victorian men who taught us to hate corsets. The health problems associated with braces were a myth constructed by doctors to promote their patriarchal views. So you might be surprised to hear that costume dramas perpetuate Victorian misogyny.

Scarlet and Mammy tie a corset "gone With the Wind"
Scarlet and Mammy tie a corset in “Gone with the Wind”

Medicine, misogyny and the corset

The list of ailments that 19th-century doctors attributed to the brace seems endless. Constipation, pregnancy complications, breast cancer, postpartum infection and tuberculosis have been attributed to that garment. a victorian doctor, Benjamin Orange Blossomauthor of the 1892 pamphlet The slaves of fashionhe stated that “if women continue this destructive habit, the race will inevitably deteriorate.”

With the development of science, the root of these diseases was identified and the guilt of the brace refuted. The brace offers an example of gender bias within medical research. The many health problems George IVone of the many men who wore corsets in the 19th century never claimed to wear them.

Some corsets are even designed specifically to be healthy and supportive. Gossards lingerie company released in 1909 Corsets from a surgical perspectivewhich defended the flexibility and support of the corset, which could “maintain the lines required by fashion, but without discomfort or injury”.

Regency restrictions sought to shape women's breasts by separating and lifting them.  IT GOES
Regency restrictions sought to shape women’s breasts by separating and lifting them. IT GOES

But the hourglass shape of the late 19th century was not what the women of the Regency wanted. They were only interested in her breasts, as it showed Hillary Davidson. The breasts had to rise and separate into two round spheres. Regency Corsets (or “remains”, As they were called) were short, always smooth and never with a very rigid skeleton. His goal was to support the torso, not limit it. I wonder what Regency women would think of modern bras with straps that tighten and rubbed underwire.

Historic corsets were ingenious, light and flexible. Whalebone (not real bone) is a wonderfully flexible material, it molds to the body below, and many corsets were simply reinforced with cotton laces. These garments reduced back pain caused by poor posture and had expandable parts for pregnancy.

Creation of historical myths

The problem with the portrayal of corsets in period dramas is not “historical accuracy”, an idea largely disproved by historians, including the historical consultant of The Bridgertons. The wardrobe of the series playfully recalls the fashion models of the highly embellished and colorful empire line of the designer of the 60s George Halley. It is a historically inspired fantasy.

The Bridgertons is for the Regency of England thing game of Thrones It’s the Wars of the Roses, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a fantastic reimagining, creatively inspired by the past. The idea that her seeds must be “historically accurate”, or that such an aspiration is even possible, is not at stake.

Trailer of the second season of “The Bridgertons”.

It is a question of historical error. Women of the past had decision-making power over their body and their way of dressing. They were adept at achieving the proportions that were in vogue, filling the hips and bust rather than narrowing the waist.

Like the famous dressmaker in the series, Madame Delacroix, many of the professionals who dressed them were also women. We deprive them of that capacity for action and ingenuity when we assume that women of the past were passive dolls, dressed and in corsets from a patriarchal society.

For them, corsets were a supportive garment that allowed them to have the silhouette that was fashionable without having to go through diet, exercise or cosmetic surgery. It would be a refreshing change to see costume dramas embrace this feminist corset story, instead of falling into a misogynist stereotype.

* Serena Dyer is Professor of History of Design and Material Culture, De Montfort University.

Originally posted on The conversation.


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