Color plays an important role in Handmaid's Tale tv series. Garments, scenery, lens filters. Every color contributes to the Gilead oppressive effect.

Yesterday was the show that everyone likes to give an opinion about; the Emmys.

From the ones that I watched, I was rooting for Handmaid’s Tale. Unfortunately, it didn’t win the best drama series.

Regardless of the ceremony, in case you’ve been living inside the cave all this time and didn’t watch it, this should be your next series.

It’s an adaptation of the 1985’s novel by Margaret Atwood with the same name – The Handmaid’s Tale.

In the show, we follow the story of the main character, June. She lives in a totalitarian regime in the US and has been forced to live as a slave who has to bear children to sterile couples. Adding to this, the justice system has been abolished, there’s no tolerance regarding same-sex marriage, women in high professions or high society roles and non-stoppable acts of violence are considered the new norm according to some ridicule new rules.

Why is Handmaid’s Tale such a case of success?

Dystopian worlds aren’t something new, at least if you’re into reading. The thing about this tv series is that is such a good adaptation that people can easily imagine it happening in the US soon. Especially with everything that has been going on lately, the scary factor plays a huge role.

Other than that, it doesn’t hurt to have renewed actresses like Elisabeth Moss, Ann Dowd, and Alexis Bledel play significant roles.

But most importantly, and the reason why I decided to talk about this mainstream topic; the importance of costume design and color.

Ane Crabtree. She’s the genius designer behind the clothes of this series. Crabtree and her team developed the wardrobe and its colors considering the unconscious effects on the spectators’ minds. Unity, contrast and social hierarchy are all perceived thanks to the proper use of color and garments.

Handmaid’s Tale and its wardrobe color palette

Without going into much detail, here’s the hierarchy that you have to know (if you don’t already):

Unwomen are at the bottom of the hierarchy. They are forced to work in concentration camps until they die, and wear a grey color that resembles ash.

Marthas are housekeepers. Slaves to the high families, they serve as cookers and cleaners. Their clots are a faded green that resembles an old floor mop.

Handmaids are the women that didn’t become infertile. They are forced to live as sex slaves. These are the most oppressed and violated characters on the show.

They wear a white hat that covers the side of their faces and isolates them from the world. 
Also, their red garment is the brightest color in the series.

This effect is especially notable when put side by side with the Wives teal clothes. These two colors intentionally contrast to represent the conflict between these two roles.

Aunts are older women in charge of training (and punishing) the handmaids. They wear brown outfits that are inspired by the World War II uniforms (you’ll see the parallelism).

Wives appear to have everything under control, yet they are as oppressed as the previous. They use a beautiful teal color that symbolizes their discipline and obedience to their husbands, the commanders. If you think about it, teal is used to discourage erratic and spontaneous thinking.

Commanders are on top of the chain, along with their guards. They wear black, grey and navy to symbolize authority, respect, and power. They are the responsible for creating this dystopia and controlling everything.

Other than the wardrobe, the use of muted color filters contributes a big deal for the overall feeling of oppression. It always seems as if the scenes are seen through a grey lens.

To wrap it up

Like I’ve mentioned in another post, color is a powerful tool that can mold our perception of the world. This is a brilliant case of how much color helped shape the characters, their roles, and their oppressing regime and elevated this series to a new level.

If you haven’t already, please give it a shot and watch some episodes. On the other hand, if you’re a fan like me, let me know in the comments what’s your favorite character and why 💻


Also published on Medium.