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‘House of Cards': Claire Underwood’s New Style Mirrors Her Big Promotion, Costume Designer Explains

Kemal Harris tells TheWrap what her favorite Claire frock is from Season 5 and explains why it’s so important

“House of Cards” fans know that Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) has a distinct style: usually neutral colors, form-fitting silhouettes and killer heels. But what they may not have picked up on is the fact that her style has evolved along with her character over the course of five seasons.

In Season 5, Claire gets a big promotion. (If you haven’t watched yet, we suggest you go catch up. We’ll wait here as major spoiler ensues.)

Back? Great. You now know that Claire is sworn in as Acting President of the United States. She doesn’t get a big, traditional ceremony, but nonetheless, the show’s costume designer Kemal Harris wanted to give Claire a special, presidential look for the occasion.

“I knew that her character was going to go through some flipping and flopping, back and forth of acting president. Elected president, I knew she was going to have the ultimate power struggle with Francis,” Harris told TheWrap. “There was a lot of conversation about what would Claire wear getting sworn in, and she never got to have the big inauguration moment that she probably would have loved to have had. But the first swearing in, I custom designed that two-toned blue dress with military buttons, that goes from the collar all the way down to the hem.”

House Of Cards

Adding “military elements” to Claire’s wardrobe gave her a more dominating, in-charge feel, said Harris. “Her dream was really to have the ultimate power seat, to be in that power seat and have control over everything. She’s a little bit of a secret dictator even though we all know how evil and conniving she can be,” said the show’s costume designer. “I had a lot of military buttons. We went back to black — I usually make a concerted effort to stay away from too much black– but there were definitely scenes where I did monochromatic black, and that was at the beginning of the season.”

Harris added: “She was definitely buttoned-up, ready for work. That was a concerted effort. There were some discussions between Robin and I about what would her silhouette be for Season 5. We thought tough, militaristic, buttoned up, long sleeves, more pants — which we’re still evolving Claire into bringing more pants into her wardrobe.”

Harris said that Claire’s style is particularly indicative of her character’s story because she “uses her clothing and her feminine power as a way to intimidate.”

But don’t mistake her feminine power for overt sexuality.

“A thing that I’ve really been proud of is everyone says, ‘My god Claire is — she’s so sexy, she’s so vicious’… But you never see her cleavage, never a mini skirt. We’re not flashing the body in a really blatant way, but we’re tailoring everything so that you’re seeing the shape and you’re getting the impressions but we’ve never had to play that sexuality card,” she told TheWrap.

“For a lot of women in business, women in politics — it’s always that fine line you’re always treading. ‘Do I have to dress like a man to be taken seriously?’ The whole pants discussion, and Hillary Clinton’s suit discussion, you can go on and on with that,” said Harris.

“At the end of the day, I think it’s refreshing and interesting and fascinating to watch how someone in her position — Claire — achieves such high status as president and vice president, and she’s done it being very feminine and wearing skirts and heels — because that’s her choice,” Harris continued. “That’s her power suit.”

See the gallery below for more on Claire’s style evolution over all five seasons.

“House of Cards” Season 5 is now streaming on Netflix.