“Killers of the Flower Moon” is as close as Martin Scorsese has come to making a Western, even if it takes place in a 1920s Oklahoma where oil money is the last frontier left to fight over and the men — including Leonard DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkhart and Robert De Niro’s William “King” Hale — are anything but heroes. In fact, both men are part of a long-running plot to enrich themselves off oil claims held by members of the Osage, including Burkhart’s wife, Molly (Lily Gladstone). Even so, costume designer Jacqueline West took a little inspiration from stars of classic Westerns when it came to creating the fashion that Burkhart would adopt as he came into more money. 

As West assembled the “Killers of the Flower Moon” costume team, she reached out to Diana Foster of United American Costume. “She’s an old friend of mine and her father was Luster Bayless, who just passed away,” West told IndieWire. “He’s in the Cowboy Hall of Fame because he dressed John Wayne for his entire career. He started United American Costume in Los Angeles. And Diana shared her father’s secret stash of incredible suits from [the period].”

Foster also brought suit patterns used for Wayne’s collaborations with John Ford — who gets an additional shoutout from Scorsese and music supervisor Randall Poster in the cue used for a Fordian dance scene later in the film. Foster made most of DiCaprio’s suits and “reproduced actual suits from the ‘20s that her father had used in movies,” West said. “She even made some things for Tom White [Jesse Plemons].” 

The contrast between White and Burkhart is stark, sartorially, with White’s broad and boxy suits brimming with the power of the nascent FBI. Burkhart, meanwhile, moves from three-piece suits to rumpled jackets. West keeps the imperious King Hale in a kind of timeless, affluent elegance; the fact that he continues to look well-suited regardless of the era is just one small part of his power in the film. While the suiting either came from or was inspired by classic Westerns, what West conveys about the characters is specific to each of them and to the spirit of “Killers of the Flower Moon.” 

The storytelling through costume extends to the core female characters. West knew that she wanted each of the sisters — Molly, Reta (Janae Collins), Minnie (Jillian Dion), and Anna (Cara Jade Myers) — to have a slightly different sense of fashion. But working with Osage wardrobe consultant Julie Okeefe helped solidify how much clothes could say about the sisters’ personalities and life experiences. 

"Killers of the Flower Moon"
“Killers of the Flower Moon”Apple TV+

OKeefe walked into West’s studio and, seeing the floor-to-ceiling storyboards filled with photographs from the Osage Tribal Museum, immediately knew the story and the blend of traditional and ‘20s contemporary dress the film would require. While Molly’s mother Lizzie (Tantoo Cardinal) grew up on the plains, “She gets married, she has these daughters, and the daughters are then mandated from the government to go to a Catholic school,” Okeefe told IndieWire. “So they’re taken out of the home. So you’ve got this situation that’s similar to immigrants in our country today. These young women [are] now coming back from school are [now] English speakers but they’re in their own native lands. So they’re immigrants in their own lands.” 

Okeefe and West worked to bring out differing dual identities for each of the sisters. “You’ve got Anna who’s completely modern in the finest Parisian clothing and beautiful shoes and you see her embracing this and [leaning] towards the world,” Okeefe said. “You see Molly who’s hanging on and wants to keep her culture close to her and she wants to wear it. So she’s going out and presenting herself to the world in her culture. Then you have the other two sisters who are in modern-style clothing but they both show a piece of their culture that they want to maintain.”

Okeefe grounded all the different approaches to dress in a very fundamental concern across the film. “The whole idea of [their clothes] is these women are still thinking, ‘How are we going to stay safe? And how are we going to fit into this world that’s being forced on us? Where do we fit?’ You see human struggle in that snapshot [of different fashion styles]. And the day that I walked into Jackie’s studio, that’s exactly what I saw she was doing. That’s what she saw, too,” Okeefe said.

“Killers of the Flower Moon” is now in theaters.

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