The Netflix show Bridgerton has taken the world by storm over the past few weeks, officially becoming Netflix’s most popular show ever as of Jan. 27. The show has been plastered all over social media, especially on TikTok, where “Regencycore” has been coined as a new aesthetic. Of course, the costumes in Bridgerton have also made an impact in the fashion world, bringing back some 1800’s Regency era trends into modern fashion again. One of the most noteworthy fashion trends inspired by Bridgerton is corsets, which have not been a part of mainstream fashion in many years.
Now, girls on TikTok are searching Amazon for corsets to wear as a top paired with some jeans. We decided to get in touch with the talented fashion designer who created the cover garments for our most recent print issue, Sam Bettencourt, who specializes in corsetry and is the founder and head designer of Danger Designs. Bettencourt’s expertise on the history and construction of corsets will give you an amazing perspective on the costume design in Bridgerton and how corsets have changed and regained popularity in the fashion world.
Image 1: Photographed by Jamie Courteau Bates (@wickeddepictionphotography)
Image 2: Photographed by OJ Slaughter (@OJ_Slaughter)
Bettencourt’s brand, Danger Designs, specializes in custom corsetry, lingerie, and couture garments. The concept of the brand came about through the exploration of textile design using wasted and overlooked materials to maintain a totally sustainable brand.
Bettencourt explains, “My passion for corsetry was conceived during my time in London where I met and worked with famed corsetier Mr. Pearl. I worked very closely alongside him for twelve weeks and learned the absolute 101 of custom corsetry. This mentorship consisted of corset history, function, proper measurement techniques, pattern drafting, cutting, construction, fitting, alterations, and so on. Upon my return from London, I married my love of textile design and the art of corsetry, providing Danger Designs with its unique and strong foundation (Pun Intended). Most people are familiar with Mr. Pearl’s work from his collaborations with Thierry Mugler, from the ’90s to now (See Image 3). He has created foundation garments for a large number of couture brands such as Christian Lacroix, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, and many others. His most recent popularized works include Kim Kardashian’s ‘wet look’ from the 2019 MET gala (See Image 4) and the foundation garments for the Netflix show Bridgerton.”
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The opening scene of Bridgerton shows one of the sisters being “tight-laced” into a corset and subsequently fainting from it being too tight later on. Bettencourt explains that “the average reduction of the waist in modern corsetry (1970’s/80’s to today) is typically about four inches. Anything greater than that is usually considered to be tightly laced.
Today's misconceptions of corsetry, especially tightlacing, are assumed through the marriage of corsetry and mass production. In the Rococo and Regency eras, these undergarments were more closely tailored to the individual’s body and did not constrict too much of the wearer’s breathing capacity.”
Clearly, the writers of Bridgerton overlooked this fact and included the tight-lacing scene to play into our modern interpretation that corsets are torture devices that women use to appeal to men. Sam explores how this functions as a plot device later in the article.
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Bettencourt gave us an interesting insight into how the construction of corsets has changed since the Regency era.
“Upon the introduction of the Victorian era and the invention of the sewing machine in 1846, it was much easier to produce clothing in mass quantities...rendering it impractical to be creating custom garments. A select number of general sizes were produced to fit a ‘variation’ of sizes and shapes. The problem with this is that the ideal silhouette of the Victorian era was an hourglass shape. To maintain this, your waist must be significantly smaller (5” or more) than your hips and underbust. With only standard sizes to choose from and pressure to meet the difficult beauty standard, women were often pressured to squeeze tightly into these shapes. Tightly lacing a corset that is not custom to your body is very harmful as it can begin compressing and misshaping your ribs and hips; bruising the supporting muscles and sometimes the organs beneath them. In reality, there is no true way to boil down every human body to a few specific shapes or measurements. In my four years as a studying corsetry, I have discovered it to be a great rarity for any two people to carry the same waist/rib/hip ratio.”
Therefore, the common misconception that corsets have always been constructed to hurt women is untrue, instead, it actually came about much later than when Bridgerton took place at all.
As Bettencourt explains, mass production is simply the worst and most potentially dangerous way for a corset to be made.
“Today our understanding of corsetry and its relation to the body allows us to better customize the shapes to the individual’s body. The biggest problem being the unnerving prevalence of fast fashion in today's culture. Custom corsetry is an art, engineering a garment to properly, safely, and successfully manipulate the shape of the body for hours at a time. With fast fashion familiarizing people with getting their clothing right away and for a small fee, to be thrown away after a few wears totally undermine the point and importance of custom corsetry.”
Therefore, those corsets that everyone is trying to buy for cheap on Tik Tok right now could be unsafe if someone is trying to tightly lace them.
Bettencourt notes, “companies such as Amazon have notably sold millions of $30 +/- corsets to individuals attempting the historical hourglass shape without truly understanding the time, investment, and work that goes into such a shape.”
However, this doesn’t mean that tight-laced corsets can’t be worn, they just need to be custom made to be safe.
Bettencourt says, “there are numerous examples, myself included, of people cinching 10+ inches and living a very normal and healthy life...but only with the right corset. Otherwise, you will actively be doing harm to your body.”
Image 7: Bettencourt at 18” in 2018
Image 8: Mr. Pearl at 18” Source
Bridgerton's costume designer Ellen Mirojnick definitely took some creative liberties with the costumes and strayed from being historically accurate.
For example, when witnessing the tight lacing scene in the first episode, Bettencourt thought, “‘Why would you so tightly lace a corset only to cover it with an empire silhouette?’ The silhouette of the Regency era reflected and was reminiscent of the Grecian Doric column shape, meaning that the traditional ‘waistline’ was raised to the underbust in order to accentuate the shape of the bust being lifted.”
Essentially, wearing a corset to accentuate the waist was not necessary with this style because the waist was not shown at all.
Bettencourt says, “in this aspect, I praise Mirojnick’s use of a corset as ladies of this time frequently wore ‘stays’ not only to control the figure but to support and oftentimes accentuate the bustline. A ‘stay’ is a much less stiff form compared to the modern-day image of a corset. Regency stays were primarily constructed of a natural colored cotton fabric and stiffened with cotton cording, reeds, or a bit later on whalebone. The center front of the stay was sometimes stiffened with a wooden ‘busk’ to keep its wearer upright as the rest of the garment was used to hug and pull the curves of the body back into a smoother line...rather than diminish the size of the body.”
Bettencourt explains further, “These stays were worn very commonly by women as modern waist trainers are gaining popularity today. These stays were not forced upon women or worn to their tightest size, but rather used functionally and were often loosened to comfort. It would be pointless to cinch down to a point of discomfort only to then cover the difficult shape with a loose empire cut dress.”
Interestingly, a lot of the corsets that you see girls wearing on TikTok as tops are more like decorated stays than actual tight-laced corsets. However, they just end up being called corsets in modern fashion lingo.
“The hiring of Mr. Pearl and the presentation of his corsets very clearly represents the importance of the corset as a symbol for the writers,” Bettencourt argues. “The hiring of a master corsetier goes to show that the undergarments were meant to be seen in the forefront. I must also mention the way in which Mrs. Featherington ordered the reduction of her daughter's waist was very likely used to represent and foreshadow the mothers’ role of administration throughout the series. The corset featured in the opening scene was displayed quite well and (of course) brilliantly made. Upon a closer inspection, you can spot the signature shape and modern patterning methods of a Mr. Pearl corset, but notice some altered details to maintain historical accuracy. Pearl reduced his typical 14-panel corset to an 8-panel pattern while adding hand-stitched eyelets and shoulder straps from the back, tied at the side bust.”
Although some fashion historians have had comments about the accuracy of this scene, it is clear that Bettencourt appreciated and understood the function of the corset in the plot of the show.
We were curious to ask Bettencourt why it might be that even though corsets were originally undergarments it’s becoming more common in modern fashion to see them simply worn as tops.
Bettencourt says, “With today’s fashions it is much more difficult to properly style a corset under clothes without them being tailored to the altered measurements of the body. Today you must rely on belting etc. to define the reduced waist; but if you just simply wear the corset over your untailored garments, it becomes a statement piece demanding the waist to be seen.”
Bettencourt also mentions a great point about how a beautifully made corset can make you feel. “In addition to being a statement, custom corset wearers will always exclaim in regard to their new sense of power and certainty. A corset forces its wearer to stand high and bold. It elegantly straightens your posture and evens your stride, immediately exuding confidence and power. A custom corset is a second skin, a piece of armour that protects you while weaponizing your presence. Once you try a well-fit corset, it's impossible not to be hooked. In an age of social anxiety becoming all too common, a well-made corset can be just the right way to exude confidence and heighten self-awareness of the mind and body.”
Even though the media has made many people today assume that corsets are restricting, Bettencourt makes it clear that they often have the opposite effect on a corset-wearer and can rather be truly empowering.
Image 9: Photographed by Bryan Lasky
We asked Bettencourt for an opinion on the corsets that have been going viral on TikTok. “I am not aware of corsets as a TikTok trend, though I shudder at the thought… I do notice a significantly increasing trend in the cultural focus on the silhouette of the waistline. For many years the erogenous zones have been an accentuated and/or proportionally large chest and bum. This is only going to be emphasized by the reduction of the waistline and I feel that is why most people have been jumping onto the ‘trend’. Not to mention that a corset is much easier to obtain a smaller waistline than continuous weeks of exercise and dieting.”
Bettencourt believes that properly made corsets really could become a common garment in the future, “with the decline of fast fashion and a push for fashion investment pieces, corsets will be able to safely make their way into regular fashions once again.”
Thank you to Sam Bettencourt for taking the time to talk to us about their work, knowledge, and thoughts on the Bridgerton costume designs. You can see more of their beautiful designs on their website Dangercorsetry.com, their Instagram @parkinginrear, or on the cover of our recent “Revolution” issue!