A Queen of Hearts in a House of Cards

The world's greatest collection of pencil skirts (and spoilers) ahead


When Netflix decided they wanted to create an original television series, they had two things: buckets full of money and unprecedented access to the viewing patterns of all Netflix customers. They knew that Netflix watchers liked Kevin Spacey, they liked political dramas, they liked the original British series House of Cards—I like to imagine a Netflix executive listing all these elements in a board meeting, gesturing with his hands, and then putting his hands together. “Synergy, man,” he would say to the nods and raised eyebrows of his fellow business associates. And then maybe they would all laugh maniacally before getting David Fincher on the phone.

While I have no problem dismissively reducing the bare elements of House of Cards to metadata and previous viewing patterns, the truth is, I love the show. Kevin Spacey plays a malicious, vindictive politician (is there another kind?) hellbent on destroying the careers of the people between him and the presidency. The first episode begins with him killing a wounded dog. On a moral scale, the show only goes downhill from there.

But what can I say? I love a trashy soap, especially a beautifully lit and exceptionally well-acted highbrow trashy soap. There’s no convoluted political drama too outlandish for me. And there’s no character I love more than Claire Underwood.

Playing Kevin Spacey’s wife, Robin Wright is an absolute and perfect queen amongst mere mortals. Wright plays her like an iceberg: ostensibly cold and unyielding, her lines of dialogue are sparse, clipped, and contain miles of meaning below the surface. Her smiles are few and far between and seem reserved for business associates (or business-like transactions within her own marriage). I’m not even sure if I’m supposed to like Claire. The very first episode shows her pressuring her office manager to fire half the staff at her non-profit organization. The office manager resists every step of the way, but does it to please Claire. Once the office manager has completed her task, Claire fires her.

After repeated viewings with many pauses to consider Robin Wright’s complete and flawless beauty, I started to wonder: is Claire Underwood the only character on House of Cards with a symbolic wardrobe?

When you have a television show that seeks to expose the highest levels of modern American government, there’s no room for creative liberties. We all know what politicians look and dress like. Their clothes are conservative and boring as hell. The colour palette is black, navy, gray, and white, with tasteful hints of red. Accessories are flag pins for men, delicate Tiffany earrings for women. Shoes are leather loafers and sensible heels, always black. Even the journalists wear a kind of uniform on House of Cards—sweatshirts, jeans, simple tight dresses and fuck-me heels when the occasion calls for them.

Of course Claire has patterns. As befits the wife of a prominent politician, she does subscribe to the unofficial dress code. Her colour palette is almost exclusively black, white, navy, and grey. She likes crisp button down shirts, thick-rimmed black glasses, crewneck dresses with t-shirt sleeves, pencil skirts, blazers, and silk blouses. She likes all these things to be tight. Her shoes are black Louboutins. Nothing about her wardrobe seems out of the ordinary. But I work at WORN—I know there’s always more to an outfit than our first impressions.






If I had to guess what Claire Underwood thinks of herself, I would say she considers her body a temple. At multiple points during House of Cards we see her jogging; her arms are lean and muscular, evidence of some sort of trendy and rigorous workout regime. Her meticulously organized vanity points to regular applications of only the best skin care. She’s even the type of woman who wears a slip under dresses. Claire Underwood knows how to put herself first.

But her outfits give the impression that Claire Underwood is not a temple unto herself. Rather, the more I stare at her tight dresses and pencil skirts in neutral colours, the more I see a pillar in the most traditional sense of the word. A pillar like the classical order of pillars in ancient Greco-Roman architecture. In one of the few scenes where Claire shows real fury, she lays bare a laundry list of all the morally ambiguous compromises she’s made in order to help her husband, and we realize that Claire has been the centre of this entire drama. While Kevin Spacey schemes and manipulates in the strangest Southern accent I’ve ever heard, Claire has silently been paving the way for his success at great expense to her own. She has been propping up her husband, bearing the weight of his political machinations, carved not out of ice but of concrete and stone.

I’ve seen other reviews comparing Claire to Lady Macbeth. I find that to be a horribly reductive and cliché take on what is a rare complex female character. Unlike Lady Macbeth, Claire Underwood has complete agency over her own life—while she benefits from her husband’s political ties, she wants them for her own benefit. Her non-profit agency brings clean water to developing nations. Her goals hardly begin and end with the social status she gains from her husband. It’s worth noting that Lady Macbeth was often the go-to comparison for Hillary Clinton—a sad reminder that we have few female archetypes to compare and contrast in contemporary culture, fictional or otherwise.


Early in the series, Claire has a professionally triumphant fundraising event. She wears a stunning silver dress that appears to be fused to her flesh. Later, Zoe Barnes (another female character I could write another 1000 words on) tries on this same dress. “It feels like armour,” she says, letting us know what such a dress feels like on a normal human woman.

It did not surprise me at all that Claire would not want to wear a simple, breathable fabric. Of course she would cover herself in something hard, something impenetrable, something that would protect her from the outside world, something more suited to who she really is underneath. In her clothes, we can see how she really exists as a pillar of unparalleled support amidst a cast of flimsy humans. Her tragedy is that she is all strength, all concrete, yet she exists solely to prop up a mere house of cards.

Très Click: Best of 2012 Edition

Haley Wornette picks a few of her favorite fashion articles from the past year

My job title is publisher, but sometimes I feel like it should be changed to lobbyist. I am really a lobbyist for the “fashion is important” agenda. The “fashion is feminist” agenda. I am staunchly pro-clothes.

I’m not going to pretend like I’m some sort of feminist hero because I believe that clothes deserve the same sort of recognition we give to other forms of creative expression—please, put your crown away, I could never take something so bejeweled—but I will share with you that I feel very, very strongly that fashion and clothing deserve way more respect in the general culture. I can talk about it for hours. Believe me, I do talk about it for hours.

Luckily for me, 2012 had some of the very best fashion writing I’ve ever seen. I’ve rounded up a few of my favourite pieces by some of the most intelligent fashion writers working today, people who share my conviction and lobbying tendencies.

Maybe a better term for my unofficial position would be fashion evangelist. Even with all the flaws, fashion and clothing are things that I believe in—I have faith that they matter. They matter in the ways we know (as ways to cover our bodies) and they matter in some pretty shitty ways (excess consumption, materialism, and greed) and then they matter in some really important ways (as evidence of our beliefs, our values, our choices, sartorial or otherwise). Here are just a few of my favorite articles from people who share my holy love of fashion. PREACH.

New York Fashion Week by the Numbers: More Models Of Color Are Working
by Jenna Sauers

In the fashion industry, I think hard data is especially important. It’s the best way to really, honestly see where the trends are—and the best way to identify where the problems are. It’s hard to deny that a designer has a problem with diversity when a chart exists that details exactly how white a runway show was.

Jenna has been tracking diversity on the runway since the Fall-Winter 2008 New York Fashion Week season, and the results are showing signs of improvement:

“This season proved to be the most racially diverse that we have ever counted. For the second time ever (and the second season in a row), white models actually comprised just less than 80% of the total model pool. Contrast that with the 87% of all runway spots that were give to white models in Fall-Winter 2008, when we began keeping track of models and race at NYFW.”

That said, this data can only accomplish so much. As Jenna pointed out in her 2010 roundup, “race is a social construct, not a fact,” and representations of beauty don’t fall into neat black or white categories.

The important thing is: “Fashion still has a long way to go before all forms of beauty are truly given equal consideration—but this season is another small step in the right direction.”

Passions Burn After Bangladesh Factory Fire
by Max Mosher

The tragedy in Bangladesh was much too familiar—as Max Wornette pointed out in his regular style column in the Toronto Standard, the devastating incident was reminiscent of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. In 1911, the horror was enough to create a union that fought to protect workers’ rights and higher safety standards; will the same happen in Tazreen?

Your Brain on Fashion
by Minh-Ha T. Pham

Suzy Menkes told AnOTher Magazine that: “I think there’s too much mixing fashion and intellect. Fashion ultimately is designed to cover the human body, to give you joy, to make you feel better. I don’t think it has to have a great intellectual meaning… to intellectualize fashion too much, to me, is just going the wrong way.” I respectfully disagree, and so does Minh-Ha T. Pham.

Pham cues up her “usual spiel,” as she puts it, to explain how “anti-intellectual discourses about fashion are so often covers for sexist assumptions about the meaninglessness of all things feminine and/or related to femininity.” I want her to say this again, and again, and then I want to shout it from a rooftop. A perfect summation of why fashion—and more importantly, why clothing—matters.

What The Fuck Is Nail Art?
by Rachel Seville

It’s no secret that I love my nail art. And I’m hardly an early adapter—I came to the trend late, after years of never painting my nails. I wrote about why I love nail art here (and here!), but I also love to point people to Rachel Seville’s handy guide for people who just want to know what the fuck is nail art?

Why Everyone Suddenly Cares About Nail Art
by Hillary Reinsberg

On Buzzfeed Shift, Hillary Reinsberg wonders about the origins of nail art—the trend of outlandish designs and 3D bedazzled elements has been popular in black communities for quite awhile, but now that the trend has gone mainstream (and now that the Times is ON IT), that seems to be a key fact that’s missing from all the coverage. There’s also a class element involved here—nail polishes are easy ways to allow people who can’t afford a hula hoop bag to participate in a brand. Reinsberg speaks with editors from Allure, New York Magazine, and Robin Givhans to get an alternative perspective on the trendiest trend of 2012.

Who Needs Halloween? Girl, 8, dresses as historic figures all year
by Jennifer Carlile

Ugh, ugh, my ovaries: an eight-year-old girl in Nebraska wears a different historical costume every day of the school year, drawing inspiration from the book “100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century.”

Reddit Users Attempt To Shame Sikh Woman, Get Righteously Schooled
by Lindy West

There has been a LOT of talk about the evils of the Internet this year (and in readings unrelated to fashion, I would highly recommend Adrian Chen’s article on Violentacrez and Patrick McGuire’s ongoing series on what really happened to Amanda Todd), but I do believe the Internet is just an extension of the real world. Sometimes, the real world is so sad and mean and horrible you just want to shut it down forever, but sometimes, someone who was publicly shamed for her facial hair on Reddit writes an eloquent explanation for why she is not ashamed and why her faith is more important to her than conventional ideas of beauty, and the person who did the shaming listens and responds with a real heartfelt apology, and as Lindy West says, on those days, our hearts grow three sizes.

What’s So Bad About A Boy Who Wants To Wear A Dress?
by Ruth Padawar

Seriously, though: what IS so bad about a boy who wants to wear a dress? Ruth Padawar interviews several families with children who identify as gender-fluid or gender-variant and looks into the history of people who challenged traditional gender norms. Padawar writes:

“The parents of boys in that middle space argue that gender is a spectrum rather than two opposing categories, neither of which any real man or woman precisely fits…. It might make your world more tidy to have two neat and separate gender possibilities,” one North Carolina mother wrote last year on her blog, “but when you squish out the space between, you do not accurately represent lived reality. More than that, you’re trying to ‘squish out’ my kid.”’

Boy With Down Syndrome Becoming An Unlikely Ad Star
by Tim Nudd

Early in 2012, Ryan, a child model with Down Syndrome, was featured in catalogs by Target and Nordstrom, featured exactly where he should be: modeling clothes right beside his neurotypical peers. As the father of another child with Down syndrome and the author of the blog Noah’s Dad says: “This wasn’t a ‘Special Clothing For Special People’ catalog,” he writes. “There wasn’t a call out somewhere on the page proudly proclaiming that ‘Target’s proud to feature a model with Down syndrome in this week’s ad!’…. In other words, they didn’t make a big deal out of it. I like that.” To read more on clothes, fashion, and Down Syndrome, read our interview with the owner of Downs’ Designs.

What Fashion’s “Ethnic” Prints Are Really Called
by Connie Wang

“Ethnic” and “tribal” prints are high up on the list of useless, nonsensical, and offensively bad, yet ubiquitous, fashion copy. Connie Wang of Refinery29 correctly points out that “Lumping all similar prints into one group or referring to them by a descriptor rather than their real names is just as silly as calling jeans “blue pants,” and helpfully provides a comprehensive vocabulary lesson so that we can all learn the difference between ikat and batik prints. Slate also detailed the history and the contemporary problems facing manufacturers today here.

Authenticity at Jane and Finch: African Dutch Wax Fabrics
by Adwoa Afful

On the Ethnic Aisle, Adwoa Afful explains how learning about Dutch Wax prints became part of learning about her family, herself as a Ghanian-Canadian, and how “Dutch wax prints have come to represent one way West Africans express themselves sartorially.”

Girl Talk
by Autumn Whitefield-Madrano

One of my favorite blog discoveries of 2012 was The Beheld, a collection of thoughtful essays on beauty and all that it can mean. The articles are also cross-posted on The New Inquiry (another favourite). I loved and related to her honest admission in Girl Talk: sometimes, she feels awkward around women, and she uses compliments on their shoes or their hair or some element of their appearance as a way to fight that awkwardness. I know I definitely use this as a way to superficially connect with new friends, and I’ve been the recipient of it as well. I think Autumn is exactly right when she says that “something frivolous can come out of my mouth and I’m fairly certain it doesn’t make me seem frivolous. It simply lightens me, desirably so.”

Cindy Sherman’s Superstar Strategy
by Sarah Nicole Prickett

SNP writes about the retrospectives for Francesca Woodman at the Guggenheim and Cindy Sherman at the Met: “And so Sherman has survived where Woodman did not: In assuming the whole lot of female and feminine (and sometimes masculine) identity, she’s given away precious little of herself. Her work is fashion. It is facade. It’s defence.” Every word of this article is perfect and beautiful: read it for yourself and see.

Is there an article about fashion from 2012 that you’d like to share? Tweet it at @wornjournal and use the #clothesmatter tag, or leave it in the comments.

Très Click: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles Edition

What Haley Wornette has been reading on her travels


Before leaving for New York, I loaded up my iPhone and tote bag with some truly excellent articles, books, and zines. They really came in handy when I found myself lost on the G train, stuck in the back of a cab, or standing on a street corner trying to look busy when I was actually just way too early for a meeting. Here are a few of my favourite fashion-related reads; enjoy!

When We Were “Seventeen”: A History In 47 Covers
Jane Hu traces the history of Seventeen from the initial editor-in-chief, Helen Valentine, to its current, shall we say, flawed state. I was fascinated to discover that Seventeen began with such a noble goal—to talk with teenagers, not at them—and was inspired by Valentine’s original directive to readers: “Say you agree with SEVENTEEN or disagree violently, say we’re tops, say we’re terrible, say anything you please—but say it!”

Portrait of the Artist as a Postman
Kermit Oliver is the main character in this real life fashion fairy tale from Texas Monthly‘s October issue. “There once was a postman who designed scarves for Hermès,” Jason Sheeler begins, a seemingly simple premise to this article. Oliver sorts mail by night and paints impossibly beautiful Hermès scarves by day, but it’s not just the odd juxtaposition of his two careers that make this article so compelling. Sheeler tells us a story about art, race, class, family, and genius, and on the day that I read it, I became one of those people in New York who cry in public.

Original Plumbing
On Saturday, the Wornettes and I visited the New York Art Book Fair to see their legendary zine tent. We spent some time speaking with the people behind Original Plumbing, an amazing zine that describes itself as “the premier print magazine dedicated to the sexuality and culture of FTM trans.” I picked up the Fashion Issue for the WORN office and highly recommend it.

What have you been reading lately? Tell us in the comments!

The Stories We Tell

Five Wornettes revisit the fictional characters that inspired their closets growing up

Moon Prism Power!
When I was about 10 years old (pushing the limits of an appropriate age for a cartoon obsession), I loved Sailor Moon. She was my moon goddess of style. Though my love may have shifted from Sailor Scout to Sailor Scout, it was the idea of a sassy uniform only put on through an intense and magical costume change that I found most appealing.

The fantasy driven schoolgirl fashions had me acting like a fool as I begged my parents for the whole kit and kaboodle of consumer products marketed to my tween self. I remember the tense Christmas morning phone call between a friend and I as we discussed who had gotten what under the tree that morning. It was as if we thought it made us better people to have added to our growing collection of imported plastic accessories that made us “feel” like we really were “Super Sailor Scouts”—stylish schoolgirls with badass super powers.

As I got a bit older, my obsession stuck in the back of my mind. I couldn’t bear to part with the dolls, t-shirts, and plastic wands that hung around collecting dust in my closet. The cool punk girls I met in high school shared my secret love. We regularly discussed how awesome our animated hero and her friends were.

How did this totally fanciful, junk-food TV show fit in with my new found, anti-consumerist, teenage feminist rants? I began to reposition my fascination, turning my old Sailor Moon nightgown into a hot butch muscle tee and mixing the cutesy Sailor Moon-inspired pigtails of my youth into a riot grrrl-inspired statement. Perhaps the rumours of a lesbian love affair between Sailor Neptune and Uranus had even had an influence on my queerness. Even though I’ve more or less retired this obsession, I still get giddy every time I see a Japanese school uniform, excited at the thought of the magic that the girls who sport these get-ups possess. // Jenna Danchuk

Ten Points for Slytherin
I was obsessed with Harry Potter as a kid to the point that I managed to convince myself that a) I was his sister and b) Voldemort was stalking me. Okay, I’ll admit—I’m still obsessed. I couldn’t watch the last part of the last movie because I couldn’t deal with the fact that the series was ending. Before, when I identified as Gryffindor, I was partial to their house colours of red and gold. I was really big on wearing men’s ties as accessories (eat your heart out, Avril Lavigne). I used to carry a wand around until I was, like, 12. My mom claimed it was just a stick and told me to grow up. (Muggles, am I right?) Unfortunately, I haven’t. I still have the wand (yew, dragon heartstring core, inflexible), lying around somewhere.

When I was 10, I got glasses for the first time, and I didn’t feel like a Horrible Nerd Dorkasaurus as I might have had I got them at an earlier stage. I felt like this further confirmed my assumption that Harry Potter and I were related and I was actually a witch. The reason I wasn’t accepted to Hogwarts, I told myself on my 11th birthday, was because it is in England, and I lived in Canada, and Hogwarts Express doesn’t cross the ocean. Obviously. Anyway, Harry Potter made me feel cool about my glasses. I was in good company.

As I got older, I started to get into Harry Potter from a different perpective. I realized that I was cleary a Slytherin, and that green and silver were the way to go. I still like red and don’t hate Gryffindors, but I avoid gold clothing if I can help it and wear silver instead. // Sofie Mikhaylova

Here. Swear. Swear on Chanel.
I can’t remember being obsessed with anything other than dalmatians as a child, but in Grade 10 I fell under the spell of Carrie Bradshaw. The obsession spilled over to Sarah Jessica Parker (does anybody really differentiate between the two?) and I can remember going to school wearing my Great Grandmother’s broaches as fasteners on an asymmetrical grey cardigan, an homage to her Gap campaign.

My all-time favourite outfit during this phase was based on a dress from the final episode of the series. It was a sea-foam green tulle skirt which I made myself and layered over a structured black halter dress, meant to emulate the dress Carrie runs across Paris in, eventually reuniting with Big (gush). I wore it to our high school’s drama and dance awards.

I think the only problem my obsession with Carrie’s fashion might have caused was that it was so different from what everyone else was wearing in my high school, and so I sort of stuck out like a sore satin-gloved thumb. While everyone was showing up for class in jeans or sweatpants, I was wearing chiffon floral skirts and oversized fake flowers pinned to my cardigan. // Casie Brown

“Whoever said orange is the new pink was seriously disturbed.”
Growing up, I always got the idea that my peers didn’t think I was very smart. No matter how high my grades, my optimistic attitude combined with my affinity to wear pink matching outfits and my blonde streaked hair made me an easy target for dumb blonde jokes. I felt destined to be intellectually downtrodden until the day I saw Legally Blonde. Elle Woods was just like me: fun, girly, and smarter than she looked. I faked an eye exam and got cute glasses, paired knee socks with heels, and began telling everyone I would go to McGill, to which one boy said, “Alyssa, you’ll never be smart enough to go to McGill.” But, like Elle, I studied hard and tried to be best friends with everyone regardless of their judgment. The climax of my Elle Woods phase involved a head to toe hot pink Betsey Johnson corduroy outfit, complete with hot pink knee boots my mother acquired in Las Vegas, accessorized with a pink basket full of pink cookies which I spent my high school day handing out to students. After that I started dating a drama guy and went from Pretty in Pink to Checkerboard Ska. It was a rocky transition.

I never did get to McGill, but only because they didn’t offer a program as well known and successful as the Ryerson School of Journalism, where I am currently finishing my degree. I do, however, still wear pink with pride, and sometimes when I get to class and take out my floral notebook and rainbow pen set, I smile to myself and silently thank Elle for helping me find my smart self. // Alyssa Garisson

All I want is a dress with puffy sleeves.
Anne of Green Gables was a really important book for me as a child. I just liked how she was so herself, even though that self was a little weird and loud and prone to unfortunate accidents. I’ve never dyed my hair green (by accident, that is), I’ve never gotten my best friend drunk (by accident, that is), and I’ve never floated away in a lake and been rescued by a mischievous, handsome boy from school (not yet, that is). I might not have had flaming red hair, but I did have big, bushy, brown curls—I stuck out in the sea of sleek blonde hair that was the style for all the pretty girls in elementary school.

When I first read Anne of Green Gables, I didn’t fully understand what “puffed sleeves” were—I remember looking in a mirror and holding my sleeves up off my shoulder in an attempt to visualize what Anne was talking about—but I definitely sympathized with Anne’s yearning for trendy clothes that her adopted guardians couldn’t afford. As a child, all my clothes came from the sale section of a local discount outlet store. I always wanted what I couldn’t have: designer purses, t-shirts with logos printed on them, $30 lipgloss from department stores. My mother had a very Marilla Cuthbert attitude towards the whole thing. They’re both very practical women who work hard to balance a small budget and are seemingly impervious to trends or impractical wants. I’m the complete opposite—as soon as I was old enough to work, I worked in the trendiest boutiques and department stores, spending my minimum wage earnings on the latest styles.

Once, when I was working at a law firm and had lots of disposable income, I came across a cardigan that had legitimately puffed sleeves. It was a black button-down sweater with ruched stitching on the shoulders, giving them a raised, “puffed,” look. I don’t know if the designers had Anne of Green Gables in mind when they designed it, but I bought it immediately. I never wore it. It’s not really my style. I didn’t relate to the actual puffed sleeves—I related to Anne’s wanting. I understood desiring what you can’t really have. Besides, buying those items for yourself rarely fills a void. When Anne finally gets her puffed sleeves, it’s because Matthew, her guardian and best friend, knows that puffed sleeves will make Anne happy and sets out to get them for her. I’ll always remember how I felt reading about Anne unwrapping the paper on her beautiful brown dress that Matthew got Mrs. Lynde to make. Anne had someone who really understood her and who would have done anything to make her happy. I like to imagine that Anne never gave away or threw out that dress because it reminded her of how much she and Matthew loved each other. She outgrew the puffed sleeves, but she never outgrew their relationship. BRB, crying forever. // Haley Mlotek

photography// brianne burnell