Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story (2023) is the latest season from the Bridgerton series. It’s a prequel that tells the story of Queen Charlotte of Great Britain, from her marriage to King George III in 1761 through the next few years … in a very fictionalized way. Recently, Trystan did a deep dive on the costumes, today let’s talk about the hair and wigs!
As longtime readers may know, I’ve done enough research into the history of 18th-century hair/wig styling and worked out my own recreations, that I wrote a book, 18th Century Hair & Wig Styling: History & Step-by-Step Techniques. The book has been out of print for several years, but I’ve finally gotten organized enough to do a second printing, which will come out in July 2023. If you’re interested in the why’s and how’s of 18th-century hair and wigs, the stylistic differences of different eras, and/or how to recreate these hair/wig styles taking advantage of modern products, you should know that I’m offering a discount on presale orders up until the book is released (you’ll save $15, and if you live outside of the U.S., you’ll also save $10 on shipping).
First, let’s look at the real Queen Charlotte and her hair over time, so we can compare with actual historical styles. Hairstyles of the early 1760s are low to the head and curly, often in structured rows of curls. By the later 1760s hairstyles start getting bigger, but don’t really go crazy until the 1770s. Late 1760s high hairstyles, particularly in England, are very egg-shaped:
Of course, the show is very much NOT trying to be historically accurate, and that’s in part because in this show, Queen Charlotte is Black, and they were very much trying to work with her natural hair texture. Hair and makeup designer Nic Collins (who also worked on Downton Abbey and Victoria) said,
“We wanted it to be in the 18th-century style, but we also wanted to contemporize the looks. We wanted to give it its own unique vibe, appropriate with the type of curls today. We wanted to put braiding in, and we wanted to include every type of hair texture that exists authentically as well. From the tightest, curliest coil of hair to the straightest, smoothest of hair, we wanted all the textures in there” (The Wigs of ‘Queen Charlotte’ Are Stunning — And Tell a Powerful Story).
Doing this is really important for representation of Black people in history and in film. Lead actress India Amarteifio, who plays the younger Queen Charlotte, told Netflix,
“My favorite part about my hair and makeup is the fact that my own hair texture is represented in a period style, which is really not common. To be able to wear something that is so elegant and beautiful, and I’m also represented — obviously it’s a wig, but it’s not a straight wig. I can still have my curls and the coils and it’s still as elegant and as bold, probably more so, having something that looks so different. It’s a real privilege to be able to wear this.”
This began with the first series, in which the actress who plays the older Queen Charlotte, Golda Rosheuvel, recalls,
“I remember … being really, really shocked, actually, that they wanted to just tease my own hair out and have that as the front line of the wig. Those words and that kind of discussion, of showing my own natural hair within a character’s look, had never, ever been discussed with me. So I got so emotional and I cried because it was such a moment of ‘I’m being seen not only as an actress, as a person of color, but this character is being seen through these ideas — hair and makeup and costume, and how the show looks’” (All the Hidden Meanings in the Hairstyles on Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story).
According to show creator Shonda Rhimes,
“One of the things I really loved about the way the hair and makeup was done for this series is it really embraced — especially the hair design — the idea that these are women of color with the hair needs of women of color.”
Of course, storytelling is important too, and the filmmakers decided to start with Charlotte in comparatively simple hairstyles that get more complicated over time, to show how she went from the young woman she was when she arrived in England to the regal, over-the-top queen we know from the first two seasons of Bridgerton (set about 40 years later). Her styles have some volume on top, along the lines of late 1760s hairstyles (so yes, about 5-6 years too early), but they’re made with natural curls:
She continues to wear similarly styled wigs for private moments “around the house”:
There aren’t many images that I know of that show Black women in Europe in this period wearing fashionable hair — most that exist show similar silhouettes to styles worn by white women, but frequently covered with caps or scarves:
However, the fashionable frizzy hairstyles of the 1780s (modernly called the “hedgehog”) were influenced by Black hair:
Starting with her wedding, Charlotte’s hair gets BIG — although not as elaborate as her 1810s styles — for formal events. Collins recalled,
“It was so important to get that textured hair in the portraits, in the photography, in the style; we wanted the Afro, and we also wanted to incorporate something of the period as well to try and merge the two together. So, I looked at portraits of Queen Charlotte, and one of my favorites shows her hair slightly more oval shaped than we had it, but you can see the texture. To make our Afro, we set the hair in a wooden dowel to create beautifully coiled spirals dressed away from the forehead, the ends finished into a glorious front panel, which the tiara sits upon” (Beauty Queen: The Fashion and Hair of ‘Queen Charlotte’).
The idea behind an Afro-inspired look was to demonstrate how the wedding was Charlotte’s “decision, it’s her choice. It’s like she’s just let her hair down and it sits in its glory” (‘Bridgerton’ Prequel Takes Queen Charlotte on an 18th-Century Natural Hair Journey). Whether or not the filmmakers intended it, I think it’s also nice nod to the frizzy hairstyles coming in the 1780s. And most English hairstyles of the late 1760s/early 1770s had an oval shape.
Her hair continues to be BIG and extravagant for formal events, although again keeping to the actress’s natural haircolor. And although young Charlotte always wears her natural hair color, there were technical aspects to making sure this worked on film. Collins told the Hollywood Reporter that natural hair can be challenging to light without losing shape and texture, so golden brown hair was added to the wigs to make sure they didn’t lose definition.
This builds up to the huge wigs worn by 1810s Charlotte, which are much more complicated and also mix in colors of silvers and grey:
According to Vogue, in all the filmmakers made 1,500 wigs (15 just for Queen Charlotte, “some comprised of up to eight separate parts, with toppers molded to actors’ heads to better distribute the weight.” Collins described how the wigs were made in ways that were analogous to 18th-century techniques:
“The wigs themselves, and how they’re put together, is very traditional and not too far away from how they were originally created in the 18th century. It’s not really changed. We just use more modern techniques to achieve the same thing and make them more lightweight, et cetera” (All the Hidden Meanings in the Hairstyles on Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story).
Meanwhile, young Lady Danbury’s hair is meant to provide a contrast to the queen. According to PopSugar, “young Lady Danbury … wears a slightly looser, freer version of her same hairstyle as the older version of herself”; Collins told them Lady Danbury “kind of already conformed to that society, whereas our young Charlotte is fighting that right now.”
Nonetheless, Lady Danbury (Arsema Thomas) has comparatively simpler hairstyles that look more late 1760s in shape for less formal occasions:
Many of young Lady Danbury’s casual hairstyles remind me of the high “tête de mouton” or sheep’s-head style, which had structured curls placed perpendicular to the face:
But for formal events, like the wedding and the Danbury ball, her hair becomes much bigger and more intricate:
Dowager Princess Augusta (Michelle Fairley) is meant to be dressed much more stiffly. Her hair is pretty much always high and elaborate, with built-in tiaras that were theoretically pretty but made her hair look inflexible:
Young Violet frequently wears her hair half-down, something that’s a modern anachronism but certainly serves its purpose (to make her look young):
I was surprised to see Queen Charlotte’s daughters and daughters-in-law wearing the over-the-top “Apollo knot” hairstyles of the 1820s-30s in the “1810s” scenes — not so much because they were a decade or so too early, but because they were so much more complicated than anything seen in the first two seasons of the show. I assume it was to make them look “royal”?
Sadly (for me, who enjoys a good wig), pretty much none of the men wear wigs, except for the older King George, occasionally. Collins said of young George, “His character may or may not put a wig on down the line, but in this show, we wanted no distraction [with him], and no wig worked really well with the ‘just George’ storyline” (Beauty Queen: The Fashion and Hair of ‘Queen Charlotte’). I get what they mean, but it made him look very modern to me:
I didn’t love the two secretaries’s hair, as they also read as “not 18th century” to me, but at least there was some length/height on top as a nod to the cropped hairstyles that would come into fashion in the Regency era:
That being said, I loved the tousled, forward-brushed, shaggy crop haircuts on the Queen’s sons, which look straight out of a Regency fashion plate:
What did you think of Queen Charlotte‘s hairstyles and wigs?