This story about “Queen Charlotte” costume designers Lyn Paolo and Laura Frecon first appeared in the Down to the Wire: Drama and Limited Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
What would a Met Ball with a Georgian theme look like? That was the inspiration behind Lyn Paolo and Laura Frecon’s costumes for Netflix’s “Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story.” Shonda Rhimes’ spinoff of the hit Regency-era drama series straddles both that period, when Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) bore the public weight of the Crown, and 56 years earlier, when she (India Amarteifio) married King George (Corey Mylchreest) and adjusted to life as a royal.
For the later timeline, set in 1817, Paolo and Frecon honored the style established by “Bridgerton” costume designer Ellen Mirojnick: high-waisted, fluid gowns influenced by ancient Greece and Rome. For the 1761-set portion, they went back to the conical shape, when women were tightly cinched in by corsets and wore padding on their hips and behinds underneath ample skirts. The duo wanted historical accuracy — with a bit of contemporary glamour.
“We wanted to ensure that the costumes would be something that you could wear to a Met Ball based on the Georgian era,” Paolo, a two-time Emmy winner for the 1990s series “Homefront,” said. “We did try to stay within the Bridgerverse, as we now call it, but have the costumes be appealing to the modern eye and not frumpy.”
Paolo and Frecon primarily worked with luxurious silk taffeta, which provided just the right drape and shine. They had some fabrics custom made, like the elaborate prints worn by Princess Augusta, the king’s stern mother (Michelle Fairley). To convey her imposing demeanor, Frecon said, “We used more heavy fabrics and traditional silk brocades. And you see a lot more embellishment with her in terms of bows and pearls, which was also more period correct.”
Unlike “Bridgerton,” where each family has a different color associated with it, Paolo and Frecon used a range of hues to reflect the characters’ emotional states. In the episode that earned the costume designers an Emmy nomination (Episode 8, “Crown Jewels”), the older queen sits for a family portrait in an imposing red dress embellished with silver flowers and jewels; in the script, Rhimes referred to it as the “glorious gown.”
In a 1761 scene, young Lady Danbury (Arsema Thomas) wears a hot pink ensemble while chatting amiably with a suitor before spotting the man she secretly loves. Elsewhere, the young queen, pregnant with the first royal heir, wears a navy blue-striped coat over a silver gown during a contentious discussion with her mother-in-law, followed by a meeting with her husband, where she warns him that he must stop hiding from his subjects.
“That juxtaposition of the pearly silver and navy blue — we wanted the idea of softness underneath and strength over it,” Paolo said.
George’s look — white cravats and flowing shirts, embroidered silk vests and slim jackets — might not be period accurate, but they were inspired by a famous royal. “We based him on Prince,” Paolo said. “And the New Romantics. It was all about music videos.” Eagle-eyed viewers might have noticed a star or crescent moon woven into his costumes — a nod to his love of astronomy.
At the lavish royal ball where the king finally makes a triumphant public appearance, his beloved by his side, symbols of the heavens were not only sewn into his attire but into the clothes of every single person on screen. From Charlotte’s jewel-covered bodice to her diamond hairpiece made from a repurposed necklace, the theme, Frecon said, was “sparkle, sparkle, sparkle. It was to show that they were together and it was a joyous moment. No matter what we did, Lyn would go, ‘It needs more sparkle! We need more sparkle!’ So we just kept adding embellishment and jewels, just to make sure that she shone.”