25 Bridgerton Costume Design
For outfitting a global pop culture phenomenon
It was pretty much perfect pandemic viewing—as the numbers show. Netflix’s sultry period drama Bridgerton captivated 82 million viewers around the world within the first months of its December debut. Part of the show’s appeal was undoubtedly the need to swap stuck-at-home monotony for Regency-era lust, wealth and scandal. But the show also made quite the fashion statement, a delightfully frothy treat arriving at a time when even the most diligent fashion followers were sticking to track suits and sneakers. Delivering that kind of style would require a massive wardrobe creation and curation project.
Production company Shondaland collaborated with costume designer Ellen Mirojnick to re-create the style of early 1800s London society but with a contemporary high-fashion sensibility. Yet after scouting costume houses for rentals and discovering they wouldn’t entirely fit the series’ desired aesthetics, Mirojnick decided to go custom. The team of more than 200 people would create everything from dresses to jewelry to … breathe in … corsets. Working against a rigorous schedule, they purchased fabrics and coordinated with top artisans to build wardrobes worthy of royalty. The team had five months to prep and deliver costumes—an experience Mirojnick called “exciting and daunting.”
“When [Shondaland] came to us, we said from the get-go that this was no small affair, and we needed a lot of resources,” she said. “And they had a choice to walk away at that point. But they didn’t.”
Like the show’s first season (spoiler alert), the project had a happy ending. The team delivered a staggering 5,000 costumes, including 104 alone for protagonist socialite Daphne Bridgerton, as well as 2,500 accoutrement such as hats, shawls and overcoats. The visual feast satisfied not only viewers, but critics, too, with the show earning an Emmy nomination for outstanding period costumes.
Here’s how Mirojnick and other project leaders pulled off the fashion fantasy:
They went in with a fashion playbook.
To create a shared and readily accessible vision for the show’s statement style, the team created a lookbook that depicted both period clothing and luxurious modern twists, as well as styles that combined the two. Inspiration for images in the book came from paintings, online images and even a museum exhibition—Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.
“It was a way to keep everybody in the entire crew and cast on the same page and to give a feeling of the look without defining each character,” said Mirojnick.
They chose to divide and conquer.
As Mirojnick and her co-designers raced against the production clock, they divided the team by specializations: pattern cutters, tailors, milliners, embroiderers, a world-renowned corset maker and an entire team dedicated to fittings.
To ensure the show’s high-society ladies had no shortage of bling, project leaders brought in a jewelry designer to create pieces on demand, with other items sourced from dealers in the U.S. and Europe. With an array of background characters and secondary players to dress, the team filled a warehouse with racks of clothing from costume companies. That large collection of sourced clothing served main characters too, as designers tapped it for quick changes.
They resolved material issues with visual magic.
Clinging to historical accuracy of 19th century London through an haute couture lens would have required dressing the actors in cotton as luxurious fabrics were scarce during the Regency era due to the Napoleonic Wars. To give dresses a serious style boost, designers experimented with overlays, embellishments and draping fabrics. Artisans also practically created their own fabric, using laser cutting and laser printing as well as hand embroidery.
Costumes were “always meant to create an illusion of romance, of fluidity,” said Mirojnick. “There’s hardly anything with a hard line—it’s all illusion and visual magic.”
They took inspiration from the color of money.
Costumes helped distinguish the show’s two prominent families. For the Bridgertons, a family of old money, designers chose a powdery palette with pale blues, greens and silvers to reflect an understated, refined air. For the nouveau riche Featheringtons, designers opted for an attention-grabbing aesthetic with excessive embellishments, bold patterns, and bright colors like lime green, orange and vivid pink. “There’s so much contradiction between these two families, so we looked at how we could bring them together and how we could separate them,” said Mirojnick.
They decided to lose the bonnet.
Bonnets were ubiquitous during this period, but the shape shielded actors’ faces and made them look older. “There’s something psychological about the bonnet that would never have worked in this show,” said co-designer John Glaser. “Bonnets bring everything down. So instead, the team crafted hair accessories with a subtle nod to the bonnet, including straw half-moon-shaped pieces with feather or flower accents.