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‘The Crown’ Battles ‘Feud’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ in Period Costume Emmy Race

The period costume race is a royalty smackdown between "The Crown" and "Feud: Bette and Joan."

Matt Smith and Claire Foy in "The Crown."

“The Crown”

Alex Bailey/Netflix


This season all five period costume design nominees are steeped in politics and culture. But the smart money’s on “The Crown,” Netflix’s most prestigious and expensive series to date. Here the wardrobe of Queen Elizabeth II (nominated Claire Foy) expressed both her regal power and personal sacrifice. Plus Peter Morgan’s historical drama also fills the “Downton Abbey” void.

However, don’t underestimate the power of Old Hollywood with “Feud: Bette and Joan,” in which the contrasting wardrobes underscored the bitter rivalry between Bette Davis (nominated Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (nominated Jessica Lange).

FEUD: BETTE & JOAN -- Pictured: (l-r) Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis, Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford. CR: Kurt Iswarienko/FX.



But there’s a dark horse to be reckoned with: “The Handmaid’s Tale,” in which red dresses symbolized menstrual blood and political rage in capturing Margaret Atwood’s dystopian America along with the anti-Trump zeitgeist.

And the contrasting wardrobes of “Westworld” defined the best and worst of humanity inside the theme park and the futuristic programming center. Finally, “Genius” mixed politics with science by dressing up and down the young and mature Albert Einstein (Johnny Flynn and nominated Geoffrey Rush).

“The Crown”

The wedding and coronation dresses offered distinct challenges for costume designer Michele Clapton (three-time Emmy winner for “Game of Thrones”). Authenticity, particularly the iconic silhouette, was important for the wedding dress, as was a comfortable fit for Foy as Elizabeth by altering the arms slightly. But the train alone alone took six weeks to complete with its own dedicated teams of embroiderers and beaders.

Crown Season 1

“The Crown”

Alex Bailey/Netflix

The coronation dress, meanwhile, was created using white silk satin embroidered with the emblems of the UK and the Commonwealth. At Elizabeth’s insistence, there was a new design in the newly made purple Robe of Estate. And the embroidered cipher and border of wheat ears and olive branches took 35 hours to complete. Together, the outfits began to tell a deeply personal story about a very relatable Queen.

“Feud: Bette and Joan”

Old Hollywood had a tough time staying relevant in the ’60s, exemplified by the fierce competition between Crawford and Davis in the campy “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” Three-time Emmy-winning costume designer Lou Eyrich offered a great study in contrast, following the silhouettes in each movie star.

Susan Sarandon Jessica Lange Feud


Suzanne Tenner/FX

Crawford insisted on flaunting her glam stardom at all times but with icy cool colors, whereas the more secure Davis went informal with warm, autumnal colors. However, the highlight was the infamous ’63 Academy Awards, where Crawford upstaged Davis (nominated for “Baby Jane”). Edith Head designed Crawford’s head-turning beaded dress, and Eyrich not only matched the fabric and dye it, but also had it hand-beaded at an affordable price.

“The Handmaid’s Tale”

In Reed Morano’s adaptation of Atwood’s color-coded dystopia, the gray, muted look of the Gilead totalitarian state stood in sharp contrast to the vivid dresses. And most striking was the red of the handmaids. Costume designer Ane Crabtree made them blood red, which strikingly complemented the dark teal of the dresses worn by the Commander’s Wives.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE -- "Offred" - Episode 101 - Offred, one the few fertile women known as Handmaids in the oppressive Republic of Gilead, struggles to survive as a reproductive surrogate for a powerful Commander and his resentful wife. (Photo by: Take Five/Hulu)

“The Handmaid’s Tale”


The handmaid’s wardrobe became the best possible political statement, and never more so than in the two “salvaging” rituals. The women were allowed to stone a rapist to death in a public display of controlled anger and the sea of red was staggering. By contrast, the defiance at the end turned into a non-violent blood oath among the handmaids.


Costume designer Trish Summerville delighted in her twin settings for HBO’s sci-fi western. She not only got to do her first western, dressing up gunslingers, saloon girls, and natives, but also designing for a futuristic world.  Each western costume represented the epic expanse of the theme park, with warm colors and prints. Yet the robotic hosts had to be distinguishable from the guests with more striking outfits.


Delos, the programming center, marked by glass and concrete, offered Summerville the opportunity to dress the tech workers in icy cold wardrobes. This was indicative of humanity at its worst versus the more empathetic A.I. hosts.


National Geographic’s breakthrough anthology series, launched by director Ron Howard, was all about defining different periods in the extraordinary life of Einstein. As a result, costume designer Sonu Mishra portrayed changes in dressing and cultural styles between 1886 and 1955, with Einstein as the center of this universe. This necessitated a wide range of style, fashion, and socio-economic choices when it came to fabrics, hats, collars, military uniforms, and various accessories.

Geoffrey Rush, "Genius"

Geoffrey Rush, “Genius”

National Geographic/DusanMartincek

But for Einstein, there was a dramatic divide between the formal way he dressed as a student at Zurich’s Polytechnic Institute and later as a working scientist in Prague versus his more famous years after World War II in the U.S., when he exhibited a stylishly untidy appearance.

Will Win: “The Crown”

Could Win: “Feud: Bette and Joan”

Should Win: “The Crown”

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