Pastel Colours and Bonnets – How Bridgerton and Emma present Regency period fashion

Get ready to fawn over the dresses of Netflix’s Bridgerton. Source: Netflix.

By Julie Heinisch

Last month, Netflix released the new Shondaland television series Bridgerton, right on time to be binged during the winter holiday. Based on books written by Julia Quinn, Bridgerton plays in the 1810s during the regency period in London and tells the tale of the wealthy Bridgerton children, their lives, and romances. In the same year, the newest adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma was released as a movie, taking place in the same era as Bridgerton. If you love historical dramas and romances make sure you watch both if you have not.

Both adaptations rely on their costumes for character development and storytelling but in very different ways. In Bridgerton, we are presented with a fantasy version of the regency period with elements far from the reality of that time, this being reflected in the costumes of the various characters. While the costumes are inspired by the regency era, the show puts a modern, more sexy spin on them with colours, cuts and fabrics that were not common during that time. In a Vogue interview Ellen Mirojnick, the costume designer, explained that for around the 5000 costumes they made, they took inspiration from paintings and drawings of that period but “had to shift the color palette and the fabrications, so from the 19th century, [she] immediately went to the 1950s and 1960s.”. She confirms that the “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum inspired her the most. The most obvious sign that they were not striving for an accurate depiction of that period’s fashion was the ban of bonnets in the show, Mirojnick does explain that “we do nod to [bonnets] with our hair accessories.”.

The show also uses its costumes and their colours to show character development, mainly in the main character, Daphne. In the beginning she is seen wearing the family colours, pale blues, silvers, and greens, which are very powdery, but as she matures and gets older, she is presented wearing duskier shades of pink, blue and silver. Similarly, the two main families, the Bridgertons and the Featheringtons, wear different house colours as to show their distinct situations in society through the clothing. The Bridgertons’ colours are soft and look expensive, showing that they are a notable and rich family who’s standing in society is clear. The Feartheringtons’ colours, on the other hand, are bright and bold yellows and oranges, because they want to be seen and noticed, they do not have the same position in society as the Bridgertons do.

In Emma, something similar can be detected throughout the movie. The main character’s costumes directly contrast with those of her friend, as they come from different social standings. The class difference between the wealthy Emma and her poorer friend Harriet Smith is shown through the variety of dresses Emma wears throughout the movie, while her friend is shown in a limited number of outfits, which were also less embroidered than Emma’s. Byrne, the costume designer, mentioned in a Vogue article that accessories also show the different social standings of characters and that directors often shy away from using them. However, she uses, bows, necklaces and bonnets freely and extensively, sometimes for comic relief but also to reflect the economic standing of the characters.

A return to more traditional regency fashion in Emma. Source: IMDB.

Similar to Bridgerton, Emma uses pastel colours, like pale pink, mint green, as well as yellow and burnt orange for the costuming, specifically to illustrate Emma’s calm and cheerful attitude. Throughout the movie the viewer is made aware of what season they find themselves in right now, and this is reflected in the costumes as well.

Emma went for a more accurate portrayal of the clothes from the regency period, while still managing to design the costumes in such a way that it reflects the character’s standing as well as the specific season the story is positioned in. It is very interesting to see how these two productions used elements from that era but went different directions in interpreting the regency fashion in order to bring their visions to life on screen.

Bridgerton is available to watch on Netflix, while Emma can be rented on various streaming platforms like Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

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