Cory Finley’s debut movie „Thoroughbreds“ is a thriller-slash-dark comedy that’s been compared to „Heathers“ — and, like in „Heathers,“ fashion plays a major role. The movie has a small cast of characters and a limited set; most of it takes place inside a single house (okay, mansion). At the center of the movie are two characters: Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke), two incredibly wealthy, incredibly bored teens living in Connecticut.
As the trailer describes it, Amanda feels nothing, and Lily feels everything — and it’s those opposing qualities that draw the former childhood friends close to each other again after Lily takes a gig as an SAT tutor/paid friend to Amanda. Amanda, who has become incredibly observant of others‘ emotions due to her own inability to experience feelings, almost immediately picks up on the fact that Lily hates her stepfather. „Do you ever think about just killing him?“ Amanda asks. Lily hadn’t thought of killing him before, but now that Amanda has suggested it, she can’t think of anything else.
Costume designer Alex Bovaird — who previously dressed a very different group of teens in 2016’s „American Honey“ — used the two characters‘ costumes as a means of communicating each girl’s personality and emotional state, and as a way to show how the two friends grow so close that they begin to take on each other’s characteristics. Lily tends towards a style that could be described as „Blair Waldorf, but make it murder-y“ — though Bovaird says she’s never seen „Gossip Girl.“ She wanted Lily’s style to be „prim and elegant“ to show how controlled the character is, and she incorporated references to classic film noir, such as several blouses with bows.
Amanda, on the other hand, doesn’t put much thought into her appearance; everything about her, including the clothing she wears, is a little bit „off.“ And because this is a thriller, along with reflecting the characters‘ personalities, Bovaird also had to consider how the costumes would look when covered in blood, or when worn in a physical fight with a drug dealer (the late Anton Yelchin) who’s been recruited into the murder plans.
After seeing and falling in love with „Thoroughbreds,“ I called Bovaird to talk about the costume choices for the film:
„Thoroughbreds“ is about very wealthy teens. How does that change how you approach the costuming, as compared to something like „American Honey“?
I tried to pull as much as possible from the script at first. Both of them are not ordinary girls, so I tried to make sure the wardrobe wasn’t ordinary. I don’t think either of them ever wears jeans. And because the setting is so lush, in this ridiculous mansion, I wanted to make sure they looked like they came from that very wealthy world. But at the same time, they’re teenagers, so they do wear these little shorts and little dresses. At that age, your limbs are flailing around. I wanted them to look fragile and young.
My approach is always based in reality, so I did a lot of looking around at what everybody wears in that kind of boarding school world. The direction has a nod to film noir, so I tried to ape some of that a little bit. Lily has lots of little bow blouses, and at one point she’s wearing this light-blue coat that looks like it has a bit of a cape. I was trying to do a subtle Alfred Hitchcock-era vibe. They’re not wearing clothes from that era, but I tried to make it seem like they were wearing elegant, prim, clothing — or at least Lily was. Lily thinks about her clothing a lot more than Amanda does. She’s putting on armor and is presenting a mask of who she is.
Amanda’s clothes are more haphazard. I tried to do some things that make her seem a little bit strange. At one point she wears a little black top with buckles, sort of like a straightjacket. Amanda is very awkward, and I wanted her clothes to be representative of that, so we had this idea that she doesn’t take her coat off very much, because she isn’t comfortable.
And then there are the colors. I tried — with Lily especially, because she’s such a strong, confident character — to make color choices that were strong. She wears a little white bomber jacket, and she wears a lot of white in general. At the end she wears that white cricket sweater.
That white cricket sweater ends up covered in blood. Is that something you were thinking of with the costuming — „How will this look with bloodstains on it?“
Definitely. Sometimes you don’t want to make that choice, because you don’t want people to wonder what will happen when they’re wearing white. But I knew the way they were going to shoot it would be very dark, with the light of the TV flickering, so white is going to look really gorgeous in that light.
We shot that take as if it was live theater, so when Lily goes upstairs, me and my assistant were actually standing at the top of the stairs, ready to throw the bloody sweater on her and then add fresh [fake] blood as well. Usually you would stop filming, and then cut and get the actor ready, but it was all live.
We had about four sweaters so we could keep doing it. It was 3 in the morning, and it was very spooky and scary because it was live. While we were putting the sweater on Anya, she was just standing there thinking about what it would be like to kill somebody. That was a very intense moment.
I noticed that Lily also wears very delicate earrings, necklaces and hair accessories.
Yeah, we wanted to give her very blue blood-y accents. She has pearl earrings and a bee necklace, like she has a sting that gets revealed. Anya really liked that necklace; she felt like it was a big part of her character. Lily’s mother (Francie Swift) had a great look, too. We tried to make it look like she had a lot of money. She wears expensive-looking navy and eggplant sheath dresses, and we kept her in pearls and diamonds. And then other times, we put her in workout gear. We were shooting in a really wealthy area — Cohassett in Massachusetts — and it seemed like the women were always in really elegant clothes, or they were in workout gear because they didn’t have jobs, so they would be going to yoga class.
Are a lot of the clothes expensive, designer ones that very wealthy teenagers would wear?
We were on a budget, so I didn’t have the money they would ordinarily have, but I was extremely resourceful in borrowing from designers and costume friends that work in big shows. I was looking for a certain vibe. We had enough money for what we needed, and then you just borrow and beg for the rest.
I noticed that Lily and Amanda are often dressed in similar colors.
In the swimming pool scene they’re almost in the same color bathing suit. I was telling the story: You start out thinking Amanda is the crazy one, and then you realize that Lily is crazy in her own way, too. We wanted to have the girls start blending a little bit.
Amanda has a cute little dress that she wears when they’re rehearsing killing the stepfather. It’s a little more prim and a little more Lily — they’re both starting to become each other, slightly. Later on, there’s a scene where Lily is smoking a cigarette inside and she’s starting to unravel, and that costume is not typical Lily. The colors are darker and she’s not as put together. She’s wearing an oversize varsity sweater that it doesn’t fit her too well; she’s starting to become a bit unhinged. And in that scene, Amanda is wearing something more prim, a little white, lacy, high-neck, vintage-looking blouse. They’re reflecting each other’s styles a little bit.
In the scene where they’re rehearsing killing the stepfather, they have that tussle with the gun with Anton Yelchin’s character. That’s another very active scene. Were you thinking, „Can they fight in these clothes?“
We do think about that. In that scene, Olivia is wearing bike shorts underneath her dress. You also have to get multiples in case things tear or get stained or ripped. It’s something that never really happens, but you have to have an extra one standing by just in case.
What were you considering when dressing Anton Yelchin’s character? He’s so different from the girls.
Again, we were doing a little bit of an ode to film noir. We liked the idea that he looked like he was from another world, so we found a great leather jacket. He has a bit of a ’50s vibe.
Throughout the movie, Lily has very careful hairstyles, often with a little pouf, and there’s one scene where we’re watching her put her makeup on. As a costume designer, were you involved with those decisions?
Well, in an ideal world, you’re supposed to all work together to create this same look. Because of the way we shot „Thoroughbreds,“ we were very close to the hair and makeup people, so every day we talked about how she should do her hair. Amanda’s hair is always kind of messy, but Lily’s is always very composed. You don’t want to overdo it, but you want the hair to go perfectly with the outfit. So sometimes I would say, „Can you put her hair up?“ or „Can you sweep it to the side?“ or „Can you keep it down and curly?“
I read interviews with the director, and he talks about how he wanted the movie to be critical of this very upper class, wealthy lifestyle. Did that influence how you approached the costuming?
Not really. I wasn’t trying to send up wealth or do anything other than create outfits that this character would choose to put on, and at the same time, have a strong visual element to the film. I’m more about getting into the psychology of why the characters are wearing what they’re wearing.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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