There are few things more delightful than a period drama when you’re really in the mood – unless you’re a historian. As it is for anyone watching a show set in their industry, it can be far from relaxing when you see liberties being taken with accuracy to further plot, or to make something look really cool.
And because we all love a bit of pedantry from time to time, we thought we’d really lean into this and ask one of our favourite historians, Kate Strasdin, author of The Dress Diary of Mrs Anne Sykes, to examine the accuracy of scenes from some of the biggest TV shows and films of recent years.
“I think the biggest mistake is always this idea of the corset as instrument of torture,” Strasdin explains. “The corset was just an everyday object for women. It wasn’t as problematic as we think it might be now, just because we don’t wear it and it’s unfamiliar. It has become this object that seems to stand up for all the oppression that women have undoubtedly been subjected to over the centuries.”
1) Bridgerton: Presentation at Court
“Corset myth bonanza here,” says Strasdin, snapping pause on a video of an extremely uncomfortable-looking Prudence Featherington being strenuously laced up. “There are many things I love about Bridgerton costumes – Bridgerton is a fantasy, it isn’t supposed to be accurate – but the myth of the corset and being winched into your corset and the idea that it’s going to draw blood!”
Prudence should be wearing a shift or chemise underneath her corset, to protect her skin, and the corset from body odour, Strasdin explains. It would also not be uncomfortable to wear. “I’ve done a lot of research into women mountaineers, climbing mountains and doing everything in their corsets because they’re used to it,” she says. It might be trickier for us to try going into cold, but society women of the time would be completely used to their corsets. “I wonder if people will look at things like skinny jeans and go, ‘Why did people wear them?’”