You might have heard a handful of characters talking about something called leading strings on Bridgerton and are now wondering what, exactly, they’re even talking about. Despite the term coming up multiple times on Netflix’s latest show, it makes sense for some fans to be confused about its meaning—after all, there are plenty of phrases from Regency-era London that sound unfamiliar these days. Leading strings are certainly one of them, so allow us to get into their meaning below.
On Netflix’s Bridgerton—which follows the lives of the Bridgertons and other high society families during debutante season—viewers might hear the term “leading strings” come up during conversations about immaturity or a young woman’s coming-of-age. For example: One scene sees determined mother-matchmaker Lady Portia Featherington (Polly Walker) lecturing her niece, Marina Thompson, about her interest in the Bridgerton family’s youngest son, Colin. “He’ll propose to me, I am sure of it,” Marina tells Lady Featherington, to which she replies, “That boy is barely out of leading strings,” before urging her niece to drop him. Viewers may get the gist of what Lady Featherington is suggesting here—Colin Bridgerton isn’t marriage material. But her meaning behind “leading strings” is more specific than that.
During the Regency era, the term “leading strings” referred to pieces of fabric or string sewn onto young children’s clothing. These straps were then held up by caretakers to support a child as they learned how to walk. Basically, think of leading strings as the 18th-century version of the 21st-century’s backpack toddler harnesses. That said, while they’re called “leading” strings, these straps likely functioned more like reins to guide a child rather than a leash, as they were typically sewn or pinned onto the shoulders of a child’s outer garment.
With this in mind, all the times Bridgerton mentions leading strings should make a lot more sense. When Lady Featherington talks about Colin Bridgerton not being ready for marriage, she’s saying he’s too young. Or when Eloise Bridgerton confronts Mrs. Wilson after suspecting that she’s Lady Whistledown and Mrs. Wilson says, “I wiped your bottom when you were in leading strings and I do not appreciate your tone,” now you know she’s talking about when Eloise was so young that she was still learning to walk! Now, if only today’s child leashes could look as fashionable…