The fashion world has fallen for the austere beauty of The Handmaid’s Tale, the Emmy award winning TV series based on writer Margaret Atwood’s chilling depiction of a dystopian, not too distant future where women have lost all rights and are property of a totalitarian theocracy called Gilead, once the USA.
Actress Elisabeth Moss plays Offred, a woman who has been ripped from her family to become a handmaid for the ruling elite. In this world where human fertility rates have collapsed due to pollution and warfare, she must submit to ritualized rape with her master to bear children. So cheery stuff all round. The heavy story line isn’t putting off designers with references to the handmaid’s red robes and white bonnet uniform seen on the Spring Summer 2018 catwalks of Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, Vera Wang, Paul and Joe and Emilia Wickstead.
“We’re living in an anarchical time when people have lost faith in leaders and society,” Justin Thornton told Vogue Magazine “We want women to deconstruct their own femininity and reconstruct it so they can be whatever they want.”
Vera Wang may have opted for a darker palette but there was no mistaking the silhouette. The designer had become consumed by the story of The Handmaid’s Tale, reading the book and binge-watching the series on Hulu. The current mood of feminism revived and emboldened also fed into her inspiration for her Spring Summer 2018 show.
In a statement, she wrote: “The loss of any personal freedom, the fear of retribution, the cruelty of forcing women to be so stratified and categorized, and most of all having to obliterate their pasts and their identities is something profoundly troubling.”
It’s no surprise women’s rights groups have taken the symbolism of repression and subjugation of the handmaid’s uniform to heart. In September a group representing ROSA – Reproductive rights against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity – wore the handmaid’s uniform outside the Dáil to mark the first meeting of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment.
In the US, the sight of more than a dozen women in red capes and white bonnets, heads bowed, at a committee meeting in Ohio to discuss a proposal to ban common abortion, said more than words ever could. It followed similar protests in Missouri and Texas which are also putting forward bills to decrease access to abortion.
As ever fashion, is never as frivolous as it initially appears.
More than 30 years after the book was first published, Margaret Atwood’s bleak story has struck a chord again with readers, making its way to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list in the weeks after Donald Trump’s inauguration. Add to that, Hulu’s hit TV series, so beautifully shot and elegantly told, we can expect to see plenty more references to the Handmaid’s uniform for years to come.
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