Burb Beauty | Maybe don’t dress like a captive woman in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’
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Maybe don’t dress like a captive woman in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

Sure, Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” is the show of the moment — but did anyone expect the dystopian series to spark a clothing trend?

Suddenly, the handmaids’ blood-red robes — worn by women who are forced to breed for the show’s elite class — are everywhere.

In the real world, women have donned the look as symbolic protest garb. Recently, Kate Hakala at the Web site Racked noted that “Handmaid’s Tale” inspiration boards were popping up on shopping platforms like Polyvore, and that Etsy vendors had started selling made-to-order white bonnets.

The stark style has even evolved into high fashion. On June 8, Hulu teamed up with New York City-based label Vaquera, known for its avant-garde designs, on a “Handmaid’s”-themed collection. The results were surreal: a high-necked, puffed-sleeved Victorian dress made of what looked like PVC and worn with a vintage-inspired Suffragette’s apron; deconstructed crimson dresses with oversize ruffles, thigh-high slits and intricate ruching; and a cream-colored umbrella with a floor-scraping piece of muslin, held by a nearly-naked model. (“Mad Men” for Banana Republic, this was not.)

The proliferation of these costumes into the real world feels both inevitable and really, really weird. They’re undeniably striking, and when worn by a group of women — to protest a proposed Texas bill banning third-trimester abortions, for instance — they can make a strong visual and symbolic statement. Hulu has recognized this from the start, enlisting red-clad women to march the streets as promo during South by Southwest and, more recently, through Los Angeles as part of an Emmy campaign.

But when the red cloak begins to enter the realm of fashion, it gets a little more complicated. Are we so seduced by the series’ stunning art-directed surface that we’re losing sight of its meaning?

At best, these robes and bonnets will inspire people to think about fashion and the way it is used both to empower and to hold down others. At worst, they turn what should be a powerful symbol into an empty trend or good marketing.

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