The Look: Orange is the New Black

September 30, 2013 | Alex

Have you watched the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black I devoured the 13-episode season in a week. (And I think I may have watched 6 episodes in a single rainy day. Ah, the freelancing life.) 

Based on real life convict Piper Kerman's memoir, the pilot episode begins on the eve of Piper Chapman's self-surrender to a minimum security federal penitentiary in Litchfield, NY. The show depicts the everyday indignities and intense "fishbowl" drama of prison life, while slowly weaving in fragmented flashbacks that tell the story of how a well-heeled Smith alum landed herself a 13-month sentence. (Disclaimer: if you're considering checking out the show, be warned that it has some raunchy moments-- more graphic than network TV, less graphic than HBO/Showtime.)

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I'm not eager to experience life in a women's prison, but...I find the interiors strangely compelling? Yes, there is a dearth of color and yellow linoleum floors are bad. The industrial and utilitarian elements, though, are right up my alley. And I love the fiberglass shell chairs and Hellerware-inspired coffee mugs. Midcentury design abounds in American institutional settings. 

In the cell blocks, my heart skips a little every time the camera pans on the inmate's standard issue windowpane blankets. (Or any time C.O. John Bennett is on screen. Daya, you lucky girl, you.) I'm even a little envious of Piper's opportunity to learn electrical engineering-- something I've been meaning to master for years, albeit not in a work camp context. 

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Wanna know the strangest thing about my interest in prison decor? It started when I was 9. On a long car ride, I produced a series of drawings demonstrating to my parents how I would get creative with standard issue duds to decorate my cell. Orange is the New Black merely reawakened my interest.

Prison, as the series demonstrates, requires extreme resourcefulness. Whether it's budget, space constraints, or regulations designed to minimize inmate violence, working within a tight construct can be energizing. Environments of scarcity activate my creative right-brain.

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That said, opportunities for individuality and creative self-expression are truly rare at the Litchfield correctional facility. But crochet seems to be a prominent exception. (Why and under what circumstances inmates are allowed to use crochet hooks is never explained.) I've always found crochet to be a little 'loving hands at home' for my taste, but in researching this post, I was happy to stumble upon a few contemporary applications (see #8 below!). While posting photos to the wall above your bunk is technically against the rules, correctional officers turn a blind eye. And if the commissary is fresh out of washi tape, a little electrical tape aught to do the trick.



  1. Toulouse Blue Half-Throw Bed Roll, Hedgehouse - $150
  2. Vintage Kreuger Fiberglass Chairs, Department Chicago - no longer available  (similar here for $89 ea.)
  3. Lucent Sconce, Schoolhouse Electric - $205
  4. Pipe Bed, by Manhattan Clean Line via Apartment Therapy - $475
  5. Printstagram + Washi Tape (image via Pinterest) - prices vary
  6. Window Pane Blanket by Pendleton, via Lands End - $99-$119 (*on sale)
  7. Vintage Gooseneck Lamp, via Etsy - $125
  8. Contemporary Crochet Blanket, via Etsy - no longer available (similar products and patterns here)
  9. Stainless Steel Dinner Tray, via Amazon - $8.60 (this stoneware version is pretty cool too!)