How Nicola Coughlan’s ‘Bridgerton’ Season 3 Costumes Reflect Penelope’s Sexual Awakening


Although Bridgerton fans didn’t know it at the time, there was a hint at Penelope Featherington’s future storyline in the series 2020 premiere. Speaking over Zoom, Nicola Coughlan, who plays Penelope, refers back to a “little Easter egg moment” at Queen Charlotte’s (Golda Rosheuvel) extravaganza, kicking off the annual marriage market antics. Hovering about the periphery in her overdone candy color florals, Penelope quietly—yet astutely—observes the smoking hot initial connection between Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page) and Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) as fireworks suggestively explode above them. Of course, now we know that Penelope was gathering intel for her covert hustle as the ton’s gossip arbiter, Lady Whistledown. But, the erudite dreamer tucked another observation away for future use.

“I wanted to make sure that Penelope was completely enraptured by them, swept up in the love and how elegant Daphne was,” says Coughlan, referring to the future Duchess of Hastings’s resplendent empire-waist gown in an ethereal pastel blue. “There’s a side of Pen that’s always wanted to be a Bridgerton and have their aesthetic because it’s the polar opposite of the Featheringtons. It’s so understated and soft and they all live in their clothes very comfortably. She would love not to emulate it but to feel that way within her clothes.”

Seeking independence from her toxic family and estranged from her best friend, Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jessie), Penelope embarks on a mission to find a husband. (It is still 1817.) Taking her first step in claiming her own narrative, she renounces the signature Featherington flourishes of acid yellows, greens, and excessive ornamentation.

“I did two years in Penelope’s wild yellow dresses, so I couldn’t wait to get to this point,” says Coughlan. “Everyone loves a makeover moment.”

Kathryn Drysdale and Nicola Coughlan

Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2024

But Penelope begins her new chapter in an exaggerated version of her usual look. “The maddest dress they’ve ever put me in,” says Coughlan. Lurking amongst the trees and shrubbery, the undercover Lady Whistledown gazes longingly at longtime crush and childhood friend Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton), who’s just returned from his frisky escapades on “the continent.”

“It was such an interesting juxtaposition because Penelope is this wallflower. She really wants to go unnoticed, but then she’s dressed like the brightest Post-It note, covered with flowers. There’s always a feather, a tiara, and a necklace on top of a necklace,” continues Coughlan. “And it’s so not her.”

At the dressmaker’s shop, Penelope suggests en vogue Parisian fashion as inspiration. But, behind the scenes, costume designer John Glaser—returning to the series after assisting Ellen Mirojnick on season one—and hair and makeup designer Erika Okvist, looked way across the pond to Old Hollywood. They referenced screen siren Rita Hayworth for a more refined yet glamorous vibe and Lauren Bacall for her innovative and unpredictable sense of style.

Laurence Cendrowicz/Netflix © 2024

“Penelope’s dresses are shorter—there’s no trains—and it’s a little 1950s Marilyn Monroe,” adds Glaser. He lowered Penelope’s empire waistline into a sultrier, more contoured silhouette and decorated her gowns with even more elaborately embellished and expansive patterns of the period. “We’ve moved her a little more towards the fashion of 1820.”

Penelope’s sartorial evolution also reflects her search for the person she thinks she wants to be, starting with a grand reveal at Lady Danbury’s (Adjoa Andoh) ball. With festivities in full swing, Penelope arrives at the top of a grand staircase with side-parted Veronica Lake-esque waves and a brown velvet cloak based on a vintage 1940s piece. To audible gasps, she doffs the cape to unveil a radiant, almost holographic emerald gown with intricate beaded embroidery and feathery accents on the bodice.

Coughlan and Jessica Madsen

Laurence Cendrowicz/Netflix © 2024

“The color green reflects Featherington, because she’s still a Featherington,” says Glaser. “She’s never worn dark colors before, so this was her first transformation.” Despite her best efforts, the evening doesn’t go quite as the flustered (and still-bullied) Penelope planned. Moving forward, she lightens into a lush spectrum of Bridgerton-y blues, seafoam greens, and lilacs while remaining strategic. “It allows her to blend into the background again, a little bit, so she can still be Lady Whistledown,” adds Glaser.

For the chameleonic, iridescent effect on Penelope’s new gowns, he developed a special process of layering upwards of eight fabrics of different materials, weights, and patterns. “It gives the illusion of a flower garden with ombrés from dark to light shadows,” says Glaser. The colors on each dress seem to shift and flicker depending on Penelope’s surroundings and movements. “It gives it depth. It gives it richness. It gives it mysteriousness,” adds Glaser about keeping viewers, and the ton, guessing about Penelope’s intentions and next moves.

Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2024

The smattering of dainty floral hair clips, designed by in-house milliners and placed throughout Penelope’s waves, are also meant to feel dynamic and cryptic. “You don’t know what color she’s wearing. You don’t know what’s really in her hair,” says Glaser.

Penelope’s collection of gossamer-light gloves of all lengths and coordinating colors also offers clues that foreshadow the coming steaminess. “We’ve tried to make her sexier and show more skin,” says Glaser. “Even her short gloves are just hints of that.”

Considering “the tactile nature” of the simmering tension between Penelope and Colin, Coughlan also offered some input about her period-accurate accessories. “Bridgerton is famous for its sexy hand touches. But then I have really tiny little hands,” she says, with a little wave and laugh. Coughlan suggested creating an edgy mesh version of Karl Lagerfeld’s famous driving gloves. “So when we played those scenes, our fingers were touching, and it has that intimacy to it.”

Luke Newton and Nicola Coughlan

Laurence Cendrowicz/Netflix © 2024

As Penelope determines her path, the core of her true self still shines. Butterflies, the Featherington family motif, elegantly glimmer throughout the beaded and sequined embroidery on her dresses and fluttery accents in her hair.

“Maybe it’s from watching teen rom-coms in the noughties, but part of me expected Penelope to have the transformation and be different,” says Coughlan. “But actually, it’s so much more satisfying that she has this physical transformation, but then she’s still the same old Pen, because that’s so true to life.”

Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2024

Off-screen, Coughlan, in collaboration with her stylist Aimee Croysdill, is also progressing her self-expression on the red carpet.

“I didn’t really think I’d ever be the leading lady in a romance show. It’s not something that I aspired to, or just thought I would do,” says Coughlan, who also brings laughs and tears as a playwright trying to manage life and relationships with bipolar disorder on Tubi’s Big Mood, which is now streaming.

She considered how to convey her leading lady energy through red carpet moments, while lauding how her Bridgerton predecessors Dynevor and Simone Ashley communicated their own distinctive looks. “I realized it was going to be my version of this,” says Coughlan.

At an April event, Coughlan looked captivating in a custom MISHO gown adorned with a gleaming 22-karat gold-plated corset with a heart engraving on the bodice. And at the season’s New York premiere, she wore a white structured Danielle Frankel gown fit for a bride.

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

“My world is not fashion, but I love to dip in and out of it,” Coughlan says. “I love when those worlds of [fashion and entertainment] meet in a satisfying way.”

Part one of Bridgerton season three is now streaming on Netflix.





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