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'The Handmaid's Tale': Meaning Behind the Colors the Women Wear

Colors of women's clothes on 'The Handmaid's Tale' have hidden meanings.

By Margaret MinnicksPublished 5 years ago 4 min read
Serena Joy, a wife in teal. Aunt Lydia in brown. June, a handmaid in red. (Photo Courtesy of Hulu)

The colors the women wear on the popular Hulu series The Handmaid's Tale are not just any colors. They are not colors the women themselves have chosen to wear. Instead, they are colors the women have been forced to wear that represent their roles in the totalitarian theocracy known as Gilead. The color of the women's clothes indicates their duties, along with hidden meanings

Even though the women have been silenced, their clothes speak volumes about who they are and what they represent. Since the colors identify the women and speak for them, what are the colors saying? The costume designers for the series have given us some clues.

The Handmaids Wear Deep Red

Handmaids (Photo via YouTube Screenshot)

All handmaids are required to wear long, loose, deep red dresses. When it is cold and they have to go outside, they also wear matching cloaks. The color of the garment indicates their function. They are to have sexual intercourse once a month with the high-ranking Commander they have been assigned to. The Commander's barren wife sits at the handmaid's head, and holds her hand so she can lie motionless. This is the wife's part in the conception of a child that will be turned over to her.

Red indicates the handmaids’ fertility. The color is believed to represent fertility. Lead costume designer, Natalie Bronfman, recently told InStyle the red also represents passion, power, and courage.

Former lead costume designer Ane Crabtree told Vulture that the color of the handmaids' garments was meant to symbolize "lifeblood," because the handmaids' main duty was to function as reproductive organs.

A practical reason for the handmaids wearing red is so they will stand out in a crowd. That way it is easy for them to be caught if they step out of line.

The blood red of the handmaids' dresses is no longer limited to the series. Women are wearing red garments in protest of how the handmaids are treated in Gilead. The dresses have also become a popular choice for Halloween costumes.

In contrast to red, the handmaids also wear white bonnets and wings to symbolize purity and innocence. The white wings cover their heads and faces to separate them from the world, and to separate the world from them.

The Wives Wear Teal

Serena Joy, wife of a Commander (Photo Courtesy of Hulu)

The wives wear teal. While teal is beautiful, it is actually a color of subservience. Wives of the Commanders do not have a voice. In many ways, they don't have much more power than the handmaids or the Marthas. They are at the mercy of their husbands, and are punished when they step out of line. Once Serena Joy, the most prominent wife on the show, went against her husband's wishes. He punished her by ordering her finger to be cut off as a reminder not to defy him again.

The teal of Serena's clothing is a beautiful, powerful color associated with unhappiness, sadness, and depression. That why we hear the expression that someone is "feeling blue." Serena often looks blue on the series as seen in the above photo.

The Marthas Wear Dull Green

A Martha on the extreme right (Photo Courtesy George Kraychyk via Hulu)

The Marthas are the domestic servants who take care of the house. They are older, infertile women who cannot bear children, but they can raise other people's children. They wear dull green smocks like a surgeon's gown. The dress is long and concealing with a bib apron over it.

The color is usually associated with nature, growth, health, and healing. It might be a sign of new growth for the Marthas, and the handmaids they often try to help. Remember, it was because of the Marthas that June was able to smuggle her baby out of Gilead in the finale of season two.

The Aunts Wear Brown

Aunt Lydia (Photo Courtesy of Hulu)

The aunts are the ones who train and police the handmaids. They punish them by beating them, burning them, and ordering them to be maimed. The aunts are the only class who have a certain amount of authority compared to other women. For example, they are the only group who are permitted to read.

Aunts wear brown clothes that are meant to symbolize authority. It is the color of military uniforms of World War I. Aunt Lydia is the head aunt. She calls the handmaids her girls. She says whenever she punishes them, it is for their good. Viewers have commented on social media that they don't like her, because she is evil.

Other Colors

Econowives are women married to men of lower rank. They are expected to perform all the duties of a wife, such as satisfying their husbands, giving him companionship, and bearing his children. Their dress is multicolored red, blue, and green to represent their various roles.

Both men and women in the colonies wear grey that symbolizes their insignificance and lack of importance. Unwomen in the polluted Colonies are sterile women, single women, widows, feminists, lesbians, nuns, Jezebels past their prime, and other socially-unaccepted women. Also, handmaids who do not bear a child during their three two-year assignments are also banished to work in the Colonies.

Serena Joy’s mother, a widow, wears a color that looks like it is close to black, but it is a deep purple like the Purple Heart awarded to soldiers who have been wounded in battle.

Are There More Colors to Come?

According to the costume designers, do not be surprised if you see women wearing more colors in their roles. While they aren't allowed to speak for themselves, the color of their clothing will say something loud and clear in upcoming episodes.


About the Creator

Margaret Minnicks

Margaret Minnicks shares articles with readers all over the world. Topics include celebrities, royal family, movies, television, foods, drinks, health issues, and other interesting things. Thanks in advance for TIPS that are sent my way.

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