This Christmas, my favorite gift was not under the tree, nor was it tucked in my stocking with care. The best gift I received this holiday season was on the homepage of Netflix dot com, and this might sound weird, but it was from someone named Shonda who doesn't even know me at all! Bridgerton, the period melodrama from Shonda Rhimes, launched on Netflix on Christmas Day and I speak for the nation when I say we're all still recovering. The costumes were confectionary perfection. The dialogue was high English linguistic acrobatics. The sex was sumptuous.
But IMHO, all of those elements stood on the shoulders of the show's most primary and quintessential success: The spectacular strands, which were the brainchild of Marc Pilcher, the show's hair and makeup designer. And as is probably clear, Pilcher went to work and took the rest of us to school.
"I love the research before filming, studying books and paintings of the time, but I always adapt things to make them more interesting," he says. "I draw ideas from old movies most people have never seen."
Ahead, the inside scoop behind the wigs, ribbons, and tiaras.
Daphne's look was modeled after Audrey Hepburn.
To portray the eldest Bridgerton daughter, Daphne, played by Phoebe Dynevor, as a true Incomparable, Pilcher looked to none other than the archetypal incomparable, Audrey Hepburn. "It was essential to keep Daphne very simple and natural, our English Rose," he says.
The particular Audrey he drew from was her character in the 1967 film War and Peace, which is set in the 19th century, not unlike Bridgerton. However, Pilcher wasn't a purist with his references. "Obviously I cheated a little, including Daphne's bangs," he says. "Those were not common in this period, but you can find evidence of them in paintings."
Cressida's hair was meant to look mean.
And Pilcher called upon an unlikely cinematic reference to pull that off: Nellie Oleson, played by Alison Arngrim, from the '70s TV adaptation of Little House on the Prairie. "She was all girly ringlets and sugary-sweet on the outside, but mean and bitchy on the inside," he says, adding that the Cowpers are the wealthiest family on the show, so that financial privilege is meant to come through, too, with embellishment and elaboration. Look closely and you'll see flowers and bows made of hair pieces, but also rigid basket-weaves and horns. And here's a fun Easter egg for you: When Cressida tries to ensnare Prince Friedrich in episode three, Pilcher sculpted the wired braids into the shape of a crown as a visual cue that she should be his princess.
Queen Charlotte's wigs took a village.
By nature of the production schedule, the hair team was always waiting on the costume department to reveal the looks they'd created for fickle Queen Charlotte, played by Golda Rosheuvel. After selecting the color of the wig based on the tone of the dress and jewelry, Pilcher would sketch and design the Queen's look. Next, Adam James Phillips, the principal hair stylist for the show, would set and dress the wig with the help of the full team. "It was an around-the-clock effort to get Queen Charlotte finished in time for the ball," he says.
Of course, with adversity comes great reward. "I'm the most proud of the Queen's wigs," Pilcher continues. "They are my interpretation of how a Black Queen would look, a celebration of Afro hair and dreadlocks but in the silhouettes of the period."
And a note on that Featherington red...
All Featherington red is not created equal! While the idea that the Featherington family are gingers comes from Julia Quinn's novels, Pilcher mixed each version of of the tone individually for the actors. "We found colors that suited the girls' complexions," he says. "The idea was that when you see them as a family, it would still work."
And while most of the hair pieces you see on the show were bespoke, vintage, or from Pilcher's personal collection, you very likely could stumble across some Featherington frippery as you scroll IG. "We found some perfectly disgusting multi-colored costume jewelry online to match their gaudy dress colors," he says.
Not everyone wore wigs.
But most everyone did! "If we were filming one of the larger balls or tea parties, like the Trowbridge Ball, there could be over one hundred wigs and hairpieces on set," Pilcher recalls. But characters like Lady Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell), Marina (Ruby Barker), and Prudence Featherington (Bessie Carter) all wore their own hair with pieces woven in as necessary.