A Primer on Power Dressing From ‘House of Cards’

Loading
Loading Social Plug-ins...
Language: English
Save to myLibrary Download PDF

It was the black outfit in Episode 1 that made me sit up in surprise. That is to say, the black outfit that the first lady Claire Underwood wears to the funeral of the civilian beheaded by American Islamic extremists in the opening salvo of “House of Cards,” Season 5, the streaming drama that dropped last week. The single-breasted black Dolce & Gabbana neat-collared jacket atop the black Dolce & Gabbana dress that together looked eerily like a certain black Dolce & Gabbana coat recently worn during an official trip abroad by another first lady.

Then it was the buttons on the majority of Claire’s clothing throughout the series marching up to her garments with an almost military precision. The long white inaugural gown. The epaulets on a burgundy trench coat. The pencil skirts. The belts. The sharp shoulders. The high necks. The stilettos. Halfway through my binge-watching, I was scratching my head and thinking: Does the current first lady of the United States take her dressing cues from the first lady of Netflix programming? It’s not a giant leap of imagination to think the answer may be yes.

Consider not only the clear similarity in their chosen silhouettes but also the designer names: Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Dolce, Derek Lam. Consider that President Trump himself seems so much a product of his own television experience and obsession (though, sadly, Frank Underwood, whose Boss and Armani suits are always perfectly tailored, shirts custom-made and ties tied just so, does not seem to have had much impact).

We live in a world where the line between reality and TV is increasing, eerily fluid. And though there has been much debate about the parallels between the storyline of Season 5 and the story line of the Trump administration thus far (Russian interference! A desire to use the office to benefit oneself!), for point or face, the image associations are hard to ignore.

Indeed, the echoes are “quite remarkable,” said Johanna Argan, who has been the costume designer for “House of Cards” since Season 2. And it makes a certain sense. Someone looking for a crash course in protective power dressing could do worse than to look to the Underwoods.

After all, Ms. Argan and Kemal Harris, the stylist/designer who became responsible for Claire’s wardrobe in Season 3 (after working with the actress Robin Wright on her red carpet appearances), have made something of a study out of the art of political dress and the communications embedded therein. Not simply because they are helping to shape characters on TV, but because “it’s what politicians do in real life,” Ms. Argan said.

“They all have someone helping them who says this is what you should wear if you need to look more humble, or this is what you should wear if you need to look more authoritative,” she continued, citing a close friend who had worked in the Clinton administration and on Hillary Clinton’s campaign as proof. The point: Each piece the Underwoods wear is worn for a reason and has a subtext. It is not an accident, for example, that Claire wears the same style of Cartier watch Jackie Kennedy wore.

This has never been more calculated than in Season 5. (Spoiler alert: Though I waited a whole week to write this, out of respect for those whose jobs may necessitate a few nights in a row of watching as opposed to one all-day binge, there may be some plot reveals in the next few paragraphs.) The Underwoods are fighting for their political lives against the Washington establishment, and Claire, in particular, is fighting for power. And dresses for it. Of the 60 or so looks worn by Claire each season, about a third come straight from the runway, a third are sourced from department stores such as Barneys and Bergdorf, and a third are designed from scratch by Ms. Harris and made by LaVonne Richards, a tailor in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where Ms. Harris lives.

“She’s my secret weapon,” Ms. Harris said, adding that even when a piece is bought from a store or a designer, it is often customized. A gray tweed Michael Kors jacket, for example, had the buttons changed, the body slimmed and the sleeves shortened; a Burberry dress also had the buttons changed, a slit closed and the sleeves again shortened, the change in arm length meant to allude to the action of “rolling up your sleeves” without sacrificing any tailoring rigor. Tailoring being the key sartorial signature of Frank and Claire Underwood. “It conveys power and control,” said Ms. Argan, who also noted it is a style trick anyone can use. “You don’t need to have a garment made for you, but you can buy it and have it tailored for you.” (Indeed, Ms. Harris has had a mannequin made of Ms. Wright, and all Claire’s clothes are tailored precisely to her measurements.)

“The thing about Claire,” Ms. Harris said, “is she has always used her wardrobe to manipulate everyone around her, to disarm them or seduce them.” Or, in this case, arm herself and fight for her position. The military references and colors (olive green, burgundy, navy, black), so rife in her wardrobe, were chosen or added specifically to suggest going into battle. Whether you pick up on the association immediately, your subconscious may.

As it may the fact that in Season 5, Claire has swapped her Ralph Lauren Tiffin bag (a soft top-handle bag with a padlock) for a more structured Burberry Alchester, a rounded doctor shape, the better to imply, Ms. Harris said, “Claire saves the day.” Or at least that’s what said protagonist would like those around her to think. Notably, though Claire occasionally trades her pencil skirts for pants, she never wears a classic Hillary Clinton trouser suit, one in which the jacket and trousers match. When she reaches the pinnacle of power (make of that what you will), she wears a dress. Twice. “It’s time, really,” Ms. Harris said.

At least on TV. Ms. Harris equivocated a bit when asked her opinion of the real-world parallels, at least in terms of wardrobe, between Mrs. Trump and Mrs. Underwood. “There can always be comparisons made,” she said. But when it comes to the actual first lady, she added: “I think it will take her a bit of time to find her stride and decide what makes her distinct. There are certain basic guidelines we all share: avoid prints, avoid fabrics that wrinkle. You can tell, she’s learning from that handbook.”

Author:    | Visits: 438 | Page Views: 438
Domain:  AfterHours Category: Fashion Subcategory: Lifestyle Upload Date:
KY5_1496907462_1.jpg Fashion
Short URL: https://www.wesrch.com/afterhours/paperAF1KY527LQENV

Loading
Loading...