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The Handmaid’s Tale costume designer has revealed the secret meanings hidden in her work

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Moya Lothian-McLean
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In The Handmaid’s Tale, blue isn’t the warmest colour…

The Handmaid’s Tale has always used every narrative element at its disposal to build its bleak story of oppression. There’s musical choices that are loaded with significance and internal monologues drawn straight from characters’ heads. But the costumes have become the most symbolic aspect of the series – so much so that they’ve leaked into the real world as an emblem of protest against attempts to roll back women’s rights.

So, it’s no surprise that season three’s sartorial choices also express some pretty major themes. Costume designer Natalie Bronfman revealed that even the colours of the handmaids’ dour Puritanical dresses have hidden meanings – and they change too. 

“What’s happening with the color red this season is that it’s going from being life blood to being a courage and power that steers the anger,” said Bronfman, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

“You’ve got love and lust and anger and they’re all passionate emotions, so the red covers it all.”

Meanwhile, Serena Joy’s journey from grieving parent (albeit, active perpetrator of a fascist state) to deciding how to wield newfound power is signalled through subtle changes in shade.

“The blue of the water, the teal range [of the commanders’ wives dresses], means to be secretive or closed off because you’re going into the depths of the ocean,” explains Bronfman.

“The deeper you get, the darker the green and the blue-green. Selena’s character arc this season is quite interesting because she goes from being very depressed (having lost her child) and being in dark teal colors to slowly getting brighter, and her shapes change as well.

“So I use the color tonality to bring in a bit of her psychological change, her power gets very bright and strong and clear.” 

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As for the deep purple garb worn by commanders’ widows, it was directly inspired by real world events – the colour is taken from the US Purple Heart, a military decoration awarded to soldiers injured or killed in service. According to Bronfman, it pays homage to the women having “endured what they did.” 

Her ultimate aim for season three? To make it clear through costuming that this is the year that the female characters start driving the action – for better or worse.

“This year, the women are growing strong,” Bronfman concluded. “They’re no longer just submissive wives; we start seeing their characters.”

Images: Hulu/Instagram

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Moya Lothian-McLean

Moya Lothian-McLean is a freelance writer with an excessive amount of opinions. She tweets @moya_lm.

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