The series “The Handmaid’s Tale” – symbolism in the images of heroines

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is a popular TV series of our time, which has collected many prestigious awards, including Emmy and Golden Globe, and aroused great public interest in acute social and political issues that affect the plot. Feminism rocked the world once again, and the minimalist red robes of maids became a symbol of the struggle for women’s rights not only on the screen, but also in the real world. The symbolism in the clothes of the heroines of the series generally plays a huge role and runs as a thread through the entire plot.

In the center of the dystopian plot is the theological state of Gilead, which arose on the ruins of the United States. In a grim future, the society of former Americans is divided into castes based on functions and social status, and, of course, clothing serves as a marker for each population group, clearly showing who is who. All costumes are minimalist and chillingly grotesque, emphasizing the oppressive atmosphere of Gilead.

“There is a bit of surrealism in these costumes. You can’t tell if what’s on the screen is real or if it’s a nightmare. ”- En Crabtree


The wives of the commanders are the most privileged female group of the population, the elite of Gilead. They do not work (and do not have the right to work), they are considered the keepers of the hearth, and in their free time they paint, knit or tend the garden.

All wives invariably wear turquoise, emerald or blue clothes, styles, like shades, can vary, but they always remain conservative, closed and always feminine. This symbolizes moral purity and the main purpose of these women – to be faithful companions of their husbands-commanders.

“The costumes of the commanders’ wives are the only place where I could really roam. Although the heroines could not dress provocatively, I had to somehow emphasize class inequality, their superiority over others. ”- En Crabtree.

Serena Joy is the wife of Commander Waterford and one of the main characters in The Handmaid’s Tale. She is a strong, tough and strong-willed woman who believes in the new regime and is ready to sacrifice personal interests for the sake of an idea. Her looks were inspired by fashion icons of yesteryear such as Grace Kelly and Jacqueline Kennedy. As Serena’s outlook and mood changes, so does her outfit.

“After she lost everything, she decides to fight for what she wants, and so I decided to change the shape of her outfits. From depressive, flowing fabrics into a kind of armor, ”- Natalie Bronfman.


The main character of the series June (played by Elisabeth Moss) belongs to the caste of the so-called maids.

Servants are a special group of women whose raison d’être is just to give birth to children for the families of the commanders. In fact, these are forced girls, deprived of freedom of choice, of any rights and attached to their masters, for whom they must produce offspring. All the maids wear a special uniform: bright red long dresses, the same red heavy capes, white caps and bonnets. First of all, this image refers us to the Puritans of the 17th century who colonized America. The image of maids is the personification of humility and the rejection of all sinful things in the name of higher goals.

Designing the style of the dress, En Crabtree was inspired by the robes of the monks in the Duomo in Milan.

“I was amazed how the hem of his robe swayed like a bell as the priest walked quickly through the cathedral. I made five dress designs and filmed Elisabeth Moss wearing them to make sure the dresses wiggle. The maids constantly wear only these outfits, so dresses, especially in crowd scenes, should not have looked static and boring. “

The red color in which the maids are clothed carries several messages. On the one hand, it symbolizes the main and only purpose of these women – the birth of a new life, on the other hand, it refers us to original sin, lust, passion, that is, to their “sinful” past, for which they are allegedly punished. Finally, red is the most practical color from the point of view of the bondage of maids, making them visible, and therefore vulnerable.

But there is another side to red – it is the color of protest, revolution and struggle. Servants walking the streets in identical red robes symbolize the struggle against oppression and lawlessness.

The headdress of the maids was also not chosen by chance. A closed white hood or “wings” covers not only the faces of the maids, but also the outside world from them, hindering communication and the possibility of contact. This is another symbol of total control over women in Gilead.

In the third season, a new detail appears in the guise of the maids – something like a muzzle that forbids them to speak.

“I wanted to silence the maids. At the same time, I covered only a third of my face to allow my nose and eyes to play. On the back, I’ve placed giant hooks that secure the veil in case it falls – which shouldn’t happen. The dichotomy of this lightweight fabric and heavy restraining hooks is rather uncanny. ”- Natalie Bronfman


Gray, inconspicuous, merging with gloomy concrete walls and sidewalks, marfa are another group of the population. This is a servant in the homes of the commanders, engaged in cooking, cleaning, washing, and sometimes also raising children. Unlike maids, Marthas cannot have children, and their function is reduced solely to serving the masters. This is the reason for their appearance: all the clothes of the marfa have a purely utilitarian function, therefore they are made of coarse, non-marking fabrics.


Aunts are adult or elderly female overseers who are involved in the education and training of maids. They are a respected caste in Gilead, and their uniforms were designed to emphasize their authority. The source of inspiration was the uniform of the American military during the Second World War.

The Handmaid’s Tale makes a lasting impression, thanks in part to the stunning color and imagery that captures the intense atmosphere of Gilead. And although the world of the future that we see is scary, shocking and terrifying, the series definitely deserves everyone’s attention.

The Handmaid's Tale

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The Handmaid's Tale 9

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