When you watch a Jordan Peele film, you know that no detail has been left to chance, and that includes the costumes. That said, Nope costume designer Alex Bovaird (whose past projects include American Honey and The White Lotus) says that Peele doesn’t have everything locked down prior to production.
“He can be both be hyper-specific and vague at the same time,” she tells Consequence. “I think because his movies are the same. He comes with ideas but he also expects ideas. He wants to be constantly challenged and work with creative people who have ideas. But he never really settles on something — he likes to workshop it, maybe because of his comedy/improv background. I feel like his process is organic and constantly tweaking things.”
This means, she says, that “he definitely has a lot of ideas and is very focused on the wardrobe, which is great because it makes me up my game. And he’s definitely collaborative — you’re definitely in it together.”
Bovaird first met Nope producer Ian Cooper when he and Peele were preparing for the Peele-produced remake of Candyman; because of scheduling, she wasn’t able to work on the horror film, but they stayed in touch. “He thought that I would be really good for Jordan because we’re the same age, we get a lot of the same things, the same references,” she says. “They love riffing off this looking like that, and stuff like that.”
The costumes might seem simple — in the film, after all, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) pretty much wears nothing but jeans, T-shirts, and one very important hoodie. But even those costumes are a lot more complex than you might think. For one thing, Bovaird says, ” I had to get multiples if they were stunts and blood,” which comprised no small portion of the outfits involved.
Also, anything with a logo on it first had to be found and also get approved by the legal entities involved — if you want to use a T-shirt with Prince’s face on it on screen, for example, you need to get the Prince estate to approve it. However, Bovaird says that the clearances weren’t too difficult. “We had really great people helping us at Universal and also, if it was really important, Ian would call and just be like ‘You have to make this happen! Jordan really wants it.’ I think they were all pretty easy to clear because I think, with Jordan Peele, everyone thinks he’s really cool.”
Below, Bovaird generously takes Consequence through all of the film’s most notable costume choices, including the general approach to OJ’s sister Emerald (Keke Palmer)’s many looks, a Rage Against the Machine T-shirt that gets the spotlight, and of course that now-iconic Scorpion King hoodie.
[Editor’s note: The following contains mild spoilers for Nope.]
Everything Emerald Wears
Keke loves clothes and is super fun, super open, and has been [in the industry] for a very long time, so she has reverence for the process. For the costume designer, it’s a joy to work with someone like that.
We approached it that she was a bit of a tomboy — there’s a bit of a backstory that you don’t quite get that she’s a bit homeless, so she doesn’t have all of her stuff back at the ranch when she decides to go back with OJ and so she roots around in her caravan for things that are discarded.
The idea is that she wears things that are discarded, forgotten, or that she stole. She wears some of her old team wear — when she wears this baseball shirt that says Coyote, the idea was that it was her old baseball shirt. She wears a soccer jersey at the end, and the idea is that it’s OJ’s soccer jersey with the high school logo on it. So her style is whatever she finds, but she’s able to put it together in a cool way, and she wears Western stuff mixed with casual Western wear mixed with her modern zeitgeist stuff. Her fits are pretty “what’s cool right now,” but we tried to give it a little ranch flavor.
The Prince T-Shirt
This is one of Emerald’s first costume changes, as she returns to the ranch with OJ.
We had to do a Hail Mary pass [for that one], with Jordan contacting the Prince estate. I think that was one where we had to go outside the usual channels of Universal contacting whoever the legal people are, because I think they’re very protective of their stuff. But I found the Lovesexy tour t-shirt and aged it down some more. The idea with it was maybe her mother’s or maybe hers. Just something she had around.
Jordan definitely wanted Prince, and we both liked the bold image of Prince’s face. I think that’s what made it hard, is that we wanted Prince’s face. I think it’s easy if you go with something else. But it was written that she looks for her Prince t-shirt.
The Air Jordan T-Shirt
One of OJ’s early looks includes an aged tee featuring the one and only Michael Jordan.
There’s this group of guys called the Compton Cowboys, this really cool group of men that live in Compton and they have a horse ranch. They ride around on horses in Compton, bareback, and wear sneakers and sweatpants and no shirt or a wife beater and a cowboy hat.
We didn’t want to go completely hip-hop on OJ because it’s not really accurate to ranchers living out in hill country in California, because it’s more of a classic ranching look. But it’s really cool to juxtapose that urban African American style on a classic white guy cowboy look, to subvert it. So we wanted to give OJ a few pieces like that. Something more L.A. than rancher. So we kind of fused the urban with the western to come up with our own thing. We thought it would be distracting if he only wore that kind of swag, but we wanted some of that.
The Killer Grip T-Shirt
One of OJ’s T-shirts is from a fictional film production, associated with a real-life film production company.
We loved the idea that OJ just wore this hyper-specific swag that he got from either movie sets or vendors that he works with or his own company logo. Because we wanted to be true to the world that he lived in, and if you go to a film set, half of the guys are wearing a t-shirt that they got from another movie, because it gets dirty and they don’t want to think about it. This kind of guy doesn’t go shopping. This is what we liked for OJ, he doesn’t take the time to shop, he just wears whatever t-shirt he’s given.
So we wanted to be hyper-specific. These days a lot of departments give you a wrap gift, like I can’t tell you how many I have from Nope — I probably have 20 different [items of apparel], like I have a Carhartt jacket with Jupiter’s Claim embroidered on it, I have a PanaVision hoodie, I have the art department’s t-shirt, I have three different hats. It gets a little nuts. People make their own thing and they give it out.
A friend of mine is a grip and he always gives out these t-shirts — he’s the key grip, the head of the grips, and his company’s called Killer Grip, so I called him and I asked if I could use his graphic design [for the front]. We said that the production was in Santa Fe, so on the back it’s a buffalo, but it’s a really awesome-looking buffalo. We did a lot of animal imagery because of the Gordy thing and the theme of abusing animals and exploiting creatures.
But it had to be an animal that made sense for the Killer Grip t-shirt, so the idea was that they made a movie in New Mexico, so they put an animal that was indigenous to New Mexico. I had to make a lot of them because there were stunts, there was blood, he gets sweaty, he gets dirty.
The Fry’s Polo Shirt
Angel (Brandon Perea), who comes to help OJ and Emerald identify the alien presence in the clouds, is an employee of Fry’s Electronics, a recently-shuttered electronics store chain based in California.
We ended up making that. Fry’s were on board with us, and I think the guy who owned the store was there [on set]. They did give us a whole bunch of Fry’s polos, but Jordan didn’t like them so we made our own. We used the Fry’s logo, we got the artwork and took it to the embroiderer, and we made [the polo] gray. Because I think with Fry’s they typically wore red, and he didn’t want that for Angel at that time.
The Jesus Lizard and The Rage Against The Machine T-Shirts
While it’s never specifically stated in the film, Emerald and OJ borrow these tees from Angel after they flee the ranch for a night.
I think they cut out the bit where she specifically goes and gets the clothes. I think Jordan specifically cuts things so that you think about it more like “Why are they wearing those t-shirts?” His audiences are pretty smart, so that makes sense.
Those two bands, the premise is that they’re bands that Angel is listening to, or was listening to, but he’s rocking his darker, angsty punk stuff. Those bands were definitely in that genre of West Coast proto-grunge, and Jordan and Ian and I are the same age so they were all bands that we were listening to as well. It’s not a coincidence. We were like “yeah, that’s so cool,” but we did put them on Angel.
Brandon, the actor, is quite fizzy and upbeat, and we wanted to play it down a little bit, so we were trying to give him these angsty tees. The Rage one, they don’t show the back of it, but there’s a quote on the back of it where it’s like “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees.” You don’t see that, but I thought it was a good tee for that moment.
They’re both really vibrant, so it’s very strong, it’s like red blood. The Jesus Lizard tee is almost too arresting, when I saw it I was like “Oh my god, that’s intense.” But I think it really worked, because that moment is when they decide to go for it and get fired up. Those are strong tees.
The Jesus Lizard one, we only needed one of, which is great because if it’s supposed to look 20 years old, it’s better that it is 20 years old. There’s a Butthole Surfers T-shirt that you probably missed — it was in a montage at the end. It had a bit of a bigger scene when Angel wears it, so we had to make a lot of those, and we had to ask the Butthole Surfers if they would let us reproduce it on a t-shirt that looked old.
The Gordy’s Home Costumes
— Jordan Peele (@JordanPeele) July 24, 2022
The fictional 1990s sitcom featured in Nope required period-accurate costumes not just for the scene featured in the film, but a whole opening title sequence.
I did a lot of research. I grew up in England, but I guess there were a plethora of really silly sitcoms in America in the ’90s and ’80s. So we riffed on Alf and Family Ties and Anything In Between and I did loads of research on those costumes. That was really fun for me. Also, there was this whole scene where we had to dress the studio audience, and we had to do a lot of posters. The sitcom stuff is so minute, but there was a whole world that we created. It was actually one of the most fun things.
We first asked about the distressed X hat that OJ wears in the middle of the film.
It’s by a company called David and Goliath, so I liked it visually because it does look like Malcolm X, which is obviously a strong guy to allude to. But it’s also slightly biblical, because the company’s called David and Goliath and I thought that was cool, because it’s kind of a David and Goliath story. So it’s one of those things where it’s a lot of references.
There’s also a hat for the early ’90s TV show Northern Exposure, worn by a crew member early in the film.
I met this guy at the Los Feliz Flea Market and I told him what I was looking for, and of all things he was like “I got loads of that stuff, I have a box of…” I can’t remember exactly, but he had the Northern Exposure hat, so I met him the next week, he brought this box that happened to be a lot of NBC stuff, which was great. [Universal, which produced Nope, currently owns NBC, making the issue of clearances easier.]
Jupe’s Embroidered UFO Suit
That was a lot of fun. We needed to persuade Jordan a little bit to do something really strong. He wasn’t sure. But he quickly got on board when Steven did his fitting. I wanted to do a Nudie Suit and then I found these people in Texas who are like the pros at it — the suit that he wears is based on something that they had already done. They do a lot of work on country music stars and we loved the idea of Jupiter trying on Americana; his whole world is what a white guy thinks America is.
Also, I was going through an obsession with Elvis, so I wanted to do something razzle-dazzle. And also Jupiter’s sort of affecting this theme park ringmaster sort of thing. It’s a quick moment, but we wanted to go hard.
What’s cool about it is that it takes a minute for you to realize that he’s wearing a suit with a UFO on it, mostly because the primary detail is on the back and you don’t see it right away. Was Jordan was interested in something more scaled-back?
I think so. He didn’t want anything on the back first, but it felt wrong, really imbalanced, like, “We’ve forgotten the back!” I think he was worried it would be too Vegas, but I think people get scared sometimes and once you’ve got the whole canvas, then it doesn’t seem so big and it seems just right.
The Scorpion King Sweatshirt
By the end of Nope, OJ’s crew sweatshirt from the 2001 film The Scorpion King (a slightly obscure spin-off of The Mummy series starring a young Dwayne Johnson) feels like it’s poised to become a part of film history.
The Scorpion King hoodie, there was a lot of talk around that. The fit of the hoodie, the color of the hoodie. It had to be aged down to look like it was 20 years old, and we had to have a lot of them.
We had to come up with a movie that made sense, that was about 20 years old, that had animal wranglers on it, and we just loved the idea of The Scorpion King because it has the kitschy factor. But also just that it was the thread of Otis Senior giving… It was the first movie that OJ went to work on with his dad. It was the one that his sister thought that she was going to work on and train the horse but she didn’t. So it was very emotional for them, that movie. For [OJ] to put it on, it was kind of like family bonding.
I just realized that it couldn’t have been OJ’s sweatshirt, it had to have been his father’s, because he was much younger at the time and he would have gotten a child size.
Exactly, yeah. We made so many, but mostly because we would print ink on them and the ink wouldn’t be quite right. It sounds like the easiest thing in the world, t-shirts, and hoodies, but it’s hard to duplicate, and I was fixated on it because I knew it was going to be in IMAX. So we did all this aging on what a silk screen would look like over 100 washes, but to do that without having the time to do it, you have to sand it down and ink the right amount and it all comes out differently, and then you have to match them. I think we had about 40 sweatshirts.
It sounds like there’s a longer montage of them getting ready for their big plan at the end. In that montage, did you see OJ sewing the reflectors on?
Exactly, you see him putting it on and you kind of understand why those reflectors are there. That sequence was much longer originally — I feel like Jordan is going to come out with an extended version, is my prediction.
Nope is in theaters now. For more, here’s a humble attempt to explain the ending of the film.