• Melissa Imari Alvarez

Regency, High Fashion, Shonda: The 3 Pieces to the Bridgerton Costume Puzzle

Promotional photo of the cast of Bridgerton.

Dearest Gentle Reader,

It appears as though the name on everybody’s lips these days is Bridgerton! From the sumptuous silks to bedazzled brooches, the series serves a generous helping of eye candy from start to finish. For costume designer Ellen Mirojnick, the aesthetic for this society boiled down to three major components: the Regency silhouette of 1813 London, modern day high fashion, and the wonderful world of Shondaland.

Illustration of Regency evening attire.

Though Mirojnick and her team paid close attention to the general Regency silhouette, they in no way intended, expected, or wanted these pieces to be 100% historically accurate. The source material is that of historical fiction fantasy, so the clothes were made to represent exactly that.

“I always begin with the actual time period that I’m working in, and then from there, I am tasked with interpreting the period. Our show is a fictionalized version of 1813 and the Regency era. I can’t emphasize fictionalized enough because that allowed me to really step out of the box and look at inspiration from many different areas.”

“Manet” by Genieve Figgis. Acrylic on canvas 2018.

One such source is the collective work of Irish painter, Genieve Figgis. The artist’s vibrant paintings served as the single inspiration for Bridgerton’s candy colored palette. The delectable hues are perhaps the first visual that let audiences know this is not your standard period drama. Next to treat the eyes are the romantic and dandy styles parading about the ton. Mirojnick and her team played with the necklines of the women’s dresses, allowing them to scoop a bit lower than true Regency society may have allowed. “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.”

A selection of fabrics for the Bridgerton costumes hung up on a line.

They also used a plethora of fabrics to bring a modern and more luxurious edge to this version of 1813 London, including embellished laces and sheer, iridescent organza, organdy, and tulle. “We could create another layer on top of the dresses that gives it a new sense of movement and fluidity. It’s almost like a trick of the eye that makes you see it differently.”

As with any great outfit, the final touches for all of the Bridgerton costumes came down to the right accessories. “There were no bonnets, but we do nod to them with our hair accessories. We took that half-moon shape and created these straw pieces accented with flowers or feathers that sit on top of the head.”

The show’s Jewellery Head, Lorenzo Mancianti, bore the extreme responsibility of sourcing bling for everybody! The Swarovski Archive loaned tiaras for the principles, and plenty more Swarovski crystals were sprinkled generously about. Items were sourced from all around including New York, Italy, and the United Kingdom. That which could not be sourced was made in house by Mancianti and fellow artisans.

“To be able to use color freely and to be able to use accessories freely, and be able to try things and be bold and adventurous but yet stick within the confines of the story…is an adventure that we all felt so lucky to go on,” said Mirojnick.

Presently, Fashion’s Spring 2021 season is upon us. Several brands have sent looks down their runways with seemingly blatant nods to the Bridgerton series, including Monique Lhuillier, Cinq à Sept, and Markarian. However, before the show could have inspired fashion, fashion had inspired the show!

While determining how to approach the costumes for Bridgerton, Costume Designer Ellen Mirojnick turned to modern day fashions to add a twist to the looks, and make them something that modern audiences could relate to. In an interview with Vogue she shared, “We knew that we had to shift the color palette and the fabrications, so from the 19th century, I immediately went to the 1950s and 1960s. The Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum provided a wealth of inspiration. We looked at Dior dresses, from the New Look to the present day.”

Part of the design process included assigning color palettes and styles to each character and/or family. Thus were born the “Tiffany family” and the “Versace family”.

The Tiffany Family, of course, is none other than the Bridgertons. “They’re the prominent family of the social season so we wanted their color palette to be powdery — these pale blues, silvers, and greens that feel like whispers of color.” Fashion houses like Dior, Chanel, or Givenchy that share a similarly classic and elegant appeal could have very well served as inspiration for the Bridgerton household.

Naturally, the Versace to their Tiffany would be the new-money Featheringtons. Fabulous in their own right, but maybe not as familiar with certain society rules, the Featheringtons are fiercely led by the mother, Portia, whose main concern are the three daughters she has to find husbands for. “She sets the tone for them as a family and their color palette is overly citrus because she wants those girls to be seen. It might be too much, but that’s not on purpose. She thinks they look beautiful...They’re bolder, brighter and more brazen than everyone else, and everything is overly embellished. They just don’t know any better.” Aside from Versace, some other brands the Featherington ladies might enjoy today would probably include Balmain and Viktor&Rolf.

Mirojnick had designed for several Shonda Rimes productions before Bridgerton, including How to Get Away with Murder and Still Star-Crossed. It was this pre-established relationship that served as the strong foundation for the costuming to be built upon. “Working with Shondaland, their aesthetic is quite aspirational. They like to tell stories in a heightened fictional style,” Mirojnick told WWD.

What set this experience apart was the sheer scale of the project. “When they came to us, we said from the get-go that this was no small affair, and we needed a lot of resources. And they had a choice to walk away at that point. But they didn’t. John [Glaser, her co-designer] and I really don’t like getting that call halfway through saying we need to pull back, and that never came. We were able to hire the best artisans in London, and it is exciting to work in those circumstances.”

Since the show has such a specific aesthetic, most costumes had to be built from scratch. To meet the demands of the project, Mirojnick needed to create her own costume house that would match the scale of the project- enter a crew of 238, which included cutters, tailors, an embellishment department, shoe makers, jewelry makers, milliners, embroiderers, world renowned corset maker Mr.Pearl, fabric buyers, set dressers, and many more. They had a 5 month prep period, and with dresses alone taking upwards of one week to create...well, I’m no mathematician but it’s safe to say that a lot was created in a short amount of time.

Within 8 episodes, the script called for lavish balls (10 in total), boxing matches, dinner parties, garden parties, a duel, and more- each activity requiring a new outfit, especially true for the women. In total, the Costume Department created 7,500 individual pieces to make up approximately 6,200 full looks. The show’s female lead, Daphne Bridgerton (played by Phoebe Dynevor), alone had 104 costume changes!

“We put a lot of people to work and the results were fabulous!”

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