The outfits in Nope, Jordan Peele’s latest film, tell their own complex and metaphor-filled story. This makes sense for a film that operates heavily through symbols and references — telling the mind-bending story of an alien organism that buckles against being seen or photographed. Another major plot point of the modern Western involves the Haywood siblings, played by Daniel Kuulaya and Keke Palmer, fighting to retain ownership of their horse ranch, kept afloat through Hollywood gigs. (Note: spoilers ahead). The film’s costume designer, Alex Bovaird, added poetic layers to Peele’s visual masterpiece through her lauded and in-demand touch. (Past credits of hers include The White Lotus, American Honey, and Bad Education.)
Bovaird points to the instantly recognizable red cowboy suit worn by Steven Yeun’s fame-hungry character, Jupe, during a pivotal, and gruesome, scene. The razzle-dazzle suit, which features flamboyant embroidery and fringe sleeves, is a direct nod to Elvis Presley. Bovaird says Jupe and Elvis are both “examples of what stardom does to people and being an attention-junkie. Elvis was probably the first victim of fame, so there was a little recall of him there.” The biggest twist: the suit almost didn’t make the film. In an alternate world, Jupe wore a standard, run-of-the-mill hoodie while getting a little too close with the otherworldly.
“The costumes are kind of littered with a lot of pop culture references,” the Emmy-nominated costume designer says. Other easter eggs include Daniel Kaluuya’s character, OJ, wearing a hoodie for the The Mummy spinoff film Scorpion King (made by Universal Studios—the same studio behind Nope), and Keke Palmer’s character Emerald donning a tee for her character’s high school, Canyon Creek. Other blink-and-you-miss-it moments includes Emerald and OJ wearing Angel’s (Brandon Perea’s) clothes after running off to his apartment. Bovaird’s sartorial choices accentuate the plot.
Bovaird delivers nuggets of insight like these casually while talking to Vogue from Alaska, where she is currently prepping for her next project, season four of True Detective, which will star Jodie Foster. Bovaird says she employs “a method approach” to dressing characters. “I really get under their skin and try to figure out how they think,” she says. “I ask questions like, ‘What color suits them?’ ‘Can they even dress themselves?’ ‘Are they trying hard?” In many ways, her job is to channel the varied and complex factors behind how and why we dress the way we do each day.
Below, Bovaird breaks down the costume design of Nope, touching on the influence of Goonies, obscure rock bands, and ’90s sitcoms along the way.