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Why Oh Why? Peaky Blinders and the mystery of Grace's Crappy Hair

There are many unanswered questions out there. Many, many mysteries that will never be unraveled. But amongst those, the one that keeps me up at night is why was Grace's hair so crappy during the first season of Peaky Blinders?


Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love Peaky Blinders. I'm human, believe it or not. I've watched all its five seasons (twice) and I'm impatiently waiting for its sixth season with bated breath. And I can vouch for it: it's a quality show. Good storytelling, good acting, great photography... and for the most part, great character design both in costume design and hair and makeup.

That's why I'm still baffled by the decision of having Grace's character sporting what amounts to limp California Beach Waves for the whole of the first season. 

Because, while it is true that the first season had a considerably lower budget than its following installments, a shitty approach to historical accuracy wasn't the general tone for the character's looks even back then. 

So why oh why would they do that?

THE BASICS. WHAT, WHEN AND WHERE?

For those who have lived under a rock for the past 5 years, Peaky Blinders is a British period crime drama television series created by Steven Knight. It boasts a great ensemble led by Cillian Murphy, Helen McCrory, Joe Cole and Paul Anderson with Sam Neill, Tom Hardy, Paddy Considine, Adrien Brody, Aidan Gillen, Charlotte Riley, Sam Claflin and Anya Taylor-Joy having recurring roles at various junctures of the series. 

Its first season, which is the one we are occupied with, takes place in industrial Birmingham in 1919 and follows the upward climb of Thomas Shelby, a local petty criminal, and his family as he embarks on a spectacular rise amongst the criminal world.

With that clear, let's talk hair.

THE MEN'S HAIR

The hairstyle choice for the men of the Shelby family is without a doubt one of the most iconic images of the show. It even made the hairstyle extremely popular again!


The hairstyle is a short crop with shaved sides and back. Up top, the styles vary between the hair swept forward creating a short fringe to the hair swept completely back.

Back when the show first premiered many people wondered about the hairstyle and its accuracy, precisely because it looked so jarring to modern audiences. Funny enough, it is actually very period-accurate.

This style was very common amongst working-class men from the 1910s up to the 1940s in England's industrial areas, and never really went completely out of fashion after that.


The iconic newsboy cap was essential headwear for these men back in the day, and the show did not fail to add it as well to the characters' look, rounding up this very authentic yet unique look.


All in all, it is clear they did a flawless job for these male characters: it's historically accurate, it points both at their economic background and social status and it is hella cool.

You could say that the show proved very early on that trendy and cool could come hand in hand with accuracy. A fact often disputed by producers and creators.

THE WOMEN'S HAIR

The hairstyling choices for the women of the Shelby family are overall quite historically accurate if a bit more "interpretative" and less literal than those of their male counterparts. Please allow me to explain.

Around 1919, right after the Great War, most women would have worn their hair long and styled in a wide array of updos not dissimilar to those fashionable before the war. While it is true that the overall fashionable hair trends of 1919 were simpler than those fashionable in the prior years as a result of the moral and social devastation caused by the war, the similarities were more present than people tend to realize. 


And yet, none of the Shelby women, during the first season, sports anything remotely similar.

For example, Polly Gray, the boys' aunt and resident badass lady of the show, has it styled pinned back at the front but loose and tightly curled at the back.


This style, while not widely used in the period, is not actually made up or completely fabricated. It is hugely influenced by the fashionable styling of the early Hollywood cinema stars, who would often sport it like this.

The following photographs of Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford, both taken at the end of the decade, are a marvelous example of the style. 


The show's stylist decided to draw inspiration for her character from a more "bohemian" style to signal her to be different from most women in 1919. She's not proper or respectable, she's a gypsy, a thief, and a gangster. So her hairstyle is more dramatic and out there. And it works well for the character.

On the other hand, Ada, the younger sister and Shelby princess, starts season 1 already sporting a bob. Which is pretty inaccurate by most accounts. 


The hairstyle known as the bob imploded into the world in 1924, and many working-class women didn't actually start sporting it until 1926, so she's basically 5 to 7 years ahead of the rest of her family.


This inaccuracy is clearly a stylistic choice meant to signal her youth to the audience as well as her tendency to look forward to the future and embrace new ideas. After all, she does become a Communist and tries to make a life of her own separately from her brother's criminal life. 

To be honest, it doesn't particularly bother me. Yes, it's inaccurate, but at least she has on a period hairstyle, merely off by a few years.

Also, it does help that her hats and other complements are consistently on point for the period.


Interpreting the period is an essential part of the process whilst designing a period piece. You need to choose amongst several trends and fashions to best highlight the character and the story. Bending the period lightly by using obscure/not common styles or even using styles slightly out of period is not always as terrible as purists might think.

But then there's Grace and her hair.

THE FOLLY OF GRACE'S HAIR

Grace Burgess, an Irish spy who finds herself after Thomas Shelby, is not as young as Ada and she is both a respectable woman and playing the part of a respectable woman (she's undercover as a poor working-class barmaid). So why the hell would she sport loose California Beach Waves that stand out like a sore thumb?


As a rich girl coming from a military family, she would be the definition of a proper woman and would therefore sport her hair in the fashion we described earlier (long hair styled in a wide array of updos). But she's a spy! I hear you say. True, but she's also pretending to be a good working girl in order to do her job. She would definitely not wear her hair in any fashion considered Boheme or unbecoming for an unmarried woman. And definitely not loose hair.

This is even more ridiculous when you consider that this very particular style of loose hair (shoulder length and wavy) would not become fashionable or acceptable until the 1970s. This is a full-on modern style slapped in the middle of a period drama.


It is absolutely jarring. Amidst all these characters in their period updos, she looks completely out of place. Why would someone make such a particularly baffling choice? Why!? Was it trying to keep me up at night? Was it trying to make me roll my eyes so hard I went blind every time the character walks into a scene? Was the bobby pin budget cut mercilessly so that they couldn't put her hair up? Why!? I need answers now!

Unfortunately, I have no real answer beyond the obvious and painful fact that as the main love interest for the protagonist some studio head thought that she needed to be really pretty and believing that modern audiences are too stupid to understand she's pretty unless she looks pretty according to modern standard, this aberration was born. Let's raise our glasses to stupidity.

My only consolation against this aberration is that when the character reappeared in late season 2 and season 3, Miss Grace showed up actually sporting a more accurate hairstyle. Once the show had proven that audiences wouldn't run at the mere sight of historical hair, even the lovely Grace was finally allowed a period hairstyle.


And yes, season 2 happens in 1922 and season 3 in 1924, so her bob is still a bit premature, just like Ada's, but with the show already having another character's sporting one, it doesn't stand out as odd. And it's better than the California Beach Waves.

DEAR PRODUCERS

Audiences are not dumb. Well... I mean... some are, but most aren't. Far from it, actually. Most people understand when a character is supposed to be pretty, even if said character doesn't look like she'd fit right in on the cover of Vogue.

The creators of the show had, clearly, every intention to try and be accurate, and it is very telling that the only character that is so completely inaccurate in the styling department is Grace. 

Thankfully, the show is good enough to survive one set of limp Beach Waves on a character and it quickly became popular enough that the creative team was given complete free reign to do whatever the hell they wanted with it.

So please, stop babying audiences. We are all adults here.

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Comments

  1. THANK YOU for writing this. I just started watching (late of the party, clearly) but paused mid way through the S1, E3 to text my costume designer friend about how distressing these stupid beachy waves are.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely, they are so distracting! I remember watching the first season with this mild irritation whenever she popped up. I'm so glad you enjoyed this blog post, It was something I needed to get out of my chest!

      Delete
  2. Everytime she popped up I thought the same thing I would just get annoyed! Im glad they changed it later on !

    ReplyDelete

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