Watching The Handmaid's Tale can be such an intense, overwhelming experience — pulse-quickening, , depressing, enraging, nauseating — that you're probably not paying attention to the little details, from the references in the dialogue to the hidden symbolism in the set design. So the fact that there are easter eggs in the characters' costumes that we failed to pick up on is not surprising. But now that we've noticed them, we're all the more impressed by the new Hulu show.
Costume designer Ane Crabtree spoke to Jezebel about her work on the show, starring Elisabeth Moss. And one of the pieces of symbolism that we learned about is kind of amazing: an subtle ode to the female reproductive system on the sadistic Aunt Lydia's (Ann Dowd) outfit. "So there’s this element of a vagina, inverted on the Aunts’ outfits," Crabtree said, before explaining how a piece of feminist art became the inspiration behind the design. "When I was young, I’d heard about Judy Chicago who did these installations in the ’70s. It was my first exposure to feminism in artwork and it really had a giant effect on me. I remember [in 'The Dinner Party'] that she had painted female body parts [on plates] and I thought, Wow, that’s amazing because you’re eating it, like, your food’s on top of it, it’s in your face. There’s no way you cannot see that and react to it. I loved that."
There was another motivation for incorporating the inverted vagina, though: subverting the patriarchy, fittingly. "[It] also came from that whole sentence I gave myself to be a Commander, creating these imprisonments called costumes for everybody. I wanted to put little 'fuck yous,” little humorous secrets for the women in the clothing. Like, 'You might think that you’ve put this military, long, priest-like robe on me as an Aunt, but there’s not gonna be a cross around my neck, there’s gonna be a fucking giant vagina!'" We love it. Check out Crabtree's metaphorical middle finger, below. Pretty sneaky, right?