Becoming an Army

They never should have given us uniforms if they didn’t want us to be an army

Margaret Atwood
Protesting at the White House in Dec. 2017

In a city where protests are an almost daily occurrence, blood red cloaks and bright white bonnets have become the unofficial dress code for demonstrators. Inspired by Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Hulu’s television adaptation, which began its run two years ago, red-clad protestors can be seen everywhere from the White House to the Supreme Court to the National Mall. Nor is D.C. alone. Handmaids protested against Vice President Pence in Philadelphia last July and expressed support for the anti-harassment group Time’s Up at last year’s Golden Globes. Meanwhile, pro-choice activists have donned their red cloaks for protests in Buenos Aires, Dublin, and Warsaw.

The third Women’s March in 2019

In an interview with The Guardian, Margaret Atwood offered her thoughts on the newfound popularity of the red cloak: “The handmaid’s costume has been adopted by women in many countries as a symbol of protest about various issues having to do with the requisitioning of women’s bodies by the state.” She also noted some practical benefits: “Because it’s a visual symbol, women can use it without fear of being arrested for causing a disturbance, as they would be for shouting in places like legislatures. No one can accuse them of being immodest: they are well covered up.”

The red army comes to D.C.

Recently, the creators of D.C.’s handmade Handmaid costumes were able to compare their handiwork with the genuine article. Last Friday, Hulu filmed scenes for the upcoming third season of the series on the Mall. We got to see Elizabeth Moss and co-stars Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski on the Lincoln Memorial steps surrounded by more than 200 other actors, dressed as as guardians, aunts, wives and, of course, handmaids. It made for some very dramatic photos.

Elizabeth Moss
Elizabeth Moss

The extras came from around the D.C. area, hired for one long day of filming, reporting at 5 am. Many of them were happy to talk to us between takes. Some were huge fans of the show, and some had never seen it before but were eager to see the upcoming season and their cameos. Some of them were Equity actors in between more substantive roles, and some were new to being extras, but all of them maintained an air of excitement throughout the long day.

We were so intrigued by the filming that we couldn’t stop taking photos, so if you can’t stop looking, here’s a slideshow of some more:

Even though it is unlikely that the actual Handmaid filming will come back to D.C., we know that uses of the costume will continue, whether in straightforward or more creative forms.

March for Truth
17th Street High Heel Race

About the Handmaid costumes

When she wrote the book in 1985, Margaret Atwood described the handmaids’ red costumes as “the color of blood, which defines us” and the white bonnets as wings that are “designed to keep us from seeing.”

Thirty years later, when costume designer Ane Crabtree designed the costumes for the Hulu series, she not only had the descriptions in the book, but Atwood was available to consult on the series. Crabtree used military uniforms as inspiration for all of the costumes and the colors differentiating the various groups. The red she chose for the handmaids was a blood red, as described in the book, but the exact shade was selected to look good on many sorts of skin tones and in different lighting. As we watched the filming in D.C., we could see how well the color worked – it looked powerful against a wide variety of faces and skin tones, and worked equally well in bright sunlight and as the light faded later in the day.

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