Dressing Bridgerton – The Meaning Behind the Elaborate Costumes
When Netflix announced that the legendary Shonda Rhimes would debut on the streaming service with a Regency Era drama dubbed Bridgerton, we all expected a lot – and she did not disappoint.
The mega-producer is credited with household hits such as 'Grey’s Anatomy', 'Scandal', and 'How to Get Away with Murder'. Unsurprisingly, 'Bridgerton' streamed in over 82 million households around the globe within its first month—breaking Netflix’s viewership record in the process.
If you’ve not already binged the series, 'Bridgerton' is an 8-part TV adaptation of Julia Quinn’s bestselling series of novels. It takes place in the patrician social circles of 19th-century London. The steamy storyline centres around the queer romance, sex, and drama that characterizes the London season—which for lack of a better description, is the Regency Era’s version of speed dating or singles nights.
But unlike the typical 1800s British romance that tells tales of women in bonnets and endless bar-room brawls, 'Bridgerton' takes an unconventional approach. It’s chock-full of a sensational casting of gaudy, eccentric, and flamboyant costumes that seamlessly blend tradition with a decidedly modern air.
Nearly every character on the show is dripping in eye-catching embellishments, vibrant palette, intricate detailing with hidden meanings, and edgy costuming. As someone with a passion for fashion and design, I have to admit that the costuming of 'Bridgerton' is a work of art (a chef-d'oeuvre, if you may). And all this is courtesy of the talented Emmy Award-winning costume designer, Ellen Mirojnick.
Black History in 'Bridgerton'
While there’s a lot to admire in the costuming of 'Bridgerton', it’s impressive how the show weaved the history of Black people in pre-modern Europe into the narrative—complete with African-inspired costumes. Shonda Rhimes has often shown a dedication to representing people of colour in her shows—and 'Bridgerton' was not any different. The boundary-pushing, record-breaking TV show features a colour-blind casting that reflects the multiracial history of Britain’s upper class.
In fact, the English monarch depicted in the TV show is based on the historically accurate Queen Charlotte who was married to King George III in 1761. In some historical references, Queen Charlotte is depicted to have had racially ambiguous features that hint at possible African roots. 'Bridgerton’s' Queen Charlotte (played by Golda Rosheuvel) oversees a society that promotes equal opportunity with no bias. Some of the noteworthy characters of colour include the Duke of Hastings, Lady Danbury, Marina Thompson, and Genevieve Delacroix.
The Inspiring 'Bridgerton' Wardrobe
Believe it or not; every costume you see in 'Bridgerton' was designed and created specifically for the show—rather than re-purposing Regency-era clothes in costume houses. And according to Mirojnick (via Vogue), that’s over 7,500 pieces! “The costume team came to 238 people...It was like a Bridgerton city of elves working continuously and they were brilliant. In the end, there were about 7,500 pieces — from hats to shawls, to overcoats — that made up the [estimated] 5,000 costumes that went before the camera...”
When asked about how she went about piecing together the huge undertaking, she replied, “I looked at the Regency period in London through drawings and paintings. We got a flavour of it and then it was about looking at the different silhouettes and shapes while knowing that this had to be aspirational, as opposed to historically accurate.
“We knew that we had to shift the colour palette and the fabrications, so from the 19th century, I immediately went to the ’50s and ’60s. The Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition at Victoria & Albert Museum provided a wealth of inspiration. We looked at Dior dresses, from the New Look to the present day,” she added.
The costume design team also tinkered with the necklines of the dresses to give them a more modern feel than what you’d expect in a typical Regency-era drama. “We paid a lot of attention to the scooped necklines and how they fit the bust, as opposed to having a [straight] line that doesn’t allow you to see the body. This show is sexy, fun and far more accessible than your average restrained period drama and it’s important for the openness of the necklines to reflect that. When you go into a close-up, there’s so much skin. It exudes beauty.” The outcome was a fresh and spectacular costuming medley that incorporated the social class and personality of the characters into the design. Here’s how:
Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel)
It’s not a secret that Golda Rosheuvel’s Queen Charlotte was undoubtedly the best-dressed character. She oozed flamboyance, confidence, and power in every scene. In an interview with Vogue, Ellen Mirojnick reiterated what most of us already knew – the Queen was the best-dressed character in the show. “I love Queen Charlotte. The real Queen Charlotte was known for never changing her silhouette from when she became queen in the 18th century. So, it was quite elaborate between her gowns, the trims and her hair, which changes all the time. She looks like cotton candy in every conceivable flavour. For me, she embodies what Bridgerton is all about.”
Mirojnick also points to how she loves the undulating design of Queen Charlotte’s wig, which “repeats the same shape of the trim running down her gown.”
In line with the possibility that she might have historically been the first mixed-race royal, Queen Charlotte wears traditional hairstyles from African culture—including afros and braids.
In her Instagram post captioned “those combs saved my life," Rosheuvel admitted that the massive afro she wears in Episode 3 (when she introduces Prince Friederich) was a lot heavier than it looked. But she owned it like the queen she is, nonetheless.
Just like the real Queen Charlotte, Rosheuvel unapologetically stepped out in a larger-than-life gown in this scene. We adore this exquisite blend of teal and maroon, beautiful detailing on the panels, the jewel-embellished dress, cascading gold lace sleeves, and the distinct white wig with birdcages. In an Instagram post of the same costume, Rosheuvel remarked that “I think about the Queen's hair a lot”—and so do we Rosheuvel, so do we!
Simon Basset, The Duke of Hastings – (Regé-Jean Page)
Regé-Jean Page is arguably the break-out star of the TV show. Simon Basset is often seen wearing dark colours that probably draw on his troubled past growing with an abusive father.
Lady Danbury even takes note when she points out, “Would it pain you to wear some colour, your Grace? The London season is already terribly monotonous as it is."
According to Mirojnick, “He is a man unto himself and did not want any part of the ton society.”
But as the series develops and things between him and Daphne Bridgerton begin to heat up, his wardrobe gradually evolves. The costumers subtly introduce a passionate red colour in key moments of his development. Regardless of the symbolism in the Duke’s costumes, he looked stunning in all of them—especially this paisley brocade vest that balances between elegance and casualwear.
Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh)
Anyone who’s not watched the series would understandably mistake Lady Danbury for the Queen—owing to this majestic Icy Ball Gown. The white jacquard dress is encrusted with diamonds and boasts of an elaborate caped lace collar. This is all tied down with distinct, but subtle jewellery around her neck and a towering tiara. She simply steals the show as the embodiment of grace and beauty.
In another projection of power and social status, Lady Danbury wore a royal purple dress with a high neckline and a tiara. Coupled with her no-nonsense look, we doubt anyone would dare cross her.
Marina Thompson (Ruby Parker)
When Marina is first introduced to audiences, she wears light hues such as mauve, beige, and off-white. This however changes when Portia Featherington takes over her wardrobe—leading to their characteristically brighter tones, which she still rocks.
Speaking of the Featheringtons Mirojnick states that “their colour palette is overly citrus because she [Portia] wants those girls to be seen. It might be too much, but that’s not on purpose. She thinks they look beautiful. Portia wears these prints and often you’re not sure if she’s more like Joan Collins or Elizabeth Taylor. They’re bolder, brighter and more brazen than everyone else, and everything is overly embellished. They just don’t know any better.”
It's also worth noting that Marina proudly wears her naturally curly hair.
‘Bridgerton’ is a show that hooks you instantly with its sumptuous visuals, but it keeps you watching with its effective story-telling, multi-faceted characters, their relationships, individual arcs, and some steamy scenes likely to make you squirm – in a good way- whilst watching. It’s also tremendously entertaining and a whole lot of fun. ‘Bridgerton’ is must-see TV in the best way possible, haven’t caught up with it yet clear your schedule, grab some popcorn, and get to watching. Believe me, you’ll thank me afterwards.