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Bet You Don’t Know What’s Under the Red Robes in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

Fans of “The Handmaid’s Tale” have reason to rejoice this April — not only is the second season of the show premiering, but costumes from both seasons will be on display in a museum exhibit.

The exhibit highlights Ane Crabtree’s designs and will be shown at the SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film in Atlanta from April 30 through Aug. 12.

SCAD FASH will show 35 cinematically styled costume designs from Seasons 1 and 2.  Costumes on “The Handmaid’s Tale” feature color that connects and separates the classes of a modern totalitarian society. The most memorable look from the series is a saturated red robe paired with an oversized white bonnet — a look that reflects the piety of the community.

Crabtree — who has designed costumes for “Masters of Sex,” “Pan AM” and Westworld” in addition to “The Handmaid’s Tale” — was honored in February at the Costume Designers Guild Awards in Los Angeles.

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Although the show depicts a fictional society, the Hulu drama highlights issues regarding women’s rights that feel pertinent given the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, to which Crabtree feels personally connected.

This is a show about women’s rights being taken away. It so closely mirrors the rights of women in this country. It so closely mirrors the rights of people of color being taken away. So being both of those things and being multiracial, it’s personal, and to me, that’s the best design. People don’t have to look like me, but my cry— my power cry — is in those clothes, it’s woven in,” she told FN.

The construction of the costumes is just as constricting as the women’s roles in the drama’s bleak new social order.

“There’s like 20 layers under their [robes]. A lot of that you don’t see, but when you do, it’s like peeling away of a person’s freedom, metaphorically. Also it’s a religious, pious society, so you’re not allowed to see the shape of a woman’s chest or a male’s form. So what I’ve done is almost like an onion skin version of underwear at the base level with very cotton-heavy, almost cotton underwear on top of that. It kind of changes their shape, so there is no shape. You don’t often see it in the show, but it’s important to me as an underlayer so that every background person, every lead, every day player, they’re like, ‘Oh, wow, I’m walking like this. I have something that imprisons me, my soul, my heart, my body it changes how you stand.

ane crabtree, costume designers guild awards, the handmaid's tale
Ane Crabtree accepts an award at the Costume Designers Guild Awards in February.
CREDIT: Rex Shutterstock

While the robes and bonnets make a statement, Crabtree said the footwear sported by the cast — dark, masculine boots that might go unnoticed — are intentionally unmemorable.

They’re supposed to be really quiet shoes so when they’re walking, you’re not noticing them,” Crabtree said. “It’s a means to finish off the character — it shouldn’t be stylish or something to remember. You should be present and walking softly so that nobody notices you.”

Tickets to the museum include entry to the exhibit and can be purchased online on the SCAD FASH website.

With contributions by Charlie Carballo.

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