The tiny but fascinating details you might never notice in The Handmaid's Tale.


The Handmaid’s Tale is being called the most important TV series of the year and it’s not hard to see why.

Adapted from Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel of the same name, it’s the story of ‘Offred’, a ‘Handmaid’ living in the Republic of Gilead where women have had their rights and power totally stripped and are now reduced to reproductive vessels.

It’s dark, it’s harrowing and most scarily of all, tells of events not entirely unthinkable.

Listen: The Binge host Laura Brodnik explains why The Handmaid’s Tale is the most important TV show of 2017. 

The series dropped on SBS On Demand last week and already has Australian viewers transfixed (and horrified).

However, like all slick TV productions nowawdays, the devil really is in the details. No matter how far into the show you are, here are the six small but important details you might have missed that say so much.

1. Why the Handmaids wear red.

The Handmaids are fertile women given to wealthy and powerful families to procreate when the wives cannot.

They wear sexless floor length gowns, “in the colour of blood, which defines us.”. As well as representing fertility and the womb, it’s also the colour of adultery, which is technically what the Handmaid’s role in society entails.

Many also have what the regimen considered “scandalous” pasts, including divorce, rape, abortion or homosexuality.


According to costume designer Ane Crabtree, much deliberation went into finding the perfect red.

Image: SBS On Demand

"We put up a million reds on different colors of skin, because we knew that this red had to cinematically look discordant when it needed to be, and [look] beautiful cinematically when it needed to, pending the story," she told Vanity Fair.


The selected red was a dark menstrual blood red.

“There’s a tiny percentage of women who can have babies in Gilead, and those are the Handmaids. That’s their menstrual flow; that’s their lifeblood. You can see them coming a mile away, flowing down the street, like a river of blood.”

2. The reason why the wives wear blue-green.

It's not easy being a woman in Gilead, but some are marginally less oppressed than others. The wives are high-ranking "pure" women married to commanders or senior men in power.

In the book, wives wear blue to represent the Virgin Mary but in the latest adaptation, they're seen in teal, a more blueish green.

Image: Hulu

"I was shown a picture of red maple leaves against a perfect moody teal sky. From that photo was birthed the genesis of the Handmaids’ clothing as well as that of the Commanders’ Wives," Crabtree told Vanity Fair.

"The colors were two opposites that would look beautiful together and stand alone, opposing each other in the frame. It was a great visual metaphor for where we wanted to go in the story, and I love it that the inspiration was from nature."

Their clothes are slightly more fitted and individual looking, suggesting that their social status possibly allowed them access to old luxuries like a tailor.

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3. The hidden vagina on screen.

Get out your microscope.

"I did an inverted female vagina in the design of the Aunt’s collars. If you look subtly, you’ll see that," Crabtree told Vanity Fair.

"It’s sort of my way of saying, ‘Fuck you.’ I have to design this in a way to oppress women, but I can give them their own pleasure—whether it’s metaphorical or real, physically. I had to oppress women, but I wanted to free them mentally, through design."

Image: Hulu

4. The haunting details in Offred's room.

The bedroom where the series' protagonist spends most of her time is specifically designed to highlight the life Offred was forced to leave behind.

"We put a desk there, but she can't write. So it's almost like a remnant, a remembrance of 'Oh, I was a writer, an editor. I can't even sit and write anymore'," production designer Julie Berghoff told Architectural Digest.


Look closely and you'll also see the faded outline of a mirror that's been removed, as vanity is considered a sin in Gilead.

watch the handmaids tale australia
Elizabeth Moss is Offred. Image: SBS.

5. The labels in the supermarket.

The regime has banned women from reading and writing, which includes labels on food.

According to Berghoff, the graphics team took hours to design hundreds of replacement labels with images instead of words to stick all over the shop.


The fact that the supermarket looks so familiar makes it even more striking.

Image: SBS

"When they go shopping, it's not in some old-timey-looking place," Samara Wiley who plays Offred's friend Moira said.

"It's in a shopping center that looks like now. And I think those details make it a little scarier; it's really in the world we are living in right now."

5. The reason for the Handmaids' lace-less boots.

Atwood's original novel references attempts by Handmaids to self-harm in order to escape their lives and the subsequent steps taken by the regimen to remove all tools that would allow this.
This is references in the shoes the Handmaids wear.
"I gave the Handmaids lace-up boots that were modeled after a pair I have, but then I took away their laces so that they can’t even consider killing themselves," Crabtree said.
"We sewed the grommets down, and then on top of that we did a boot cover, so they can’t even be reminded that they used to have laces. It’s just a sleek cover. That was a way of oppressing them mentally."
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