Hairdressers who work in film and television (less different today than ever) are masters at juggling the needs of the production with the needs of the actors they transform and maintain for their roles. Here are some shows where hair does a fair share of the storytelling.
Rosa Terraciano, head of hair department
Calyvn Cass, head of coloring
Riverdale (CW) is a colorist’s dream – or nightmare. Based on the storied Archie comics, a cartoonish sensibility pervades the hair. Lead hairstylist Rosa Terraciano and color expert Calvyn Cass created a signature red for Archie (KJ Apa) that required touch-ups every two weeks. His eyebrows suffered from so much bleach, however, and were eventually left to return to a natural dark brown.
They created blue-blacks for Veronica (Camila Mendez, a natural brunette) and Jughead (Cole Sprouse, sandy blonde), and amazing reds for others. Terciano reports that scheduling color appointments for entire the cast – and maintaining continuity while shooting – was a job in itself.
THE CARRIE DIARIES
Jennifer Johnson, head hairstylist
This prequel to HBO’s legendary Sex & the City required Ms. Johnson to pay homage to one of the most beloved and relatable heads of hair on television: Carrie Bradshaw’s (as worn Sarah Jessica Parker).
Straight-haired Annie Sophia Robb portrays a teenaged Carrie in full 1980s style, minus the spiral perm; She requires over an hour of styling each day on set. (We thank you for the effort; so much better than the wig she wore in season 1.)
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK
Angel De Angelis, head hairstylist
You may think that a show about prisoners with limited access to hair products and makeup would be made without much of either, but you’d be wrong. Making beautiful women much less so isn’t easy.
De Angelis and makeup artist Michal Bigger say they had to forget everything they knew in order to transform the show’s 60 principal characters into prison inmates. With a heavy hand with the coconut oil to make hair look greasy and unkempt, this is the rare show that features so many black actresses with hair worn in its natural state – no relaxers, weaves, blowouts – which in this fictional world it isn’t a choice.
Patrick Kilian, head hairdresser
Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) is a woman living on more adrenaline and red wine than any human could on this DC power drama. Whatever is going on inside, she is perfectly polished, always in control, and rarely lets her hair down, metaphorically speaking.
Ms. Washington’s natural curls are ironed as her curl type is one that is easily straightened. As the seasons progress, her styles become less stiff and move more naturally, as does the character’s arc. It reflects our conflicted view of natural hair in the workplace (a form of discrimination which California has officially barred).
But, the few times we see Olivia’s natural curls are taking romantic refuge on a remote island or when kidnapped and imprisoned. It begs the questions: Is natural black hair allowed only in times of deep lust or deep trouble? Is natural black hair “unprofessional?” And why does having straighter hair signal more power?
GAME OF THRONES
Kevin Alexander, hair designer
The epic has ended, but its hair lives on. We watched actors grow from children to adults, saw monarchs rise and fall, visited both luxurious and desolate places, and woven through it all were tresses (these are what you call tresses) as central to character arcs as any narrative element.
Mr. Alexander’s research spanned both epochs and the globe, but he landed on particular inspiration in pre-Raphaelite painters including John William Waterhouse and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
This was largely a wig story (at a cost of at least $7,000 each). Finding the perfect platinum for Daenerys Targerian (Emilia Clark) took two-and-a-half months and seven wigs worth of experimentation. Thereafter, several more wigs were always in rotation as the color was so sensitive that smoky air turned them a dull gray (and there was no shortage of smoke – and fire – on set).
The wigmaker entrusted with early seasons looks for Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) sourced individually colored strands of hair, each knotted onto a lace cap for her golden blend. For her dramatic undoing and “walk of shame,” 5 wigs were needed to show the progression from long to brutally shorn. A duplicate set was made for her double for a total of 10.
Finally, GoT rules topknots and buns. Casually fastened with iron pins or carefully groomed and braided, this ancient and evergreen style signalled power, maturity, practicality, and battle-readiness. Whether subduing the brooding Jon Snow’s (Kit Harrington) lush curls or endowing regal authority to warrior/princess Arya (Maisie Williams), getting hair off the face has never looked so noble.
Craig Carter, Chris Clark, hair department heads
This FX series represents a thousand milestones for trans actors. A deep dive into New York’s late-1980s LGBTQ black and Latinx ballroom community, it showcases some afro-tastic, retro styles just right for the period that turned the term “tasteful” on its head.
The wig that Angel (Indya Moore, who prefers the pronoun “they”) wears to play Angel, a sex worker longing for true love and real romance is, well, truly angelic – a froth of delicate curls that underscore her vulnerability.
The series is on an edge between authenticity and caricature. The challenge for this show’s stylists was getting the period right – everyday street looks (hardly pedestrian) and showstoppers in the ballroom.
According to Hairstory colorist Julia Elena, “The hair is glamorous, fantastical, and dreamy! The costumes, makeup, poses, and dance… it’s everything! I cried every episode!!!”
Lin Davie, head hairstylist
HBO’s rollicking Gentleman Jack, based on the life of Anne Lister (Suranne Jones), a notorious 19th-century British landowner hailed as the “first modern lesbian,” is set in 1832, and explores how Lister upends societal expectations as she takes over her family’s estate, faces down corrupt businessmen, and sets her sights on the wealthiest woman in town.
The hairstyles on the show offer us windows into the lifestyles of 19th-century women: precise, pronounced, tight, and frittilated with ringlets (“barley curls”), supporting bonnets and hats. The team started with the two known oil portraits of Lister and pored over historical reference to design the tight bun below the crown and stacked sets of barrel rolls that became known on set as “the croquettes.”
Lister’s look – performed by a French maid – rarely changes except for the addition of a top hat that she perches atop the twin rolls. En boudoir, her hair comes down in rakish ways, and striding about the countryside, her hair has charming windblown designed to reflect Lister’s actual diary entry stating she could “walk anywhere in 20 minutes!”
CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA
Brittin Ireland, key hairstylist
The visual aesthetic of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is perennially autumnal, moody, gloomy, and suggests that its 1950s small-town in America is doomed.
The team created the wavy bob for Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) that morphs to pure white after a deal with the Dark Lord. But the finger-waves that her nemesis Prudence Night (Tati Gabrielle) wears were Gabrielle’s contribution; she coiffed them herself and wore them to her original audition, and the character’s look was set.
THE HANDMAID’S TALE
Karola Dirnberger, hair department head
The production design of this Hulu series drew heavily from the 1950s – the decade’s conservatism and its Technicolour movies – and mixed a moodier palette for this dystopian drama adapted from the novel by Margaret Atwood.
Styling supports the class conflict at the center of the story; childbearing servants called Marthas are allowed no vanity and are stripped to nunnish essentials and fade into the household while the women they serve – wives of totalitarian Commanders – are prudish but coiffed and clothed in ways that only hairdressers and tailors can achieve.
“The Marthas’ hair is about hiding beauty and individuality whereas the commanders’ wives’ styles make them seem authoritative – yet obedient,” says Hairstory Hairdresser Jennifer Covington-Bowers.
Marcel Dagenais, lead hairstylist
Nadia Volvokov (Natasha Lyonne) in the Netflix series Russian Doll has next-level TV hair. Thick, copper-red curls created by lead hairstylist Marcel Dagenais helped viewers put Lyonne’s Orange is the New Black character in the background.
Inspired by ’70s and early ’80s, punk-rock downtown girls, Daganeis wanted the look to have an effortless “just-woke-up-like-this” vibe. And since so little time elapses during the series, this is the look.
In search of a punk, orange-red that also looked natural, Dagenais dyed it himself with Redken Shades EQ during a long day of coloring and photographing to make sure it was just right – avoiding permanent color because he knew Lyonne had to go back to shooting OITNB after wrapping.
The secret to those curls? Lyonne – whose natural texture is looser and less defined – came to set every day with wet hair; Dagenais prepped them with Hairstory Hair Balm plus a styling creme and some hairspray to help them hold up to long days and nights on set.