Decoding Penelope’s remarkable transformation over the three seasons of 'Bridgerton '

Dear readers, there’s no prize for guessing that this once-considered wallflower is now the talk of the town.

03 June, 2024
Decoding Penelope’s remarkable transformation over the three seasons of 'Bridgerton '

While we expected an abundance of gossip, twists, and turns in the third season of Bridgerton, we could never have predicted the remarkable transformation of Penelope Featherington, played by Nicola Coughlan. As a character who was never appreciated by her family, friends, or the town, watching her take matters into her own hands was commendable. Her new look, which might be attributed to her clothing, has a much deeper meaning. The makers and those involved in the costume and hair have been consistent about the reasons behind her wardrobe choices, which reflect why she wears what she wears.

Before we get to the transformation and what’s happening in season three, it’s important to go right to where it all began—seasons one and two—to tell you what Penelope was and what she is after the first part of the third season.

Penelope in the first two seasons

During the first two seasons, Penelope was dressed by her mother in vibrant, colourful outfits as if she were a cake for kids who love all things colour. But it wasn’t just her; this style extended to the entire Featherington family, who wore bold, citrus-themed colours. Penelope had never been one to stand out in a crowd and was often seen in the background wearing striking yellow dresses with her hair styled in tight curls. Her bright yellow day dresses were carefully coordinated to the T all the way to her gloves, purse, and butterfly clip that matched the embroidery on her skirt. This was a loud, unfavourable look that hardly caught anyone’s eye. 

According to Ellen Mirojnick, the costume designer for season one, the reason for this choice of colour was plain and simple: yellow was chosen to reflect Penelope's alter ego as Lady Whistledown, the gossip columnist. Furthermore, yellow was one of the most fashionable shades during the British Regency era (between 1795 and 1837).

By the second season, Penelope absolutely detests the colour. Her aversion to colour is well expressed in a scene where Edwina Sharma compliments her dress at the ball, which she interprets as sarcasm. “Oh, you have a sense of humour,” Penelope says, going on to admit to Edwina that she's gotten bored of wearing it. “I can understand,” Edwina replies. “Though, I suppose in truth it is not a matter of the colour but rather how one wears it. You wear it well.”

Yellow makes way for pink in season two as Sophie Canale takes over as the costume designer. In an interview with Fashionista, Canale explained that this shift occurs because Penelope is getting older. As she matures, the audience sees more scenes of her writing as Lady Whistledown. This far more mature version of her is reflected in her appearance, especially in her nightgowns, which are devoid of the colour seen in her high-society attire. Even there, the colours are light shades of pink and peach as she reaches debutante age. The perfect tease of her upcoming relationship with Colin Bridgerton is saved for the very end, as she, in the very last episode of season two, wears a golden shade that coordinates with Colin’s brocade shirting. 

The change from season two to three

In the second season, Penelope is a young girl experimenting with her appearance, yet doing everything except what her mother wants and expects. By the time the audience presses the play button for season three, she has matured into a woman in her mannerisms, conversations, and looks, ditching the signature Featherington colours of yellow and green. Hair and make-up designer Erika Okvist decided to take away the juvenile appearance by blending shimmer with darker elements for a more mature look. They elongated her face and lifted her cheekbones so that her cat eyes could do all the talking. In addition to the make-up, Okvist and her team also decided to change her hairstyle, moving away from the pin curl poodle look to better frame Coughlan’s face. Floral hair clips added a touch of confidence and mystery, enhancing her enigmatic persona. One didn’t really know what was in her hair or what colour it was, just like the element of mystery that Penelope has. 

Costume designer John Glasner gave her shorter dresses with lowered waistlines, creating a sultrier, more contoured silhouette adorned with embellished patterns. This transformation is powerful not just for its contrast with her attire in seasons one and two but also within the Regency-era context. Even seeing her let down her hair is something women didn’t do in that era. But Penelope has always been a character that was ahead of her time. She’s a rule-breaker in season three, and audiences can’t seem to get enough of her transformation. 

The grand reveal in season 3 

There are ways to enter a ball and make your presence felt. And then there’s Penelope’s way of doing it—a grand reveal at Lady Danbury’s ball. With the party just getting started, she arrives at the top of a grand staircase with her wavy hair side parted and wearing a brown velvet cloak (well, that’s what we think). With gasps seen and heard as the scene progresses, she removes the cloak to reveal an emerald gown with intricate beaded embroidery and feathery accents on the bodice. She’s never worn dark colours before, and her choosing green represents a change, but she still sees herself as true to her roots as the colour reflects the Featherington family. Additionally, butterflies, the Featherington family motif, are also visibly seen in the form of beaded and sequined embroidery on her dresses and accessories in her hair. 

As the season progresses, we see her ditch the vibrant yellows, oranges, and pinks for some stunning ensembles in blue, green, and purple. According to Glasner, this change gives her look a touch of richness and, at the same time, a lot of mystery as she continues to be Lady Whistledown. These layered fabrics and colours, which could be a mix of the shades mentioned above, keep everyone guessing as to what her intentions are and how her character is going to develop. 

What does Coughlan have to say about the transformation

Sharing her thoughts at a press meet ahead of the May 16 premiere, Nicola Coughlan spoke about the ballroom scene in season three and how her character’s new look resulted in a massive boost in confidence. “It was scary knowing there was a big new look moment because you’re in a ballroom with 200 supporting artists, 30 cast members, all of the crew, and everyone’s looking! I was afraid I was going to fall down the stairs. It was scary to shoot that moment, though, and I also had to then run up the stairs at the end of the scene, so it was just going up and down those stairs for like three days!”

Speaking about the character’s amazing transformation, Coughlan adds, “The transformation in Penelope has been amazing for me; it really does make you feel so completely different when you're performing. I always say to people that it’s the difference between pajamas and a ballgown; you just hold yourself differently. You know that you look different, so you feel different. It was really emotional, going to the first costume fittings and seeing fabrics that they’d chosen for this season. They draped some on me—it wasn’t even a dress at that point, and I teared up, because you feel this connection with the character. After two seasons, it was so nice to finally be wearing flattering things, and it really helped the character. She has to grow in confidence, and it helped me grow in confidence, too.”

A remarkable change and what’s in store

She may be bold through her words as Lady Whistledown, but Penelope Featherington in person is the complete opposite. But in season three, we witnessed the unexpected as she took matters into her own hands and put herself out there with her new wardrobe and transformed appearance. This boss move is simply exciting and something that certainly caught our attention. With just half of the third season done, we can’t wait to see a very confident and in-love Penelope bring the season to a fitting finale with the second part of the third season streaming June 13 onwards.

All images: Netflix

Also read: Here's why we think Penelope from Bridgerton is giving major Cosmo Girl vibes in S3!

Also read: Everything we know about the ‘Bridgerton’ spin-off about Queen Charlotte