Regency-Core: A New Style

The trend I’ve been waiting for is also the bane of my existence

You may have seen it popping up on Tik Tok and Instagram – high waisted dresses, reinvented ball gowns, visible corsets and bustier tops, formal gloves and pearl-encrusted headbands: Regency-Core, the newest fashion trend to hit runways and teens alike. A simple answer to its popularity, based on the name, could be the popularity of the recent Netflix show Bridgerton, making us all wish that we too were attending a ball and dancing the night away. However, while this may have influenced the popularity, as said by the iconic Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, “it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of “stuff.”

This newest trend can be seen as the expansion of accessory and lingerie-as-outerwear trends that have been ongoing for quite a few years now. Rodarte’s Spring Summer 2021 collection showcased it in all its glory with the embellished gloves and elaborate headpieces paired with flowing floral dresses, but the trends, especially in accessory wear, were always on the horizon. This can be seen in red carpet styling, from Ariana Grande’s 2020 Grammys Giambattista Valli elbow-length gloves back in January of 2020 to Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton harness trend of 2019, styling celebrities such as Timothee Chalamet and Michael B. Jordan. The newest Regency-inspired dress is simply a continuation.

The fact that this corsetry trend is called Regency-core is the absolute bane of my existence. I do blame this title entirely on the recent popularity of Bridgerton, a show that is the latest in deciding that although Regency dresses have empire waists, there will be tight-laced corsets at the natural waist (which refers to extreme corset lacing in order to create the illusion of a much smaller waist, often decreasing the waist size by 4-7 inches).

Over and over again, media depictions of corsets use them as a metaphor for the oppression of women, when they are simply a structural undergarment that provides more support than a bra and does wonders for back posture. Tight lacing was never the norm, and for decades, women were doing normal activities while wearing corsets. The reason that tight lacing corsets with tiny waistlines are the majority of what remain in the cultural subconscious is because of the way that our relationship with clothing has changed. We have more clothing in our closet right now than Regency era women would have in their entire lives. Clothing used to be extremely expensive and time-consuming, with every piece being custom made. Tight-laced corsets were only worn on occasion, and only by the rich, who could afford having many corsets. This meant that while lower classes would use any remaining material from a worn garment to make a new one, those that have been preserved are the barely worn clothes of the rich.

The fast fashion environment that we find ourselves in continues to either ignore or not realize the time and cost of clothing manufacturing. Corsets especially were custom, and were made with steel and many intricate pieces, rendering them difficult to remake. For that reason, as well as for comfort, corsets have always been worn with a chemise or some sort of under-layer underneath. However, time and time again, media depictions (including recent ones on Bridgerton) have decided that chemises are not sexy and corsets on bare skin are, leading to incredibly unsafe practices by people hoping to bring corsets into their fashion today.

While I would absolutely love the return to full length elaborate dresses and corsets, there is an art to styling corsetry with modern dress. The most important part of that is understanding the safety aspect. You need to do your research on corsets if you want to tight lace and need to understand the cost of a legitimate corset. High quality ones made today are often made with spiral steel boning, which is not comparable with the ones found on Amazon for fifty bucks. While the cheaper alternatives, as well as using historical-inspired girdles and bustier tops, can be a viable way to embrace the style, it must be understood that these cannot be used for tightlacing and do not provide the same structure.

Additionally, today’s fashion involves showing off these pieces once regarded as undergarments; and matching or contrasting the structure. Wearing these structured pieces over either flowy dresses, for contrast, or over more structured pieces such as tailored button-down shirts are both ways to style the corset. Accessorizing is also key, and can be a fun step of exploration, matching modern clothing with fun gloves or headpieces.  Any way you choose to, I hope we can indulge in our wish to go to the ball through fashion in safe, but just as exciting ways. 

Emma Yee
Emma is a contributor to the Argosy.