The secret fashion detail we’ve all been missing in The Handmaid’s Tale

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Kayleigh Dray
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Everyone is obsessed with the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale at the moment – and, heeding the advice of Elisabeth Moss (who plays titular handmaid, Offred), we’re trying not to binge-watch. Partly because each episode is so emotionally draining, but also to make sure that we don’t miss out on any cultural references, sneaky extra details or hidden symbolism.

This return to delayed televisual gratification, however, perhaps isn’t working all that well as it seems as if we all missed out on a pretty big Easter egg – hidden in plain sight.

Speaking to Jezebel, Ane Crabtree – who designed the costumes for the hit dystopian drama – explained that she included a subtle ode to the female reproductive system on the uniform of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd).

“There’s this element of a vagina, inverted on the Aunts’ outfits,” she said.

Crabtree went on to explain that this costume detail was partly inspired by the work of seventies artist Judy Chicago, who painted female body parts on to dinner plates.

However, for the most part, she decided to include the ‘hidden vagina’ as a silent form of rebellion against the misogynist theocracy of Gilead.

“It came from that whole sentence I gave myself to be a Commander [in order to create] these imprisonments called costumes for everybody,” she said. “I wanted to put little ‘f**k yous,’ little humorous secrets for the women in the clothing.

“Like, ‘You might think that you’ve put this military, long, priest-like robe on me as an Aunt, but there’s not gonna be a cross around my neck, there’s gonna be a f**king giant vagina!’”

The secret symbol of the feminine is tiny – so tiny that it’s almost impossible to see on screen, in fact. But that’s a big part of its appeal.

“For me it’s a way to scream without physically screaming,” said Crabtree.

This wasn’t the only tiny extra detail that Crabtree included in the costumes: eagle-eyed viewers may also have noticed that Offred and her fellow handmaids wear bloomers and petticoats with “triplicate folding”, as well as nightgowns with three ‘windows’ on the chest. Again, this was a conscious decision on the costume designer’s behalf.

“There’s something that happens to me in times of great concentrated creativity, where I wake up at 3:33 a.m,” she said. “I started reading into, What does 3:33 mean? 

“Being from the South, being raised Christian, I called up people in Kentucky and they were like, ‘Oh, that’s the father, son, and holy ghost, that’s the trinity.’”

In this dystopian society which places women firmly ‘Under his Eye’, the ‘ceremony’ – or, to call it what it is, the rape – between the Commander (Joseph Fiennes), his wife (Yvonne Strahovski) and Offred includes a reference to the Holy Trinity.

“During the ceremony, the rape essentially, there’s a petticoat that they wear; there’s a triple folding at the bottom, which again, it may never be on camera,” said Crabtree.

She says this is symbolic in itself: the Commanders cite the Holy Trinity as their reason for rounding up fertile women and forcing them into a life of sexual servitude and surrogacy. Similarly, they insist that these monthly rapes are committed in the name of God – yet it is incredibly apparent that they have twisted the words of the Bible to fit their own dark motives.

It is lost in translation and the hidden nod to the father, son, and holy ghost is similarly hidden (or lost) within the scene, too.

Hulu viewers are up to episode eight of the series, while Channel 4 viewers will be able to see the third in the series of 10 on Sunday 11 June at 9pm. The first two episodes are currently available on 4OD.

Images: Hulu / Channel 4


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.