In honor of the triumphant return of Sanditon this spring, GBH Drama put together an email series to accompany each episode. For those who missed the emails, we now present them here (lightly edited for formatting).

I’m guessing that a lot of you reading this article aren’t new to the period drama game, but even if you are, you might have noticed that a weirdly large proportion of the discussion around these shows tends to hone in on one area: the costumes. I, too, enjoy discussing interesting outfits, so this time, we’ll be breaking down the clothing on Sanditon. Is it historically accurate? Sort of. Is it beautiful? Undoubtedly.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room (or maybe I should say the last-minute observation balloon in the room): even if a television show was primarily focused on historical accuracy, it would be challenging to only use pitch perfect costuming. Regency era clothing used different construction techniques and fabrication than what we typically have today, making each outfit fairly expensive (more like buying a car than a party frock), and thus most people would probably only have a couple of outfits, tops. But this is tv, baby: we need variety! And since most folks only had two or three outfits, their clothes would be tailored to their specific measurements. But most of the time, shows borrow clothes from warehouses, meaning that the items may not fit perfectly. Productions also have different needs for garments than people do in real life: they have to look good in specific lighting, help tell the story through color and mood, and sometimes perform well in stunt settings. All that being said: when the goal is to support a narrative, and not just a real life person’s body, the clothing is simply going to look a bit different, and that’s ok!

And speaking of supporting a real life person’s body, let’s get into Augusta’s corsetry challenges in episode 4. A lot of us have heard the narrative that corsetry is dangerous and moves one's organs around, but as it turns out, that wasn’t always the case. For starters, corsets as we picture them are not the only type of historical support garment. Women in the Regency era often wore stays, which look similar and helped achieve the pushed up bust-line we see on Sanditon, in addition to providing back support and helping with posture, but aren’t as rigid as corsets. Obviously, every body is slightly different, and overdoing the tightening, like Augusta did, or wearing someone else’s support garments could be unpleasant, but the goal was fashion AND comfort. This is another area where tv isn’t necessarily like real life: our actor friends are unlikely to be wearing custom shapewear, and they’re in garments we aren’t used to wearing every day; as jealous as we may get of the cool outfits they get to wear, remember to cut them some slack if they aren’t always 100% on board!

Want to learn more about historical costuming? Check out this interview I did with fashion historian Kathleen McDermott back in 2019. We talked about Poldark, but much of what she had to say is also true of Sanditon.

Looking for more of the history behind Sanditon season 2? Check out our other coverage on our Sanditon hub here.