Forget boxy suits and sensible shoes -- the costume designers of ''Veep,'' ''House of Cards,'' and ''Scandal'' explain their strategies for dressing the most powerful ladies of the beltway (on the small screen)

Selina Meyer
Played by: Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Veep
Inspired by: Michelle Obama
From pocketed dresses to helmet hair, Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) has had her share of wardrobe malfunctions. But when Kathleen Felix Hager took over the costume department for the upcoming season of the HBO series, her directive was clear: Make the bumbling second-in-command, who’ll be launching a bid for the Oval Office, look presidential. “She was conservative last season, so we’re trying to make her look more modern and feminine. It’s an intentional shift,” Hager explains. “The ultimate inspiration was Michelle Obama. She’s the queen of bare arms, she uses color, and she takes risks.”

Claire Underwood
Played by: Robin Wright on House of Cards
Inspired by: Sheikha Mozah of Qatar
Costume designer Johanna Argan may be new to the Netflix series, but she’s staying true to Claire’s signature starched style. “[Season 1 designer] Tom Broecker did a good job of making her look like a strong woman in a man’s world,” says Argan, who looked to international style icon Sheikha Mozah of Qatar for inspiration. “Everything Claire does is very calculated, so we translate that into her wardrobe.”

Olivia Pope
Played by: Kerry Washington on Scandal
Inspired by: Washington and Judy Smith
Early on, Lyn Paolo referenced Judy Smith, the real-life fixer whom Olivia Pope was modeled after. But three seasons into the ABC drama, “I don’t base Olivia’s wardrobe on anyone; she’s a real person to me now.” To reflect current story lines, Paolo has replaced chiffon and lace with more structured fabrics, and Scandal fans have noticed. “Gladiators understand the clues we give about her mental state through her clothes.”