How ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ costumes are changing in Season 3
Red cloaks and white bonnets have become a symbol of protest around the world, thanks to “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
The instantly-recognizable outfit from the show, which is set in a dystopian future where women are forced into subservient roles after an uprising against the US government, represents oppression. And since the series debuted on Hulu in 2017, the look has sparked conversation around the #MeToo movement as well as reproductive rights and other political issues, much to the surprise of the cast.
“When we first started, there was no way that we could all imagine the impact that it is having right now,” Samira Wiley, who plays Moira, told Page Six. “But to be able to see people dressed in handmaids’ costumes in this country, protesting, using it as a real force for change, it really makes you take a step back and realize the magnitude of the television show that you’re creating.”
Costume designer Natalie Bronfman, however, said it’s no surprise protestors are using scarlet cloaks to draw attention to causes they care about.
“Red is a color for fighting, for passion, for fighting for what you believe in,” Bronfman told us over the phone from Toronto, where “Handmaid’s” films. “I find it’s the perfect color for all of what’s going on because it’s also a color of anger, because you’re fed up. When you look upon a great big scene of people and you have this sea of red, it’s such a powerful symbol, it’s the lifeblood of people that are protesting things and want to see change.”
But it’s not just protestors of the recent crop of abortion bans that are co-opting the “Handmaid’s Tale” costumes; Yandy recently created a “sexy” version of the outfit, sparking outrage.
“I thought, ‘What are they doing?! How can you make light of something like this?’” Bronfman said. “There’s truly nothing funny about it. Wanting to make the costumes a sexual thing is particularly shocking, given that these women are essentially raped so that they become pregnant.”
Besides those cloaks and bonnets, color is the most important factor when it comes to the costumes. Margaret Atwood outlined Gilead’s hue-specific dress code in her 1985 novel, and Bronfman likes to play with the symbolism behind each shade.
“The color red often represents menstrual blood and, given that the maids are the only fertile element in Gilead, that’s why they would be wearing red,” Bronfman explained.
As for the sharply contrasting blue capes and gowns worn by the Commanders’ wives?
“Teal is actually a color of subservience, weirdly enough. It’s an inhibitor of speaking like you don’t say what you want to say,” she said. “The Commander women, they work among themselves to govern in their households, but they actually do not have a voice either.”
Over the course of the show so far, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) — wife of Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) — has undergone a character evolution that’s reflected in the shape of her costumes, according to Bronfman. As Serena Joy’s power increased, Bronfman tightened up her hemlines, collars and cuffs, adding structure and rigidity to her outfits. The third season, which premiered on Wednesday, sees Joy makes a “resolute decision” — and once she comes to terms with her choice, the designer revealed, her silhouettes will loosen up again.
The new season also offers a glimpse at Gilead’s children’s clothes (girls wear pink, while boys wear blue outfits with little capes), as well as new looks for Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd). Bronfman said the new episodes will explore Aunt Lydia’s past, and her civilian clothes will include “a lot of nuances” and “allude to why she became an aunt and how she behaves in this role.”
The introduction of Serena Joy’s mother, a widow, also called for the introduction of new, darker colors. “I’ve put mulberry touches on her, like a cloak that’s near-black but it’s not, it’s purple. I went that way because it’s almost like a soldier’s Purple Heart, and these women are all trying to band together and be strong together at the loss of her husband,” Bronfman explained.
“It’s a war that they’re fighting and that they’re still living.”
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