The end of 2020 brought a little surprise full of sparkle on our screens via Netflix’s latest costume drama, Bridgerton.
The show is a wonderful firework of colour and creativity. There has been real thought behind the concepts of the concepts and shapes used. For example, the story opens with the two main families the Bridgerton’s and the Featherington’s, these families are cleverly brought together in their clans with the colour that they wear and represents them. The Bridgerton’s have light pastel colours of blues, creams and lilacs often embellished with glitter/stones/sparkle. Whereas the Featherington’s opt for bright bold colours like yellows, oranges and pinks displayed in the form of loud floral patterns.
Here comes the history…
The costume designers have loosely based it on historical garments of the 1810s. The shape is correct with most of the garments falling from the underbust or the empireline. This period in fashion was light and elegant for women. The designers have also captured the essence of regency layering with an array of wonderful coats, pelisse and spencer jackets adored for a gentle stroll or a ride in the carriage. The other key feature, which is a personal favourite of mine and that is you can never have too much of the puddle-train (the long flow at the back) which graces the ground when a lady moves.
The show has depicted the queen in a fashion from the high Rococo period, with dresses that have the structure of corsets, panniers and large oversized wigs. This is a nod to the elaborate fashions of the bygone age of the late 18th century, but to the viewer spells out class and rank quite easily. This was done for the 2005 interpretation of Pride and Prejudice. Lady Catherine DuBurgh wore similar outfits to the queen in Bridgerton to show a class difference to the Bennet family.
The men’s frock coats pay a wonderful tribute to the very sexy silhouette that men sported in the early regency era with smaller waists and large shoulders emphasised. The fabric choices, again, compliment the cut perfectly with rich wools and velvets.
Just the one niggle
I only have one sticking point that I can’t get my head around, and that is Lady Featherington’s dresses. The cut of the dress is strange as the top half is fitted with darts and then flows at the back from the waist, not the empire line. I can only assume that the actress (Polly Walker) had some suggestion on what dress would fit her figure better? In my opinion it is the only odd one out.
To me a show like Bridgerton is more than the story, it is about the whole concept and I think Netflix have done wonders. Yes, not accurate in a fashion historian’s eye, but I have a feeling the popularisation of the silhouette for women will make a welcome return to the high street.
The style of the ‘S’ shape was being replaced with a straighter line and a waistline that moved up to the empire line. This style echoed the time of the regency era along with military collars and wide collars.
The skirts narrowed and moved higher off the floor. The high collar around the neck went out of fashion. Women covered their necks for such a long time in fashion that is was a bold step! It is said that the clergy were ‘outraged’ that women would show their necks and health experts predicted there would be an outbreak of pneumonia and tuberculosis.
Dresses were often easier to get in and out of with front buttoned one-piece dresses, sleeves tended to be tight fitting. In 1912 the hobble skirt was introduced, women could barely take a full step in this restricted dress. Not rocket science to assume that this style didn’t last long. Pegtop skirts were also in fashion with the fullness concentrated at the hip and gradually narrowing to the ankles.
Evening dress was similar to day dresses but with finer fabrics and decorative touches such as wide belts, sashes, embroidery, lace, beading and fringe.
One of my absolute fashion icons at this time was Queen Maud of Norway. Her extensive wardrobe still survives today and I was lucky enough to see some of the pieces at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. What I remember being most shocked about was her waist. It must have been between 18 – 20 inches!
Maud engaged with contemporary fashion throughout her long life, and commissioned many of the great designers of the day, notably Worth, Blancquaert and Morin-Blossier. Her wardrobe illustrates the impeccable standards of couture dressmaking and tailoring of the period. Style and Splendour showcases some of the most spectacular garments, now in the collection of the National Museum of Art/Museum of Decorative Arts and Design in Oslo, and sets them clearly in the context of Queen Maud’s life and times.
There is a book that you can buy for more images of the fabulous detailed dresses here
1914 – 1918
Brassieres had been introduced 10 years earlier, but within this period they became more popular as underwear moved away from corsets. One piece dresses were still preferred to two piece. During the war years the silhouette grew wider with much shorter skirts. Hems rose six inches from the ground in 1916 and then eight inches by 1917.
The fit on the body was often easy and the waistlines were defined with belts. Necklines tended to be square or v neck. Sailors collars were made popular during this period. Skirts were often full which was achieved through pleating.
1918 – 1920
This period is often known as the transitional period between the end of the war and the approach to the ‘boom’ era of the 1920s. Due to a lack of supplies from the war effort the silhouette grew narrower, this shape was defined as the ‘barrel shaped’. In 1919 designers turned to narrower skirts but also dropped the hemline back down to the ankle.
The start of the twentieth century was a liberating time, the dawn of a new decade, the death of an old era with the funeral of Queen Victoria in 1901. This marked the start of the new Edwardian period which celebrated splendour and elaboration.
As we enter these first ten years in women’s fashion, we see more accessibility of dress. In Victorian times the rigid class system was echoed in what women wore, but, with the introduction of media that is readily available to all haute couture could be copied by ‘make it at home’ sewing patterns and the rise of the department store and mail order catalogue.
Mass marketing of styles of dress were moved up a notch with the introduction of the cinema/moving picture. Fashion could be influenced to the masses. Maybe not as much as the 21st Century but defiantly a precursor to fast-fashion.
Influences at the time had a real effect on what was worn. In the early 1900s there was a strong arts and crafts movement called Art Nouveau period which eventually ran into the Art Deco period.
At the start of the 20th Century the women’s role was still primarily in the home, adaptations of style were a result of the more active life that women were leading compared to their Victorian ancestors. Within this period we see the advertising of the first maternity dresses and sanitary underwear (menstrual cape).
The French call this early era ‘La Belle Epoque‘ –beautiful clothes at the peak of luxury.
The common style of this period was the ‘S’ shaped figure. Dresses were generally one piece sewn together at the waistline. The S shape refers to the unnatural shape that the body forms with the corseted body thrust forward and the hips pushed back, which produced this kangaroo type stance. The shape of the body was then complimented by the high boned collars, full pouched blouses and skirts that were flat in the front with a full back flowing to a trumpet shape.
A great many layers were worn, which could have included: Chemise, Corset, Corset cover, drawers, flannel petticoat and then the dress. Soft fabrics were used with decorations such as tucking, pleating, lace, and embroidery.
The Lingerie Dress
Lingerie Dresses were frilly cotton or white linen dresses with decoration similar to lady’s lingerie at the time. This was the first step into a more relaxed line, even though underneath was still constrained by a corset.
The Tea Gown
“When the tea-urn sings at five o’clock we can don these garments of poetic beauty” – The Cult of Chiffon 1902
The peak of elegance at this time was the ‘tea gown’ which symbolised a vanishing world of the elite. This dress was an individually styled gown for the wearer, often light and filly – women could feel more comfortable . This was the outfit that they would have dressed in before the very formal dinner dress. Debenhams introduced a range of tea gowns in their 1908 catalogue. This dress lingered through the first world war into the 1920s, but vanished with the introduction of the afternoon gown and cocktail dress.
Fastenings were predominantly through hook and eyes or hooks and bars. Frilly ruffles called Jabots were fastened at the front of the neck.
The Bishops Sleeve was gathered into the armhole and full below the elbow with fabric puffed or pouched at the wrist.
The Tailor Made & the New Woman look
The garment called the ‘Tailor Made’ which now we would just call the women’s suit was an important item of clothing in this period. Separate blouses (shirt waists) came in great variety.
The blouse and skirt which was introduced was called the ‘New Woman’ style. This went hand in hand to women out in the workplace, often as typists. It was started in Britain for travelling and walking, it was then re-imagined for smart daytime events. The ‘New Woman’ was developed by the renowned Gibson Girl, also Lady Astor the first woman to sit in the House of Commons (1919).
One of the most dynamic personalities of this period in the early twentieth century was Lucile Lady Duff Gordon. Who owned and ran a high society fashion house. At first specialising in elaborate ‘sexy’ underwear. She was also a passenger on the Titanic with her husband, Cosmo. One of the most notable things that she achieved was to bring the ‘catwalk’ to London. She would have her studios decorated to enhance the experience of fashion and invite specific customers to private views of her outfits. She is famed for giving her outfits different names such as ‘When Passion’s Thrall is o’er’ and ‘Do you love me’? She is most noted for introducing the ‘Merry Widow’ a larger than life hat that was used in the stage production of the same name. These hats were worn throughout the day and night, but, again they were outlived by impracticality.
An evening dress in this period followed the same style as the day dress, but with lower necklines, they were often sleeveless and made from soft light rich fabrics.
The most popular hairstyle at this time (thought to have started in 1904) was called the Pompadour which had hair built up at the front and at the sides.
DESIGNERS AND THEIR INFLUENCE
Paris was again the fashion capital at the time, but the Brits were trying to start their own trends. One person who lead the was Queen Alexandra (Wife of Edward VII). A trend setter, choosing always to sport British.
The House of Worth was a great influence around this time, a British Fashion House which was set up by Charles Fredrick Worth in 1858. Queen Victoria was at times dresses in clothes from this fashion house, even though she was probably unaware.
The Spencer jacket dates from around 1790, the definition is a tailcoat with the tails removed, originally made for men it was short waist length coat. The tails of the frockcoat were retained and up cycled to a larger collar and sleeve cuffs. The name came from George Spencer, 2nd Earl of Spencer who was a very distant relative of Diana Princess of Wales. It was reported that he made it famous after his tails from a frock coat were burnt by coals from a fire.
Although it was started by men, women took it to another level. The coat was shorted even more to the underbust or the empire line as a short fitted jacket. Often refered to as a ‘bosom friend’.
There were many additions to the women’s spencer jacket, with elaborate cuffs, Brandenburg piping, closing and epaulettes echoing the mens military jacket.
The practical side of the jacket was to add warmth to women’s wear – the muslin dresses which were popular at the time must have been cold at times other than summer. They were also used for indoorwear and evening dress.
The popuar choice for dresses was white and a coloured spencer jacket was one way of injecting colour to an outfit.
The spencer jacket fell out of fashion as the waistline fell in 1820.
Pudleston Makes was fortunate enough to sponsor a screening of the latest film of Emma (2020) during the Borderlines Film Festival. I have always been a big fan of Jane Austen, but the novel of Emma has never quite sat with me. Centred on a very spoilt, rich girl who is difficult to make a connection too. This film, however, was a smash making the most of the extreme caricatures that feature in the book Mr Knightly, Mr Elton, Mr Woodhouse, Miss Bates, Harriet Smith, etc.
The costumes were something of a marvel, Alexandra Byrne the costume designer, did a fantastic job of recreating the outfits that would have been worn in the later part of the Georgian era (approx. 1825).
From about 1800 – 1818 was called the regency period for costume, an era that maximised on simple lines, light fabrics and the use of white as a new accessible shade to be worn in dresses. From about 1819 – 1835 was called the romantic era, this was a time that introduced more volume to the hair and the costume with more and more embellishments, finer fabrics (such as silks) and vivid colour.
A couple of fantastic, notable items include:
There was a frequent use of the colour yellow, which was a popular colour for the era which featured in fashion plates with the move away from the regency white to the vivid colours of the romantic period. Yellow in particular was very fashionable and the different shades had interesting names such as Canary (bright, intense yellow), Jonquil (after a small wild daffodil, hence a pure yellow), the delicate Primrose, named after the popular English spring flower, and the deeper and richer Evening Primrose. It’s suitable to also mention the yellowish shades of Straw, the golden beige hue of ripening corn, and Drab, a dull yellow brown as dreary as it sounds. I liked the constant thread of the warm colour throughout the film.
Wonderful tailored jackets, from frock coats, spencer jackets and empire line over coats were very eye catching. There was some artistic licence within the creation of these gowns, one of which was the marvellous pleating on the back panel – a wonderful touch.
The colour palate was marvellous, but the specific scene of the engagement with whites and greens was beautiful. Emma’s dress had green embroidery on a light white dress to compliment the sycamore tree that Mr Knightly proposed. A wonder finally to a line up of almost perfect costumery!
The Red Evening Dress in the V&A
There was an almost exact replica of the beautiful red net empire line dress that is kept on display at the V&A. This for a costume geek like me was a dream to witness.
In the 1820s a Giraffe was placed within London Zoo, this in-turn created a strange phase to replicate the women’s hairstyle to the top of the giraffe’s head and their ears. This style was the start of some extreme volume in hair as we moved into the 1830s. Within Emma, Mrs Elton arrives as a larger than life character, only fitting that she should have a hairstyle that was whacky at the time.
One thing that didn’t quite sit right was the size of the men’s collars, maybe artistic embellishment.
Overall – you must watch the film. Throughout 2020 Pudleston Makes are touring venues to talk about Georgian Fashion. For more information look online at curtisfulcher.uk for more information on Historical Fashion talks.
Influences and trends of fashion
The biggest influence on the look of the style of dress was from images of Greek and Roman ancestors. Other influences at this time included the end of the French Revolution (1799) and the military look from the coats of the soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). Here is a full list of events that took place during this time period.
My sketches of how women would have dressed between 1800-1820 in the day, evening and in the cold
Fashion in detail
After the French Revolution (1799) the need to have a defined class system through dress was abandoned including the style and the fabrics used. Women’s fashion was now altering to become more simple, practical and elegant.
As we enter into the 19th Century France was still leading the way on women’s fashions. England was leading on mens fashions with the fine wool industry. This period in fashion is called the Empire Style due to its basis on neoclassical designs by the Greeks and the Romans.
The most popular dress for ladies was the Chemise, so called due to its appearance of underwear. This dress was a complete contrast of the structured clothes warn in the 18th Century. Recognised by its high waistline (under the bust), its tubular shape was draped over the body. Materials such as muslin, gauze, cotton and percale were used to freely mould the shape of the female form.
An example Chemise as worn at the time
The European winters were not suited to this style of dress. Winter additions were added which included ornate shawls as well as English tailored outerwear such as the Spencer and the Redingote (overcoat). Shawls between 1800 – 1820 were a status symbol, it wasn’t until the 1830s that the shawl gained a wider appeal.
An example of a Spencer jacket, which is worn over the Chemise
Riding wear for women strongly resembled then men’s coat, with military influences such as the large buttons and large lapels. The Brandenburg button closure was adapted to overcoats from images of mens uniform during the Napoleonic Wars, these fastenings were popular with riding wear for women.
During the early 19th Century cotton was favoured over silk as a result the silk industry saw a decline in France (such as Lyons). Napoleon made an effort in France to try and revive the silk industry by banning residents from wearing English muslin, he also issued an Imperial Ordinance that silk was to be worn by men and women at formal state ceremonies in France.
The style stayed fairly similar for women until about 1820, when medical changes began to appear. This period in the early 19th Century was quite liberating for women as there were little undergarments needed to create the feminine look. This was about to change dramatically as we enter into the rest of the 19th Century.
Another noticeable change from the 18th Century was both women’s hairstyles and footwear. Shoes became simple and pump-like losing the heel. Hairstyles were simple, less fussy and more natural looking allowing bonnets to be secured tighter to the head. For evening wear hairstyles would incorporate feathers, scarfs or flowers to subtly decorate them.
One of the truly fascinating eras in history is the Tudor period. Recently I was lucky enough to share some findings and a demonstration of dressing at a Fashion Festival in Bridport. Here is an insight into some of my research.
The Tudor period was the first real era that promoted trends in fashion what is worn and how to wear it was captured in paintings and literature of the time. Different countries promoting themselves as ‘powerhouses’ by the way that they dressed. Portraiture and image was captured like for like and the sitters fashion was used for asserting power and influence in this Tudor dynasty.
At the state of the Tudor period England was a minor power compared to France and Spain at the start of the early Tudor period, and by the end was a country that had defined itself as a conquer, explorer and not to be messed with.
For everyday people living in Tudor England status was defined by what you wore, the colour you wore and the fabrics you owned. Ranking started with the monarch, then nobles, gentry down to yeoman and vagrants. It could be a criminal offence if you dressed above your station.
Henry VII the first Tudor King was never meant to be King he won the throne by force during the War of the Roses (as many previous monarchs had done before him). Henry was the last monarch to win his throne this way. One way to secure the throne was to marry Elizabeth of York this combined the two rivals the Yorkists (White) and the Lancastrians (Red), hence forming the creation of the Tudor rose.
This rose symbol was used as a propaganda tool for the whole dynasty of the Tudors. Most of the records of clothes and cloth refer to this during the start of Henry VII reign, from ceremonial gowns to religious garments. Even though Henry VII was known to be careful with money and introduced unfavourable taxes to England, he still highlighted spend on fashion.
Colours of fashion in this early period for the nobility and royals were mainly black, embellished with Crimson, Purple and Gold.
Henry VIII (one of the most popular monarchs in the Tudor period) came to the throne aged 17, he was not heir to the throne, his brother, Arthur was until he died at an early age. Henry is commented to be 1.88 metres tall and ‘the handsomest man I ever set my eyes on’. Henry was an imposing athletic figure. When Henry came to the throne he spent more extravagantly than his father of cloth and clothes.
The Venetian Ambassador wrote to Venice in 1519 saying that Henry spent 16,000 Ducats which equates to 1.6 million in today’s money. An inventory of Henry’s wardrobe in 1521 estimated the value to be £4million in today’s money.
One event that was a highlight in Tudor fashion was the wedding between Henry VIII’s sister, Mary, to the aged King Louis of France. Henry VIII was personally responsible for providing jewels and clothes for the wedding and was very hands on. When Mary arrived in France she wore ‘a gown of white brocade in English style’ to emphasise her lineage, and then changed to the French style for the wedding ceremony to reflect her new status. Mary was only Queen of France for a few months before King Louis XII died, and she returned to England.
In 1516, the three great powers had three young, handsome energetic Kings; Henry VIII was 25, Francis I of France was 22 and Charles I of Spain was 16. There was fierce rivalry between the three monarchs. This amounted in one major event for Henry VIII which was the meeting of Francis I which was documented in a famous painting: The Field of the Cloth of Gold which captures the two flamboyant monarchs meeting for the first time. For their first meeting
“Cloth of silver, with cloth of gold of damask, and over that a cloak of embroidered satin with gold and purple wrapped about his body, beaded from shoulder to waist, the cloak was set with pearls and precious stones…”
“Cloth of silver and feathers on his head, a jewelled collar of great value around his neck. He rode a very beautiful horse with trappings like those of Francis and perhaps more richly jewelled”.
Men’s style in the Henrician period for the wealthy classes followed the stature of Henry VIII. It was fashionable for men to have broad shoulders, show the definition of the legs and portray the manliest of symbols, the Codpiece.
Elizabeth I was the second of the famous Tudors to portray real status on the era.
Like her father’s reign fashion was propaganda and she created her new style and look, which was captured in many portraits and copied by the nobles and gentry.
Elizabeth at a young age was declared a bastard after the killing of her mother, Anne Bolyen. Elizabeth was removed from court and had a very humble upbringing, in her early days she is noted to not take much interest in fashion:
“ Elizabeth looked upon that rich attire and precious jewels but once and that against her will. And that there never came a gold or stone upon her head, till her sister forced her to lay off her former soberness and bear her company in her glittering gayness…”
Elizabeth was crowned in 1559 and in the same clothes as her sister, Mary, who had worn it quite lose, whist Elizabeth had the bodice remodelled to fit her body tightly. This showed early signs of being thrifty and not being afraid to display her own style.
This confidence of style continued and announced to the Spanish ambassador in 1564 that black and white were her colours of choice. Colour was loaded with meaning for sixteenth century observers. Red represented blood and power, yellow represented the sun and fruitfulness, green denoted youth and hope, and blue as amity. Whilst white represented purity and black constancy.
Pearls were a clear sign of purity, and Elizabeth’s motto was the ‘Virgin Queen’. Between 1566 and 1569 Elizabeth ordered 520 pearls to cover trim on her ruffs alone.
Elizabeth managed her image through portraiture, one clear example is the Rainbow Portrait, which is said to be too elaborate and fanciful to be an actual dress and it is probably a combination of imagination and propaganda. It has eyes and ears to represent seeing and hearing all. The serpent that adorns her arm was an actual jewel listed in her inventory in 1600. Another feature of later Elizabethan dress in the naturalistic choice of embroidery on fabric – the flowers might represent the fact that she was characterised as the Empress of Flowers. Embroidery was worked on by highborn ladies.
In 1598 a visitor to Elizabeth described her:
“Fair, but wrinkled… her lips narrow and her teeth black. She had in her ears two pearls, with very rich drops. Her hair was an auburn colour, but false… her bosom was uncovered, as all English ladies gave it, till they marry… that day she was dressed in white silk, ordered with pearls the size of beans and over it a mantle of black silk, shot with silver thread”.
Elizabeth died of old age and left the Tudor throne to the Stuarts – James I (Mary Queen of Scots son and already monarch of Scotland). After her death an inventory was done of Elizabeth’s dresses was 2,000. Even though the venetian ambassador wrote to the Doge quoting 6,000 gowns – this can’t be true as the truth was she was a penny pincher, probably as a result of her father extravagance.