Why we’re all obsessed with looking like Fleabag

Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Fleabag (right) with her sister Claire (Sian Clifford).

First Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s two-season show inspired lipstick and jumpsuit purchases. Now fans are getting her haircut.

All over the internet, women are declaring their desire to look and feel like a character whose self-given nickname calls to mind crappy motels. Fleabag, the titular character of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s one-woman-show-turned-two-season-TV-program, has captured the imagination of fans, who are expressing their infatuation with all things PWB is by copping her look. Some obsess over her fourth-wall-breaking arsenal of expressions, or her anxiety and her energy and her sadness and her desire, but just as many are eyeing her bangin’ jumpsuit, slutty-demure short red floral dress, and perfect, shaggy haircut.

After season one came out, Katie Heaney wrote for the Hairpin about her quest to find Fleabag’s “perfect” lipstick. When viewers learned that the black jumpsuit she wears in the first episode of season two was available online for only $50, it sold out in a day; a search for “Fleabag jumpsuit” on Twitter pulls up an army of Fleabag clones, clad neck-to-toe in sleek black polyester. And, as with Natasha Lyonne’s curly bangs in Russian Doll, women are extremely tempted to chop their locks à la Phoebe:

*extremely creative brunette voice* I just think if I got this haircut I’d be hotter and more talented???? Will run by therapist…. pic.twitter.com/tIJAW6KySi

— Alana Hope Levinson (@alanalevinson) May 29, 2019

cant wait to get back to LA and sprint to my hair guy with a picture of phoebe waller bridge in hand, another painful loss for bangs but a win for my wellbeing

— crissy (@crissymilazzo) May 29, 2019

On top of everything else contributing to my #Fleabag obsession (helllooo, hot priest), now have PWB hair goals. Except she is tall with a graceful neck and I am not with not that. Still might just take her picture with me to the salon next month. pic.twitter.com/6idH7wYl29

— Gwen Ihnat (@gwenemarie) May 29, 2019

Count me among the last group. Last week, after a second round of watching the whole series, I found myself in front of the mirror, scrunching up my semi-wavy dark brown hair until it just grazed my chin, wondering, Can I pull it off? It speaks to me, on a personal level, as a messy-haired brunette with issues. Around when I was in the sixth grade, Winona Ryder, another dark-haired, approachably moody heroine I admired, got a pixie cut, and I followed suit.

Now that I’m no longer an impressionable preteen (although, clearly, still quite impressionable), I’m wondering why I, and my fellow grown-ass women, still want to play dress up. Is it because Waller-Bridge is super hot and funny and talented, so we figure, if we can look like her, then maybe we can be like her? Also: Do we want to be like messy and complicated Fleabag, or the hyper-successful writer-creator-actress Waller-Bridge, or a little of both?

To help answer these questions, I tracked down Pippa Woods, hair and makeup designer on Fleabag, and asked for her take on the Fleabag ’do.

“Fleabag’s hairstyle has a certain freedom about it,” she tells me over email. “It’s something that we all want. Her curls are allowed to do what they want, they can’t be forced into shape, they just are. Giving her hair that movement and fluidity echos her free-spirited personality: something that will always do what it wants and is beautiful while doing it.”

 Steve Schofield
Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) in her iconic jumpsuit.

Addison Peacock, a Los Angeles-based voice actor who tweeted about wanting to cut her curly hair shorter after watching the show, agrees that the Fleabag cut has a certain self-possessed quality to it, which adds to its appeal.

“For me it’s basically that, as someone with a lot of insecurities about the way I look, there’s something magnetic about PWB’s shamelessness in Fleabag. Obviously she’s working through plenty of guilt and baggage as well, but she’s routinely Feeling Herself and I love it,” she says. “It’s just nice to see gals with some curl or wave in their hair rocking short styles; she owns it and it makes me want to try and own it too.”

According to Megan J. Clary, a clinical psychologist in Brooklyn, “If you see yourself in a character, or identify with something a character is going through, taking on their characteristics, like a haircut or a style of dress, can make you feel closer to them.”

Clary cites Reality Bites as an example. Everyone wanted Ryder’s haircut — Winona forever, what an icon! — which, when you look at it now, is pretty much the Fleabag cut, Gen X edition. “Everyone was identifying with the [movie’s themes of] young love and angst,” she recalls. “It makes you feel less alone when you see a character who’s working out the same things you’re working out.”

 Steve Schofield
Fleabag and her Priest (Andrew Scott).

Evelyn Price, a writer who lives in Pittsburgh, acted on the impulse and actually got the Fleabag haircut. Her motivation to pull the trigger? “Nothing more than that I liked it! I regret nothing, I chose God,” she says. “I think in some sense it was freeing because I didn’t give a shit what anyone else was going to think of it, only that I wanted it. Fleabag would approve, I bet.”

Radically changing your hair can also kickstart an inner desire for change, or help you work through emotional turmoil by externalizing it (i.e., breakup haircuts, agita over the decision to get bangs, etc.). That’s certainly the case for Fleabag’s buttoned-up sister, Claire (Sian Clifford). In season two, she has a meltdown over the unforeseen outcome of a risky new coif, which is really disguising a meltdown over how she wants to leave her douchey husband for someone else. Fleabag comes to her defense, ranting to the stylist about how “hair is everything,” in one of the season’s most quotable scenes. The stylist’s retort: “If you want to change your life, change your life. It’s not going to happen in here.” Okay, so hair isn’t everything, but it really is like that sometimes.

But, notably, Fleabag’s hair doesn’t mirror her distress. It always looks the same, perfect, whether she’s love-sick, or grieving her best friend, or punching and getting punched in the face by her brother-in-law. In a flashback to her mother’s funeral, there’s a running bit that Fleabag looks exceptionally stunning, as though it’s rude, or unfair, to be attractive while in mourning.

The essence of Fleabag lies in this combination of messy, but still put together; emotionally raw, yet confident and composed. Her aesthetic could be summed up as, “If you’re gonna be depressed, at least be hot and fun about it.” Which is not to say, deflect your grief and angst by getting drunk and sleeping around and making a scene. But acknowledging your pain, and that sometimes you make mistakes, also means you’re doing your best. You’re not going to let hardship beat the life and the capacity to love out of you.

 Steve Schofield
Fleabag (right) looking uncomfortably stunning at her mother’s funeral, with sister Claire.

In season two, Fleabag is actively trying to do better. Her cafe is thriving; she extends an olive branch to Claire, despite Claire’s steadfast animosity towards her; and she at least attempts to resist the temptation of going after the wrong person. But Fleabag’s always gonna Fleabag. She’ll never fully abandon her impulsive tendencies, because they’re part of what makes her great. Her father, the hot priest, and a therapist all tell her some version of “I don’t think you want to be told what to do” and “you already know what you’re going to do.” Similarly, Claire says to her, “You’ll always be fine, you’ll always be interesting, with your quirky cafe and your dead best friend.”

We want to be fine, and interesting, and hot, too! Donning the Fleabag uniform won’t magically transform us. If I’m being honest, I’m committed to having bangs for the rest of my life, and I’d rather spend $50 on my dog, who is also named Phoebe. But in striving for the Waller-Bridge spirit and swagger, we’ll be well on our way.

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