Why do we love British aristocratic shows?

After a long day, the comfort of the couch and Netflix entertainment calls to all of us. Depending on your preferences, you may choose a light comedy show, an action-packed movie, or a romantic drama that will fill you with tears. What I am most interested in, however, is why so many women tend to lean towards British aristocratic shows for their viewing pleasure. Is it the costumes, the men, the drama? After talking with both faculty and students of Dana Hall, I have concluded that these shows are so fascinating and beloved because of the ideas of escapism, costumes, and romanticism. 

Nothing beats turning on a great show and leaving reality behind. The overwhelming majority of both the faculty and the staff said that escapism got them hooked on the shows. Nobody within our Dana community is a royal (as far as I know), which explains the desire to enter a completely different world. Who wouldn’t love a servant to perform all of their daily tasks for them? Don’t even bother standing up when they can fetch you everything you need. Bridgerton and Downton Abbey let us into the lives of the societal “elite,” and those lives might as well be a different universe compared to our own. The nannies and governesses tend to the children’s every need, and as a result, the parents only decide to spend an hour with them every day. Imagine having a screaming, fussy toddler, and all you have to do is ring for the nanny. The fantasy here, of course, is that your the employer and not the servant. Director of Counseling Dr. Pam Slater said, “I find these shows an enjoyable escape from our time and place in the USA.” With all of the political and social turmoil in the United States right now, shows like these act as a haven offering a bubble to shut out the outside world. 

The idea of escapism can also be translated into escaping to a fantasy reality with coveted jewels and expensive fabrics. The costumes of these elegant times differ so much from today’s street clothes. Simply put, our society does not dress up anymore. Even at the great Symphony Hall in Boston, jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers can be spotted regardless of the occasion. The detail and beauty in the styles from these shows offer a visually aesthetic masterpiece. The Met Gala, the Oscars, and the Grammys are some of the limited grand events we have now, compared to the elegance of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. However, the characters from these shows dressed to the nines every day of their life, not just for a fancy ball once a year. Also, there is not a stain within a mile of the wardrobes. The actual dirt and debris of the past are missing from these escapist shows by design, as cleanliness goes hand in hand with the fantasy of sheer elegance. After talking with a few of the costume lovers within our community, the unanimous result is that Daphne’s best dress in Bridgerton was the white gown in the first scene of the show. The low, scooped neckline, with gold accents, emphasized the classic empire waist, the style of the day. Daphne’s innocence was complemented by this revealingly elegant dress, as it encompassed the beauty of purity in its white-silk fabric as well as her youthfulness. Her fair skin and implied delicate-looking stature were smartly emphasized through each of her costumes. Downton Abbey, on the other hand, begins at the tail end of the Edwardian era. The costumes change drastically over the 15 years the show captures. The costumes of young Mary, Edith, and Sybill in 1912 boast tight, rigid corsets. These dresses are amongst our community’s favorites—obviously, the more different from our twenty-first-century attire, the more interesting. With World War I changing gender roles, women’s clothing became looser and more practical. Student Phoebe Frechette ’22 and I both deeply felt the loss of these extravagant costumes. The newer, more shapeless articles of clothing reminded both of us of the styles in 2021. It was fun to compare, but after that conversation, I definitely could see that the joys and comforts of escapism worked through costumes as well. The wonders of these fantastic costumes were more than just the fabrics themselves. It was what they alluded to: wealth, class, and romanticism.  

And of course romance is a staple of escapism. Young love is a funny thing to watch unfold. The cycle of infatuation to heartbreak and then back to infatuation has been going since the dawn of time. During this cycle, Bridgerton did not leave anything to the imagination. Upper School Social Studies teacher Ms. Alexandra Siemon and her family even describe the show as “Porn and Prejudice.” After some funny conversations with students, the number one recommendation when watching Bridgerton is to do so at a room’s-distance from the parentals. Seriously, nothing is worse than realizing a steamy sex scene is coming with your entire family in the same room. However, nothing is better than the romance between Hastings and Daphne. A close second would have to be the accent on Hastings. The loss of innocence for these young aristocratic women, specifically Daphne, in this case, was earth-shattering, as for most women, their virginity was their ticket to a wealthy life. Daphne’s loss of innocence opened up her eyes to reality. Heartbreak kept us all engaged in the ever-flowing drama of ‘he loves me, he loves me not.’ Matthew and Mary Crawley’s love story from Downton Abbey was just as amazing to watch. The classic attraction of total opposites won the attention of most of the Dana community. Our hearts were filled when the distant cousins finally tied the knot. Many students said that the love and obsession of the characters’ attraction towards each other were infectious. These actors created contagious chemistry that left the audience demanding more. 

The enduring appeal on British aristocracy in American entertainment, really women’s entertainment, according to my research, is mainly due to the appeal of leaving our current situation and being transported to a fantasy. Also, watching dainty, young, naive ladies finding love at the cusp of their adult life could not be more entertaining. If you are like me and have rewatched both Downton Abbey and Bridgerton, go check out The Tudors and Reign, both of which play to the accents, romanticism, ideas of escapism, and beautiful sets we all can’t get over.  

Photo: Butlery students stand for inspection at The International Butler Academy China. Inside Hook.

Comments are closed.