Reality dating television shows have started coming up with even more absurd premises to break through in the saturated landscape. Not that we’re complaining: The Courtship, billed as a Regency-era take on the Bachelorette, is a dating show in Regency cosplay, and it’s as delightful as it sounds.
The show centers on Nicole Rémy, “a modern girl tired of modern dating.” Her family—including her parents, sister, and best friend—are also on the show as her “trusted court” of advisors, choosing dates for her.
The contestants have to learn period dances, write calligraphy, and participate in Regency-era activities—and instead of a rose ceremony, at the end of each episode, Rémy dances with the men she’s thinking about sending home, and they have to make the case convincing her they should stay.
The Courtship works because of its silly premise, and the charisma of Nicole and her family, but also because everyone looks so good in every episode. So, we had to speak with the man who made that cosplay work: Tom Rogers, a set and costume designer. Rogers chatted with Town & Country about all things The Courtship, making Regency-era clothes look flattering on modern men, and the reality show he’d love to work on next.
Town & Country: How did you get involved with The Courtship?
I’ve got a strange CV: I’ve worked both in theater and in TV, and I do both set and costume. Over in the UK, I’m the costume designer for Britain’s Got Talent. I’ve been the costume designer on that for about eight years now.
In my theater work, I do loads of period costumes; I’ve worked in opera all over Europe and in America. Period costume is my happy place. But then, obviously I also understand TV schedules and particularly entertainment TV schedules, which are very different [than] making a TV drama—it’s really quick. There wasn’t really anyone who had that kind of [background]. So probably they didn’t have a choice, they had to have me.
How much did you know about The Courtship going into it? What was their pitch to you
It was like Bridgeton meets The Bachelor, basically. I mean I love Bridgeton, who doesn’t?
When you hear Bridgeton meets The Bachelor, what are the references you use to start thinking about costumes?
It’s the Regency period, so that was really the starting point. I like to call it our “riff” on Regency because it’s not a slavish recreation of the period. We’re not making a historical drama. From the very beginning of my conversations was how to find a world that kind of spoke of that era, but also gave us the flexibility to have lots of fun and to be a little bit sexier.
Relentlessly empire line, after a while, you begin to get saturated. There’s 13 episodes, each covering two days, so we had a lot of frocks to consider—that was great that we could really push that. There’s lots of [costumes] that aren’t even a period silhouette, but it’s playing with the fabrics. Sometimes Nicole is dressed in a modern silhouette, but everybody around her is in full empire-line Regency [dresses]. So the challenge was getting that balance right.
How do you plan the costumes for a reality TV show where you don’t know what’s going to happen?
We knew the event. So we knew that we would be dressing them for a tea party or a ball or boating, but you don’t know what’s gonna happen and you have to let it run in real time. So that’s an interesting thing. For me, when I watch it, I can see wardrobe malfunctions that other people probably don’t notice, but obviously we can’t constantly keep going in and fixing in real time.
We did lookbooks for episodes one to four, and then we were still making [outfits] every day. I had a team of six makers—brilliant, fearless, incredible people who were just on [sewing] machines all day long. And we had all the fabrics with us. Sometimes without a fitting, you just had to go for it. For a film or a TV drama, it would be much more planned out. But this is fun! It’s really fun. I love problem solving.
I love that you described it as a “riff” on Regency. How do you strike the balance between visually cuing the viewers that this is not modern gowns, but making sure they don’t feel too dated for this young woman on a reality TV dating show?
If you’re gonna deconstruct something, you have to know it before you deconstruct it. It’s like conceptual artists; most of them can do incredible figurative painting, but they decide to move away from that. From my point of view, I know there will be people who will criticize that it’s not period correct, and maybe assume that we didn’t know the period. But, knowing the period really well helps—I know the silhouettes and I know what will work well with modern stuff, so things don’t stand out jarringly.
It was a world where the color palette and the fabric choices were really important. Say, for example, Nicole is in a relatively modern style gown, but the fabrics and textures that she’s wearing tie in with the people around her who are in Regency-style gowns in similar fabrics and color palettes, then it all ties together as a world.
If you look at fantasy films or fairytale films, they’re never really set in a particular era. There’s a few amazing ones where they just take from everything. There’s a later episode where it’s a big masked ball scene, and she’s in a full 18th century Met Gala frock for that—so that’s an earlier era, but I don’t feel it stands out jarringly.
What types of pop culture references were you pulling, besides Bridgerton?
Fairytale films! Like Sandy Powell’s designs for Cinderella, I looked at that quite a lot. There’s a really amazing Snow White film with Julia Roberts, Mirror Mirror, I just loved the costumes in that. And then other Jane Austen adaptations—particularly the recent Emma, there’s a few little easter eggs [in the show].
How would you broadly describe your aesthetic and how you brought it into the show?
Oh, that’s a good question! I love color. It was an interesting process for me, because I started with designs of the basic silhouettes of dresses I wanted to work with—and that was across the board because everything was made, even for the dancers in the ball. Everything for the court, for the men, for the extras—everything was made. For the women’s dresses, I did some drawings and worked out what the silhouettes were gonna be and what the different styles I would play with for Nicole.
Once you knew Nicole was the lead, was there anything you shifted in your design?
We had basically made [everything]. I mean, Nicole’s stunning, they’re the most stunning family, every single one of them, they would look good in anything. We had a really good two days when I first met them, the week before we started filming. We did dress up, basically; we tried on everything that had been made or was half made.
That was when we took put on the yellow dress. The yellow dress, as soon as she put it on, we all just went, yeah, that’s the one. Yellow just looks fantastic on her. There was nothing I had made that we couldn’t use, because she looks great in everything.
When you were on set, what surprised you the most about the experience?
How comfortable they were in the clothes—how quickly they got comfortable in the clothes, particularly the men.
I realized I have not asked about the men at all! Can you talk me through what it was like to have all these contestants and they’re basically in the same outfit?
The man’s silhouette is much easier, because it doesn’t really change, but weirdly it’s harder cause men’s tailoring is difficult.
Everything was made. The majority of the contestants were from the States and obviously my teams were all over here [in the UK]. We were working from measurements that they’d taken themselves or their tailor had taken, so all of that was quite challenging.
And they’re also modern men who go to the gym; their bodies are not like built for these clothing. That’s not what that kind of silhouette was built for. So to make that flattering on those bodies with huge shoulders and huge biceps was also a challenge—to flatter them and also make the [Regency] silhouette.
If you had to pick another dating show to work on, what show would you pick?
I love medieval costumes: So could someone please do Game of Thrones crossed with Love Island?
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