Style in Film: Robin Wright in House of Cards

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Minimalist, elegant, tailored, cool and collected. Robin Wright’s wardrobe in House of Cards, as Claire Underwood, is one of the standouts of the series. Robin’s performance (to which I would add that her being beautiful, self-assured and so graceful in her late forties is to be taken note of too) is another one. Thought up to act like an armour, protecting the character and not revealing too much, her clothes do exactly that, playing a major part in defining Claire Underwood.

Everything about Claire is impenetrable, controlled, ruthlessly pragmatic, precise, studied. She is a politician’s wife (Francis “Frank” Underwood played by Kevin Spacey) and runs a non-profit organization in Washington and she dresses accordingly. She must look good, but not out of place, feminine, but strong and pulled-together. Her clothes are very structured, following and flattering the body line, but not hugging it, showing the waist and legs, looking appealing in just the right way. And they come in the most classic, neutral colour palette: navy blue, grey, black and muted earth tones. That’s the colour dress code on Capitol Hill and what I found very interesting was Tom Broecker’s (the series’ costume designer in the first season) reasoning that “with the neutral palette you can see the faces more, and we wanted to have the feeling of a Caravaggio painting and those carved out faces”.
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,Robin Wright as Claire Underwood wearing a Zac Posen dress and Antonio Berardi belt and a YSL bag.

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There is much talk in House of Cards, and everything has meaning or double meaning, not to mention Frank Underwood’s scenes in which he is connivingly speaking directly to the viewer (something borrowed from the original English version of House of Cards, starring fantastic Ian Richardson in the role of Francis Urquhart – Kevin Spacey wanted to do a nod to the British show wardrobe-wise too, by choosing to have all his suits tailored by a Saville Row company, Gieves & Hawke), but even more can be said with a telling wardrobe. Claire’s clothes are the most suggestive in this regard. And it’s not only the fit that matters so much, but the colour too. Grey is “like steel”, keeps her visible, but shielded, navy conveys confidence and authority, while black is not only empowering and commanding, but a power of seduction as well. But I must say that it’s not just the context in which they are worn that garners my interest, but their standing-alone simplicity and classiness, because so often that is the hardest to achieve.

Although most of the wardrobe was shopped for, Broecker says that everything had to be tailored on Robin, to be character-driven. A lot of her skirts, the pencil skirt being one of the character’s signature styles, are Prada or L’Wren Scott. Her shirts, man-tailored, are Theory and Banana Republic. For dresses (you hardly ever see Claire in trousers) they would go with Narciso Rodriguez, Gucci, Armani, Ralph Lauren, Zac Posen, and for coats, with Burberry. The Row and Calvin Klein were mentioned too. But even if the costumes are not designed in house, there is no random choice here, each dress and each look serves a purpose. You won’t see Claire Underwood in a pair of jeans (and I don’t even have a problem with that) or something casual, except for her running attire (always in black and grey). There is nothing relaxed about these people, they always have an agenda, everything they say has a meaning and they must put on an image when they leave the house. In fact, I think it’s safer for them to be always on guard and in control. The dress is primordial in helping you play the part.
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,Claire in the background, in a camel coat and grey wool scarf – one of the most elegant pairings.

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Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey in House of Cards

'Claire always wears the same diamond earrings, same watch, and her wedding band. She doesn’t need any artifices to command attention. She once wears a pearl necklace for an event and even that looks different on her, very fresh and understated. And haven’t I yet mentioned the hair-cut?

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photos: screen stills | Netflix

sources: interviews with House of Cards costume designer Tom Broecker for The Hollywood Reporter and Elle magazine

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