Minimalism and badassery: From House of Cards to Empire, 6 TV characters who use neutrals for power

House of Cards Claire Underwood Style
Photography courtesy of Netlix
House of Cards Claire Underwood Style
Photography courtesy of Netflix

With the third season premiering today, February 27 officially marks the end of our year-long wait for more House of Cards.

This means we’ve had a lot of time to think. (Arguably too much time, but good luck trying not to.) So after the initial shock of season two’s finale wore off, we finally began processing the costumes, characters, and what each mean in the big scheme of things.

Surprise, surprise: it turns out that Claire Underwood and her neutral crisp, clean wardrobe follow a pattern. One that connotes madness, mayhem, and all sorts of imbalanced power—all at the hands of the wearer, whose clothes help her blend in and escape.

This gave us the excuse to round up the best and brightest characters (literally: these women love wearing white) of TV and movies to prove our theory. Fortunately for them, they’re in good company since Calvin Klein, Stella McCartney and Marni followed suit by leaning towards sharpness and subtlety for Spring 2015 too. (Meanwhile, The Row and Céline did the same thing, just a little darker.)

See the minimalism trend on the Spring 2015 runways

Here we examine the costumes of six of television’s most notorious badasses:

Scandal Olivia Pope Style

Olivia Pope

Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) is the queen of white. But unlike the above examples of neutrals-as-an-evil-tell, Olivia uses her flair for such as protection. First, as a professional fixer, she can’t have clients getting a read on her. (Enter: blank slate-sanctioned neutrals.) Second (and most importantly), white and creams tend to suggest purity, and since she’s — SPOILER — having an affair with the married president, that’s something she has to play up. It’s the ultimate diversion. And yes, her life is exactly as messy as anyone else I mentioned who hides behind their clothes.

Empire Anika Gibbons Style

Anika Gibbons

There’s something about Anika Gibbons (Grace Gealey). Engaged to hip-hop mogul Lucious Lyons (Terrance Howard), the J.Crew poster girl showed her true colours when she—SPOILER—slipped drugs into an artist’s drink to get back at his ex-wife, Cookie (Taraji P. Henson). But aside from our gut feeling as viewers, Anika’s motives and true self was unreadable until that moment. Where Cookie wears her heart on her boldly printed sleeves, Anika is closed off and distanced, opting for no-nonsense minimalist pieces that only add to her poker face. (But not in the Lady Gaga sense of the word.)

House of Cards Claire Underwood Style

Claire Underwood
House of Cards

Well let’s just get down to business. Claire Underwood’s (Robin Wright) power increases as the colour palette of her wardrobe does the opposite. So while season one saw her in casual pieces (lest we forget her not-for-profit and the fact she once wore a vest), last season saw increasingly fitted silhouettes, tailored button-ups, streamlined running gear, and the erasure of anything not simple and minimalist. Even her peach skirt and blue pencil dress (also of last season) were worn as and alongside neutrals: that’s because colour and print connote personality, and to play up to what the American people want you to be means you’ve got to be an unreadable blank slate.

Orange is the new Black Vee

The Villains
Orange is the New Black

We know, we know: Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) and friends wear a prison-issued uniform thanks to where they currently reside. But lest we forget that each character puts their own spin on their clothes, and that last season’s villain, Vee Parker (Lorraine Toussaint) kept her’s completely basic. (She wore a grey shirt underneath and then later, at one point, a coat. Crazy, right? A coat.) But alas, she kept the pattern strong: morphing into whoever she was manipulating wanted to be, her victims couldn’t get a read until it was too late. (RIP.)

Coven Fiona Style

American Horror Story: Coven

Sure, black clothing usually equates to witchcraft in the pop cultural sense of the word, but considering Coven was set in 2013, wearing black as a type of uniform is basically an option. But not for Fiona (Jessica Lange), coven leader and witch Supreme. Girlfriend wore basic black on a regular basis, parading her sorcery (within reason) while using her wardrobe to stay chic, stylish, and above all, young. Which is how she lures you in: one minute you’re sitting across from her, the next she’s literally sucking the life out of you. Colour is for the soft, people.

Homeland Carrie Matheson Style

Carrie Matheson

To be real, Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes) has made such a mess of her professional and personal lives that I believe wearing a parade of neutrals is the only way she can dress without truly overwhelming herself. Minimalism: it’s not just for masking who you are (it’s also for alluding to a sense of stability among serious chaos).

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