Warning: This story contains spoilers from “House of Cards,” season five.
Since the dawn of Netflix’s “House of Cards,” the wardrobe of Claire Underwood (Robin Wright, Emmy nominated for the fifth time for the role) has spoken volumes about her character. Never more so than in season five (dumped on the internet for binge viewing on May 30), which sees Claire shatter the ultimate glass ceiling, break the fourth wall and get blood on her hands — while wearing an oxblood-hued dress, of course. With the help of costume designer Kemal Harris, we decode Claire’s killer, color-steeped style.
When Claire convenes a meeting with a group of female senators in the Roosevelt Room, she’s sporting an uncharacteristically feminine blouse. “Whenever Claire wears pastels, it’s to fake-show people ‘I’m really nice. You can trust me,’” says Harris of the Co blouse she pairs with tweed trousers. She adds, “This is a great example of Claire being a chameleon to seduce whoever’s in the room to come to her side.”
What does America’s first female president, albeit one in a fictional series, wear to her swearing in? In this case, an “Oval Office blue” dress with gold military-style buttons from neck to knee. The idea, says Harris, who custom-created the look, was that it resemble a military coat. “She’s ready to step in and go to war,” she says of the character’s take-charge attitude. “In my mind, Claire’s had this dress in the back of her closet for years. She played out this scenario a long time ago.”
While toasting the success of her husband, Frank (Kevin Spacey), after he wins Ohio and his opponent, Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman), concedes the presidency, Claire strikes a somber tone. “It felt like a nice little death of her moment,” says Harris of Claire’s Uniqlo blouse and Balenciaga pants. “There’s this crazy ebb and flow to her character’s path this season — she’s sworn in, then Frank takes it back — so the use of black is a nice way to close that chapter.”
For her second swearing in, we’re shocked to see Claire in a soft, full-skirted, pale blue Lela Rose design. “The brand is fresh and lovely — and the opposite to what you think Claire is,” says Harris of the purposeful choice for her do-over. “She’s brought back in because the population no longer trusted Frank, so she had to soften her militaristic edge,” which makes the character appear “more approachable.”
“This is the first time Claire truly gets blood on her hands,” says Harris of her final tryst with her lover Tom Yates (Paul Sparks). “I don’t like to be so obvious in color choices, but that just felt so appropriate,” she says of the sinister second-skin Kimora Lee Simmons design. The dress, which Harris tailored, accomplished Claire’s desired task of seducing Tom — before poisoning him.
In her first act as president, Claire wears dove white while overseeing a strike that takes out fictional terrorist Yusuf Al Ahmadi. “She has to look like the hero, or the angel,” says Harris of the demure Lela Rose design that later transitioned to Claire’s first televised address to the nation as POTUS. “That’s a great example of how one outfit has to move from the situation room to the public eye.”
In the finale, Claire enters the Oval Office looking more Catwoman than commander-in-chief in black spandex (Under Armour and Nike). “That shows her character’s arc,” says Harris. Given that the season opened with Claire at a funeral (in black Dolce & Gabbana), she’s come full circle. Only this time she’s marking the death of Frank’s political career. After ignoring her estranged husband’s calls, Claire turns to the camera and declares, “My turn.”