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Design Your Life: Olivia Pope

The first time I watched an episode of Scandal, I had come home late one night from college to spend a long weekend at home. I remember walking from my car parked on the side of the house to the back door and seeing the TV on inside. My parents were watching the show, and I entered quietly and stayed to watch a few minutes before interrupting them. There was a tough-talking, whip-smart (and stunning) Kerry Washington wearing a fabulous trench coat in a scene where she was talking her team through a very high-stress situation — a dude got a pair of scissors jammed in his neck (spoiler alert, he died), and they were wondering whether or not they should clean up the crime scene. I was hooked.

I watched a few seasons in feverish excitement and was elated that I had found a new show I was totally obsessed with. I then found out it was written and produced by the one and only Shonda Rhimes (who I LOVE), and instantly knew why I was hooked so quickly. Her characters are rich, complicated, three-dimensional, and entertaining-as-hell to watch navigate their universe. Olivia Pope is not a perfect person — far from it — and while I wouldn’t call her a role model per se, she’s definitely one of the strongest and most impressive female characters I’ve ever seen on television. She’s confident, tough (getting-kidnapped-and-sold-on-the-black-market-as-a-conduit-to-start-a-war kind of tough), well-spoken, passionate, and highly aware of her own worth and value — all seriously impressive qualities. Not to mention she looks immaculately stylish at every turn, and there’s nary a bag under her eyes (which is all the more impressive since I don’t know when this woman has time to sleep).

With all that being said, Olivia Pope is a perfect woman to channel to bring a little dose of whip-smart ass-kicking to your everyday life.

Olivia Pope loves her red wine so much that her character has become synonymous with it. She loves herself a nice glass of a deep, full-bodied red at the end of a long and hectic workday, and you know what? So do I. There are tons of articles online that unpack her fondness for it, when it began, and what types she enjoys drinking most. Jake (a guy she’s seeing) at one point even says to her, “I like how wine is a food group for you.” Well, wine is indeed not a food group, but it damn well should be! Some of her favorites include “a 1994 Châteauneuf du Pape, Bordeaux, California Oak, and Shiraz.” However, if you’re not that familiar with wine and the qualities to look for in a nice bottle of red, the internet is here to help! This wine guide to Scandal helps explore the types of reds Olivia drinks, saying:

One can assume that Ms. Pope favors full-bodied reds based on the appearance of her glass which makes sense, as a fruity Pinot Noir just wouldn’t seem to do the trick after discovering your father kidnapped your mother. A red Bordeaux is a French wine consisting of a blend of a variety of red grapes, usually Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petite Verdot and/or Cabernet Franc. A mature Bordeaux is described as elegant, silky, and even velvety in your mouth.

No need to feel intimidated when choosing a bottle to enjoy at home. Check out this useful article for picking out one that will make your heart sing (as you throw on a white, slouchy sweater and sit on your couch in your chic AF apartment).

Also, there’s popcorn. Olivia has been known to indulge in a giant bowl of it alongside her glass of red wine. A fairly humble and straightforward snack, but it doesn’t have to be boring.

Toss that bag of microwave, butter-flavored popcorn into the garbage can, because that’s not the way we do things around here! First, learn the basics of how to pop your own popcorn. It’s fairly straightforward, and once you get the process down right, it couldn’t be easier to make. The flavor and texture of stovetop popcorn are *lightyears* away from the microwaved stuff. Then, get creative with flavors to elevate the simple pairing. I suggest elevating your batch to something like truffle popcorn. Just a sprinkle of truffle salt and you’re good to go! Be sure to also check out this Food & Wine gallery of 23 interesting and flavorful popcorn recipes, which will have you hooked and well-prepared to watch reruns of your favorite shows and movies.

Also, let’s not forget that Mrs. Pope always serves her popcorn is a chic glass bowl, and so should you. Also, those spectacular wine glasses that Olivia drinks out of? You can find them here.

Olivia Pope’s onscreen style is seriously #goals, chic, and immaculately put together. Let’s take a brief tour of some of Olivia’s best looks.

Oooooof, the statement cape, the buttery-soft gloves, the structured coats and BAGS, and bold color palettes. *DIES* Would I look a bit ridiculous in some of these getups? Most likely, but with the right attitude and level of confidence, I really do think you can wear anything you damn well please.

What I find so striking about the clothes Pope’s character wears is that while she always looks impeccably dressed, I always found it to be done in a realistic way. Her outfit combinations are ones that I, myself, could pull off if I got creative with the items I purchased, mixed, and layered with one another. The costume designer, Lyn Paolo, also discusses the sense of power and weight that Olivia throws around which is reinforced by her style choices, saying, “Pope was a different kind of character than we’ve seen on TV before — an exceptionally powerful woman — I drew my references from fashion. I looked at images of Lauren Hutton from the ’70s and I had Kate Hepburn on the board — she always wore pants.”

So, with that vote of confidence, I can say that I’m fully embracing tailored pants as a go-to look for a business/work/meeting-friends-after-work-for-a-drink ensemble. And, since I could always use some help, I rely on the expertise of others who round up elements of Olivia’s outfits to recreate at home in your own closet. Here are a few of my favorite resources for understanding what makes Olivia’s #lewks so powerfully chic:

Bless.

Nothing says STRESS and !HIGHLY-INTENSE, BONKERS, CRAZY SITUATIONS! quite like Scandal does. When your married, on-again, off-again boyfriend (who also happens to be the President of the United States) is a constant point of tension and stress in your life, and you’re “handling” endless messes that need to be controlled and cleaned up for your clients, finding a way to unwind at the end of the workday is essential to staying sane. (Everything Olivia deals with in the span of one 45-minute episode is beyond me — I would have had a mental breakdown by season two, max.) One of the most effective ways to de-stress is to get your body moving. Yes, drinking wine on the couch is a more indulgent way to unwind and cEntEr youRseLF, but going for a jog is a great way to elevate endorphins. Whether it’s a run, swim, or session of yoga, it’s a great way to improve your mood and energy levels and center yourself. While this Olivia Pope workout guide was pretty hilarious, it’s super easy to get your body moving without having to join a fancy gym or front a lot of money.

If you’re looking for something to do that doesn’t involve working up a sweat, take yourself out on the town for a solo date. Find a local wine bar to grab a drink at, or go window shopping to look at fabulous things (even when I can’t buy anything, I love doing this). Treat yourself to a “you” day, and do all the things that make you feel as glamorous as Olivia Pope looks. Heh. For me, that might include a day doing a face mask, putting on a favorite outfit that makes me feel confident, taking myself to a movie or a museum, and grabbing a drink someplace while I catch up on a book. BONUS POINTS if you do any of this in or around Washington, D.C. Scandal is set in D.C, but it’s filmed almost exclusively in L.A. However, that doesn’t mean that folks who live in the D.C. area can’t get their Scandal universe fix around town. Check out a few ideas below:

In the very first episode, Harrison tells Quinn (or should we say Lindsay??) that everyone on Olivia’s team is a “gladiator in a suit,” and over the course of seven seasons, she and the team embody that mentality again and again when working for their clients. The gang always fights for what they believe is moral, and as this article explains, “Olivia and Abby work tirelessly and fight passionately for what they believe is right. They never quit until the good guy is victorious.” But, what is “right”? Who determines who is “good” and “bad”? Are there gray areas, and what factors influence motives? Pope herself is a deeply flawed, complex, and rich character, and it’s interesting to watch her navigate these incredibly difficult situations. What I love about the show is the way it explores these questions, and watching it got me thinking a lot about morals and ethics in general. It’s pretty heady stuff, and the subject is intense — you could spend hours pondering over these questions only to come up with more, harder-to-answer questions. I never took an Ethics class in college (design majors were barely required to take math, never mind Philosophy 101). If you’re interested in bringing a little of the Olivia Pope philosophy into your life, I suggest starting with a few starters like these podcast and these articles, to get yourself acquainted the topic.

If that stuff is too dense for you to realistically enjoying reading up on in your spare time, how about taking notes from another one of Olivia’s areas of expertise — exuding confidence. Seriously, that woman positively oozes strength, conviction, and self-assurance. She leaves very little room for misunderstanding and explains herself convincingly and articulately — it’s no wonder she’s built the kind of career for herself that she has. Projecting myself at my old job was always something I struggled with, but there are plenty of resources to help you feel more confident in your day-to-day life. For example (and laugh at me all you want!), I took a few acting classes to help me feel more comfortable standing in front of people and talking, and it greatly improved my ability to present and lead meetings. There are also a lot of communication workshops and classes you can take online.

It might feel or sound silly to you at first, but over time I realized that this stuff actually works and improves the way people treat you at your job and in life. Your ideas, thoughts, opinions, and concerns will only go so far unless you’re making the people around you pay attention and stay engaged with what you’re saying. We’re not all born with Olivia Pope-level oratory skills, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something about it!

Over the years, Shonda Rhimes has created so many memorable and unique characters. If you like TV shows or movies with articulate, kickass, strong female leads, might I suggest the following (not all written/created by her, but you get the point!):

I could keep on going, but I’ll spare you! Beware, with this list above, there’s a high chance that you won’t want to leave your house this winter season, and will be tempted to pop yourself a bucket-sized bowl of popcorn and plop down on the couch with a “Bordeaux that’ll bring a tear to your eye.”

  • Sara O

    This article was too.much.fun! I hope to see more in TFD future. I’m thinking Tami Taylor, Peggy Olson, Mindy Lahiri.

    • Holly Trantham

      Tami. Taylor.

  • Wolf

    Drinking red wine in a white sweater? You like to live dangerously.

  • Violaine

    I love this article! I have never watched Scandal but now I have to!

  • Lauren

    Please do a Mad Men one!!! 🙂

  • Marie

    She has the best coats!!!