Now halfway through its third season, things on Hulu’s nightmarish exploration of existence in a misogynistic, totalitarian state “The Handmaid’s Tale” are as tense as they’ve ever been. Though things continue to be dire inside Gilead, the series has found new storytelling opportunities by expanding the show’s vision, taking the show — literally — on the road to Washington, D.C. and in the process, expanding the scope of the whole of Gilead.
And, most importantly, introducing a ton of fantastic new costumes.
Series costume designer Natalie Bronfman served as the show’s costume supervisor and buyer through the first two seasons, before taking over as designer this season. Bronfman welcomed IndieWire to the show’s set in April and offered insights into her process and the sheer volume of costumes the season demanded.
For instance, in “Under His Eye,” viewers see Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) attend a formal ball in D.C. amidst dozens of other commanders and wives. For Bronfman, that meant creating over 50 gala dresses in a variety of shapes and fabrics in a matter of weeks.
“It’s the first time you’ve seen the wives in different fabrics and in formal wear,” she explained, detailing the strategy between wives who were extras and wives who needed to be dressed to the nines.
“For the background wives, we had three different shapes for gowns. So what we did is build bases, stick them on dummies and then accessorize them all differently, whether it was with little jackets or flowers or whatever,” Bronfman said.
Suffice it to say, it also meant that the designer leaned heavily on one of the show’s secret weapons: milliner Rebecca Fowler.
“She built all of our fascinators from scratch, decorating each with flowers or feathers or ribbon and making them as make them as freely and fluffy and floral as you can. It’s amazing. It’s like designing for a royal wedding we’ll never be invited to,” the designer shared.
Libby Hill/ Courtesy of Hulu
Bronfman also had a bigger project underway within the world of the wives. Central to this season’s narrative is the character arc for Serena, who begins the season in a state of virtual mourning and slowly blossoms into a more assertive and canny version of herself. It’s a transformation you can see reflected in her wardrobe.
“[Serena’s] progression of costumes have gone from being very unhappy into being a powerful woman,” and beyond, Bronfman explained. Early in the season, Serena visits her mother in a small town and can be seen wearing ill-fitting dresses, likely handed down from neighboring wives. The shapes were loose, the colors dark, but as the season progresses, Serena’s clothes tighten, sleeken, as her color scheme slowly brightens, not unlike the color variations in a peacock.
But perhaps nothing served as a bigger challenge to the “Handmaid’s” costume team than the hundreds of crimson-clad handmaids on the National Mall featured in Episode 6.
“So we had to make 200 handmaid’s gowns and then 54 gala dresses in a matter of weeks,” Bronfman laughed. “It was a lot of fun. And everyone here’s from theater and they have three thousand different skills. Hat, shoes, dresses, sewing, dyeing, knitting, crocheting, you name it, they can do it.”
“The Handmaid’s Tale” releases new episodes every Wednesday on Hulu.