You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Costume Designer on Offred’s Look as a Political Statement: ‘It’s Throttling in a Beautiful Way’

The striking red garments and white bonnets in “The Handmaid’s Tale” have become the show’s signature, representing women who have had their human rights stripped away from them. As it turns out, though, the iconic bonnets almost didn’t make it onto the show.

At a “Handmaid’s Tale” panel at the Producers Guild of America’s 2018 Produced By Conference on Saturday, sponsored by Variety, costume designer Ane Crabtree revealed that the costume initially included headscarves because the crew was wary of covering up star Elisabeth Moss‘ face.

After trying out the scarves, though, Crabtree said, “it just felt like any old TV show and I just quietly, without getting approval, made five bonnets, took them to Lizzie [Moss] for our first fitting and I said, ‘I’m going to film you with my iPhone turning your face to the camera’. And because she’s Lizzie and she’s magic incarnate, it was the right thing. It was spooky.”

She also spoke about finding the right color red for the Handmaids’ costumes, something that proved difficult because it had “to go with every shade of person, of woman.” Eventually, though, she found the right color in a photo of maple leaves, before realizing, “it is the color of blood, which is a natural color, and that became a beautiful metaphor.”

Showrunner Bruce Miller said that the costumes, and particularly the bonnets, have added an additional element for the cast, where they have learned to manipulate how much of their faces to show the camera for emotional effect. In the beginning though, he admitted the bonnets did cause some challenges, remembering, “Alexis Bledel and Elisabeth were in the first few scenes learning how to walk as Handmaids and they couldn’t hear each other because they were so annoying, and they kept hitting the camera. But they really learned how to use the wardrobe for dramatic purposes and I think it’s one of the things that are best in the show.”

As for how the costumes have taken on a bigger role in pop culture, frequently showing up at protests and women’s marches, Crabtree said “there’s no big enough word for that.”

“When Bruce said, ‘I want these wings and these cloaks and all of it for the Handmaids to be sort of like your T-shirt and jeans,’ for it to be that normal, I was up for the challenge but it was really the thing that kept me up at night. How can that be normal, sincerely?” she said. “So it’s been a very interesting journey as an artist to go through that… and to have other women take it and make it something greater is huge, politically and emotionally and all those great things. And it never gets old, every time they show up it’s kind of throttling in a beautiful way.”

Executive producer Warren Littlefield, Hulu’s vice president of content development Beatrice Springborn and casting director Sherry Thomas also took part in the Produced By event, held at Paramount Pictures,  where the group discussed casting a diverse group of actors for the show.

Moss was already set to star when casting began, Thomas said, and from there, it “was completely colorblind after Elisabeth. If you go back and look at the old breakdown, every single role was any ethnicity, which was very exciting for us. We didn’t decide that Moira [played by Samira Wiley] was going to be African American, we didn’t decide O-T [Fagbenle, who plays Luke] would be who he is, none of that. It was just putting the pieces of the puzzle together and then it all came out the way that it did, like the world that we live in.”

Although in the original book, people of color were banished from Gilead and not allowed to partake in the new society, Littlefield said it was important to the show to revise that.

“The minority casting the show was a strategic casting, it was something that we talked about a lot,” he said. “We engaged with [author] Margaret [Atwood] and said, ‘In an effort for this to feel like this exists in the world today, it just seems crazy to us if we followed what you did in the book 35 years ago.'”

Miller also joked that when it came to casting, he has a “no asshole policy” for actors working on his show.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is currently streaming its second season on Hulu.

More TV

  • How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes

    How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes Sports and Showbiz in an Entertaining Mix

    Walking through the El Segundo studio where veteran sportscaster Rich Eisen tapes his daily “Rich Eisen Show,” the sheer density of sports memorabilia is overwhelming — everything from game balls to jerseys, gear, autographs and uncountable photos are crammed onto every inch of wall and desk space. But step into Eisen’s dressing room, and the [...]

  • Whiskey Tango Cavalier

    TV Review: 'Whiskey Cavalier'

    The crux of “Whiskey Cavalier” can be found right in its protagonist’s name. “Will Chase” is a purposefully ridiculous wink of a name that tries to be both debonair and very silly all at once, just like the FBI agent (played by Scott Foley) to which it belongs. This isn’t a regular spy drama, “Whiskey [...]

  • Brody Stevens Dead

    Comedian Brody Stevens Dies at 48

    Prominent Los Angeles comedian Brody Stevens died Friday in Los Angeles, Variety has confirmed. He was 48. “Brody was an inspiring voice who was a friend to many in the comedy community,” Stevens’ reps said in a statement. “He pushed creative boundaries and his passion for his work and his love of baseball were contagious. [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Malik Yoba to Reprise Role in 'New York Undercover' Reboot at ABC

    Malik Yoba, who starred as Detective J.C. Williams in the 90s show “New York Undercover,” is set to reprise the role in the ABC reboot, sources tell Variety. Picking up 20 years after the end of the original series, “New York Undercover” will follow detectives Nat Gilmore and Melissa Ortiz as they investigate the city’s [...]

  • Chris Burrous dead KTLA anchor

    KTLA Anchor Chris Burrous' Cause of Death Released

    An investigative report on KTLA anchor Chris Burrous has determined that his cause of death was attributed to methamphetamine toxicity, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office. Burrous, 43, was found unconscious at a motel in Glendale, Calif on December 27, and later died at the hospital. The death has been ruled as accidental. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'Crazy Rich Asians,' 'Late Show With Stephen Colbert' Win Publicity Campaign Awards

    Hollywood publicists have selected “Crazy Rich Asians” as the top movie publicity campaign for 2018 and “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” as the best television campaign. Warner Bros.’ “Crazy Rich Asians” topped the campaigns for Disney’s “Black Panther,” Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Paramount’s “A Quiet Place,” Sony’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” and Universal’s “Halloween” for [...]

  • THE MASKED SINGER: Rabbit in the

    Live+3 Ratings for Week of Feb. 11: 'Masked Singer' Easily Tops Competition

    Fox’s “The Masked Singer” was the highest-rated broadcast show of the week in both Live+Same Day and Live+3. For the week of Feb. 11, the unscripted singing competition series went from a 2.4 rating in adults 18-49 to a 3.4, a rise of 42%. In total viewers, the show went from 7.8 million viewers to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content