WILLIAMSBURG — The Ton is still abuzz with the second season of Netflix’s hit show “Bridgerton,” and this author has been informed that Colonial Williamsburg (CW) may have a Bridgerton experience to offer right on its own historic grounds.
While CW allows visitors to step back in time to 18th-century Virginia, it shares many similarities with the series that is set in early 19th-century London – particularly the fashion.
The beloved Netflix series based on Julia Quinn’s Regency-era romance novels debuted in 2020. The show has since become a global phenomenon, and released its second season earlier this year.
From regency ballgowns to dazzling tiaras, the fashion of Bridgerton has made a significant impact on fans of the show.
While CW may not have Madame Delacroix, Bridgerton’s esteemed Modiste, or dressmaker, the milliners and mantua makers atMargaret Hunter Millinery Shop in CW’s Historic Trades offer some of the finest fashions of the season.
The milliner and mantua maker, CW’s equivalent of Bridgerton’s modiste, gives visitors a feel for what it is like to be an 18th-century customer shopping for the latest gowns and accessories.
Mistress Milliner and Mantua Maker Janea Whitacre said that in the 18th century, gowns were made by cutting to the body, similar to how it would be done in the world of Bridgerton.
“What’s fun about the early 19th century is that while designs are totally different, the way you construct clothing is the same that we would do in the 1700s. It still has to be done by hand, it’s still cut and fit to the person,” Whitacre said.
Though CW primarily interprets the 18th century time period, much of the foundation’s collection includes pieces in the Bridgerton era. CW’s Tradespeople have created reproductions of many of said items.
Everything that the milliners make are used within the foundation in some way, including for some of the actor-interpreters.
In making an item, the milliners and mantua makers practice their trade to be as authentic to the late 18th or early 19th century as possible.
“If we’re making an exact copy where I want it down to an eighth of an inch variance on the original, it’s going to take a lot more time because we have to keep measuring it,” Whitacre said. “On the other hand, if we’re doing a technological reproduction where I’m taking all the information and then I’m cutting it out on the person, it goes a lot faster. We take prints and portraits from the collection and we try to recreate the outfit the lady was wearing when she had her portrait painted. It’s a lot of fun.”
At the modiste in Bridgerton, or a shop such as one where Whitacre and Apprentice Milliner and Mantua Maker Kate Hargrove work, merchandise would not have been displayed.
“You’re faced with boxes, and you come in, sit down, you’re offered conversation and refreshments, and you find out the latest fashions,” Whitacre said. “You say ‘I want to see the latest in caps,’ or if you don’t find something you like, the fabrics are laid out.”
In the 18th century, fashions were changing by the season.
CW Journeyman Tailor Michael McCarty, who specializes in 18th-century and 19th-century fashion for men and women, researches what the latest fashions would have been during those time periods through archives newspapers and other records.
“What I love about the work is seeing the change and being able to create an outfit that fits within a specific season of a year,” McCarty said. “There are rapid changes in the 1790s for men and women, but the tailoring trade is still staying very much the same in the realm of measuring the customer. While today that seems really high-end and luxurious, in the 18th century and the early 19th century, rich and poor, free and enslaved, whether you were here in Williamsburg, New York, or London, you were going to have things made by a Tailor.”
Tailors made items for men including coats, waistcoats, breeches, trousers and overcoats, as well as women’s riding habits and fitted jackets.
McCarty noted what the clothes reveal about the characters in Bridgerton.
McCarty displays a green coat from the 1790s that the Duke of Hastings wore in the first season.
“Compared to what everyone else is wearing, he’s way out of fashion,” McCarty said. “It’s interesting that they put the queen out of fashion to say something about her. They’re also setting him apart by putting him out of fashion by 10 to 20 years.”
There’s three Tailors within the shop who make the clothing that they wear, as well as the clothing displayed in the shop.
“Our work here is not about production, though we do production work. It’s about preserving the 18th century tailoring trades,” McCarty said. “That’s not just talking to the public, but constantly researching.”
Because clothes were so expensive, people viewed them as an investment, Whitacre said. The Bridgertons and others like them would have been spending more money on clothes than most do today, similarly to people in the 1700s.
Amid the ever-changing fashions of the seasons, the creations from CW’s tradespeople are aimed to make visitors feel like the “the diamond of the season.”