The Gilded Age

Tapping Into the History, Politics, Culture, and Environment of The Gilded Age

By Nicki Ledermann | Department Head Make-Up
& Sean Flanigan | Department Head Hair

Photos: Jake Giles Netter/MAX

Audra McDonald
Carrie Coon

To create the look of any period piece and its characters, regardless if you stick to realism or an interpretation, the key is to do proper research. Not just learning about the visuals but also about the historical, political, cultural and the physical environment of the time as that always has a big impact on the look of the characters.

Creating the look for Louisa Jacobson

In prep, the make-up team painted/drew copies of portraits by American realist painters of that time to better understand the mood, color palette and beauty standards, to then translate that intricate esthetic of the very stylish Gilded Age (1877-1900) onto the cast. To achieve the distinct nuances between old money, new money, as well as all other classes, we created specific tones and hues, based on what was available at that time, even creating some of our own products authentic to the era. Our make-up design represented old money characters clean and classy but yet mysterious, the new money more extravagant by definitely pushing the respectable boundaries of that time, while the working class was extremely simple in contrast. Many of our gentlemen had facial hair which was quite very diverse in style at this time, using an impressive stock of facial hairpieces and loose hair, main and background cast alike.

L-R: Denée Benton and Louisa Jacobson
L-R: Louisa Jacobson and David Furr

For hair research, the team loved a good museum portrait gallery and also to scroll through periodicals of the time that are designed for women’s fashion, such as Harper’s Bazaar. Pencil sketches are abundant and always inspiring to create. Every woman needed hair, whether full lace wigs or additional clusters or switches. The challenge for the hair designs was always to style in a manner that would support the amazing hats required for the period. Upper-class women always styled smooth and intricate, while the household staff was always left a bit more natural in the hair texture to appear more organic and realistic. One of the biggest highlights was recreating the hair styles of the African American women of the period. We had some amazing reference images of African American women of stature which we were able to rely on in the creation of our ladies.

L-R: Robert Sean Leonard and Cynthia Nixon

Our designs could not have been executed without the help and dedication of our talented artists and stylists working tirelessly alongside us, on our large cast ensemble, as well as on the many daily background talent. 

Forefront L-R: Morgan Spector and Patrick Page

The collaboration between hair, make-up, wardrobe, production design, and cinematography was not only imperative to pull off beautiful and convincing visuals to aid the storytelling, but we also had great fun, trust and respect for all the departments and  wonderful cast, which made working on this show very special. •

L-R: Laura Benanti and Harry Richardson
Donna Murphy