Q&A: Former "House of Cards" Costume Designer Tom Broecker on Washington Style

The wardrobe pro talks about how he created the look for ultimate DC power chick Claire Underwood.
Q&A: Former "House of Cards" Costume Designer Tom Broecker on Washington Style
Tom Broecker was behind Claire Underwood's ensembles in season one of House of Cards. Photograph by Patrick Harbron for Netflix.

Tom Broecker knows a thing or two about dressing powerful women. The costume designer was responsible for outfitting House of Cards‘ Claire Underwood in sleek power ensembles for the Netflix drama’s first season, and is in town next week for a Smithsonian Associates panel discussion with The Americans costume designer Jenny Gering. We chatted with Broecker about how he envisioned the fashion for the show, how Robin Wright and her costumes helped mold the character of Claire Underwood, and whether Washington can sustain the fashion revolution inspired by complex (sometimes villainous) female leads. (Check out our Q&A with Gering here.) 

Photograph of Tom Broecker by Andrew Egan.

Although we are coming into our own when it comes to fashion, did Washington’s history as a not-so-stylish city have any effect on your choices when coming up with Claire Underwood’s look?

It’s very interesting with Claire. I never thought of her in terms of Washington, DC. I thought of her in terms of the world, almost outside of Washington. Because she was not really a part of either world—the Hill or the media—I wanted her to have a more ousider feel.

Do you see Claire’s clothes as serving as her DC “armor”?

I believe so, yes, very much so. [She] was designed that way. I believe we all use clothes to help us navigate our lives; whether we’re conscious of that or not is another thing. But we all know clothes can project ideas and reflect our moods and emotions.

Why doesn’t Claire ever wear patterns? Her looks are primarily neutral solids.

Sometimes on camera a pattern can look cheap, and it can date itself pretty quickly. It also pulls focus away from the face, and Robin [Wright] has such an amazing face—it shows so much emotion, and we did not want to distract from that.

What about color? 

You need to know when and how to use it. Red, for example, has a lot of psychological and political meaning, so we wanted to make sure we only used color when it was right, either for the character or the scene.

What are Claire’s key power pieces?

A great pair of heels, a tailored blouse, a tailored skirt, and a great coat.

If you could give any Claire Underwoods in the making out there a piece of advice when it comes to using fashion to their advantage, what would it be?

Do not ever sell yourself short. You do not have to wear pants in order to go toe to toe with men; wear what makes you feel confident, intelligent, and sexy. And find a good tailor.

Tom Broecker and Jenny Gering will talk more about Washington and fashion with Kate Bennett on September 17 at the Smithsonian’s S. Dillon Ripley Center. For more information and tickets to “Dressing for the Small Screen,” visit the Smithsonian Associates website and use the quick tix code: 1L0-050. Find Kate Bennett on Twitter at @katebennett_dc

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