Hilary Davidson (historian)
Hilary Davidson (1972-?) is an Australian historian, who has specialized in the dress and textiles of the Georgian period and is known for her expertise in analyzing the historical accuracy of costumes. In 2019, she published the book Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion.
Early in her career, Davidson traveled widely, and became an artisanal expert in recreating vintage clothing.
In 2012, Austrian archeologists published a report on their discovery of medieval bras. Davidson's opinion on this discovery was widely quoted. She called the bras an amazing find, said one was very similar to a modern bra, and compared them to a missing link.
In 2018, a team of archeologists found a skeleton that was still wearing thigh high leather boots, in mud in the Thames River. Science Alert quoted Davidson, to provide context of the discovery, for its readers. She clarified that while thigh-high boots are a fashion item today, these boots seem to be designed for a working man, whose job required him to be wading in the shallows of the Thames.
- “I’m not actually a historical costume pedant sitting in an academic ivory tower quibbling over every inaccurate detail. I just dislike costuming that doesn’t understand dress concepts before messing them up... it’s entirely possible to do brilliantly effective, OTT, vulgar, funny, anachronistic yet historically relevant screen costumes. But there’s got to be oodles of style and strong aesthetics to pull it off...”
The Bill and Ted test
Slate magazine credits Davidson for a Bill and Ted test for period costume accuracy. In an interview with Slate Davidson described spending six years working on Dress in the Age of Jane Austen, which required a great deal of meticulous checking of modern works. She described having the movie Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure playing in the background, when the heroes capture Beethoven. Davidson described being stunned at the authenticity of the costuming of the scenes set in Beethoven's time. Even the background characters in those scenes were wearing very authentic costumes. Surprisingly, the costume designers had achieved much more authentic costumes than more serious films with larger budgets.
Slate reported that Davidson created new twitter ID @BillAndTedTest specifically to publish analysis of the costume design of period movies. Slate quoted the tweet where Davidson gave the test its name.
The corset myth
In March 24, 2022, Slate published an article by Davidson i which she addressed what she called "the corset myth" - that corset were uncomfortable, and caused health problems for the women who wore them. Davidson quoted actress Simone Ashley, one of the stars of Bridgerton, complaining about how painful wearing a corset as part of her costume had been. In an article in Glamour magazine Ashley said her tight-laced corset had made it difficult for her to eat, and had caused nausea. She described lingering pain from the corset, even after it was taken off.
Davidson wrote that this suggested Ashley was wearing the wrong kind of corset, or was wearing it wrong.
Davidson was one of the Australians stranded in Europe by the COVID-19 virus profiled by 7News, on January 8, 2021. She described traveling to the United Kingdom, for just two weeks of consulting, in March 2020, arriving just in time for the travel ban. She thought that her job as a University Professor would have classified her as an "essential worker", however she still had not been able to get a high enough travel priority to return to Australia.
She had been able to teach online, in 2020. But she described her frustration following the sixth cancellation of her travel plans, when Australia tightened travel restrictions from the UK, following the discovery of a mutated virus there, and her concern over her elderly mother.
- Costuming in the EMMA. Movie with Fashion Historian Hilary Davidson, Austenprose. Retrieved on 2020-05-19. “While this book is a serious study of fashion during the Regency period, I appreciate that the author has taken the witty tone that Austen is famous for and presented the material with some humor.”
- Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion, by Hilary Davidson, November 12, 2019 by Yale University Press; illustrated, 336 pp; ISBN 978-0300218725
- An excerpt from Dress in the Age of Jane Austen by Hilary Davidson, The Jane Austen Project, 2019-10-14. Retrieved on 2020-05-19. “New in the Jane Austen Online Gift Shop is Dress in the Age of Jane Austen – a fantastic large format hardback book by Hilary Davidson.”
- Austria finds bras from 15th century _ 500 years before garment thought invented, The Washington Post, 2012-07-18. Retrieved on 2020-05-19. “While paintings of the era show outerwear, they do not reveal what women wore beneath. Davidson, the fashion curator, described the finds as “kind of a missing link” in the history of women’s underwear.”
- Audrey Yoo. 600-year-old bras unearthed in Austrian castle, Time magazine, 2012-07-10. Retrieved on 2012-07-21. “The discovery was first reported in an article in this month’s BBC History Magazine. Davidson said the medieval garments serve as “kind of a missing link” in the history of women’s underwear.”
- Hilary Davidson. Medieval bras uncover the fascinating history of women's daily support needs, The Guardian, 2012-07-20. Retrieved on 2020-05-19.
- Michelle Starr. Medieval Skeleton Pulled From Thames, Still Wearing Thigh-High Leather Boots, Science alert, 2018-12-05. Retrieved on 2020-07-08. “This lifestyle is supported by the style of the boot, which, according to Davidson, was not high fashion of the time, but close to the everyday shoes of the working class seen in paintings in the 14th and 15th centuries.”
- Michael Booker. Netflix hit Bridgerton's costume designer on making the 'gaudiest clothing possible', The Express, 2020-12-27. Retrieved on 2020-12-28. “Historian Hilary Davidson tweeted: “I’m not actually a historical costume pedant sitting in an academic ivory tower quibbling over every inaccurate detail. 'I just dislike costuming that doesn’t understand dress concepts before messing them up... it’s entirely possible to do brilliantly effective, OTT, vulgar, funny, anachronistic yet historically relevant screen costumes. But there’s got to be oodles of style and strong aesthetics to pull it off. I dislike the Bridgerton execution, not the principle.'”
- Rachelle Hampton. Does Your Favorite Period Drama Pass the Bill & Ted Test? A fashion historian explains her unusual standard for judging Regency costumes, Slate magazine, 2020-04-21. Retrieved on 2020-05-19. “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is many things: a time-traveling buddy comedy, an early Keanu Reeves vehicle, and—according to at least one expert—the standard for Regency period costuming on film. Fashion historian Hilary Davidson created the Bill & Ted test after noticing that a scene in which the two slackers kidnap Ludwig van Beethoven features surprisingly well-executed costumes for the era.”
- Click to see the tweet that led to the "Bill and Ted test" phrase.
- Hilary Davidson. Bridgerton Keeps Perpetuating One of Hollywood’s Most Stubborn Myths, Slate magazine, 2022-03-24. Retrieved on 2020-05-19. “Yes, corsets can hurt and damage, when worn incorrectly. But that doesn’t mean that it was the common experience.”
- ‘Debt up to their eyeballs’: Aussies in England, wanting to come home, react to flight cap changes, 7 News, 2021-01-09. Retrieved on 2021-01-10. “The announcement of incoming passenger caps being halved, coincided with Hilary’s sixth flight cancellation. 'I’m despairing. I feel abandoned by the Australian Government, that they’re not doing anything to support and get home the thousands of people like me, who just want to go home,' she said.”