One of the year’s most highly anticipated movies, already surrounded by Oscar buzz before most of us have even seen it, reunites one of cinema’s greatest duos in Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese (the pairing that also brought us The Wolf of Wall Street). But with a tricky and horrifying subject matter, Killers of the Flower Moon deserved the authentic and delicate touch it received, which is the least we can do as we discuss the exquisite costumes.
With the hours, weeks and months spent scouring through thousands of real 1920’s photographs and home videos paying off for costume designer Jacqueline West, we are gifted with the painstakingly recreated beautiful Killers of the Flower Moon outfits.
But this isn’t just any Western crime drama, Killers of the Flower Moon tells the story of the “Reign of Terror” and is based on David Grann’s non-fiction book on the matter. The matter in question being the suspicious and unexplained deaths of young indigenous adults in Osage County after the Indian Reservation found oil on their land.
~ The Authentic Osage County Outfits ~
It would be criminal, in more ways than one, to talk about the Killers of the Flower Moon outfits and not touch on the authentic and traditional clothing we see replicated for the Osage community. Especially those of Lily Gladstone, in what is expected to be a career-making performance as Mollie Kyle, alongside her ill-fated sisters.
The Traditional Pendleton Blankets Worn in Killers of the Flower Moon
Mollie, in real life as was shown in the movie, would slowly become quite the rarity in Osage County still wearing her traditional, heritage clothing. A custom that had started to fall away by the 1920’s when the children, who had been taken away from the Reservations and forced into missionary or military schools, returned with a modern westernized way of dressing.
But traditional Mollie embraced the Pendleton blankets draped around her shoulders, which have now been around for over 100 years. With the company even creating most of the looks for the movie.
The 1920’s Westernised Flapper Look in Killers of the Flower Moon
Just as Mollie chose to keep her traditional and heritage clothing, her three sisters chose to forsake it and start dressing as the modern westernized woman of the decade were. That decade being the 1920’s meant that their new wardrobe of Killers of the Flower Moon outfits revolved around dropped waist, straight silhouetted dresses and jackets in luxurious velvets and silks. As well as the added simplicity of their stylized felt cloche hats.
The Importance of Mollie Kyle’s Silver Earrings and Wabonkas
With costume designer Jacqueline West, relying on the knowledge and help of her Osage costume consultant Julie O’Keefe, every little outfit detail was accurate and told its own story. Just like the simple silver ball-and-cone earrings that we see Mollie wear that would have traditionally been made from the melted down “treaty medals” given to the tribal leaders by the U.S. government.
Or the round ornamental Wabonkas, that were worn threaded onto the necklines of the women’s blouses to represent their marital status.
Mollie’s Czech Seed Bead Necklaces in Killers of the Flower Moon
The movie’s story, as well as the Killers of the Flower Moon outfits and even the jewelry that we see Mollie Kyle in particular wearing, needed to be as authentic as possible. So the costume department called on local, traditional artisans to help recreate the required looks with a delicate touch. Like Oklahoma silversmith William “Kugee” Supernaw, found at Supernaw’s, who helped craft the abundant Czech seed bead necklaces that the Osage women wear like chokers around their necks.
Julie O’Keefe details her role as a costume consultant on Killers of the Flower Moon.
~ The Significance of the Killers of the Flower Moon Suits ~
With significant influence from the classic Westerns of the past, the costume department, just as they had done with the Osage Communities looks, spent time researching and creating bespoke Killers of the Flower Moon outfits that were specific to each of the westernized male characters.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkharts Suit Transformation in Killers of the Flower Moon
Although there were only a handful of pictures featuring the real-life Ernest Burkhart, they all showed a man inclined to dress in the western style of tailored suits. But with the movie starting around the time of his return from World War One and his subsequent job as a taxi driver, and early courtship of Mollie Kyle, Ernest had that crumpled and cheap feel to his Killer of the Flower Moon outfits. It was only when he married into his wifes wealthy Osage family that he started to show off his finery, and not well hidden, love of money through his beautiful three-piece tailored suits in the finest materials.
The Timeless and Affluent William King Hale in his Killers of the Flower Moon Suits
Robert De Nero is perfect in the role of the arrogant and tyrannical William King Hale, uncle to Ernest, and supposed friendly benefactor of the Osage community. But behind all of his gift giving and speaking their native language is his greed and manipulation, that is flawlessly portrayed in his elegant and timeless suits. Always plays the power move of looking every inch the well dressed and affluent man he supposedly is, no matter the time, place or era.
Jesse Plemons’ Agent Thomas Bruce White’s Powerful Killers of the Flower Moon Outfits
The Killers of the Flower Moon is full of characters whose authentic outfits were vitally important to the accurate and delicate telling of the harrowing story. But almost as much as getting the Osage Nations traditional dress right, was creating the powerful atmosphere around the budding FBI and its loyal Agent Thomas Bruce White. Dressed in much more boxy, broad shouldered fitting suits, in comparison to the other men. And paired with his darker more durable utilitarian fabrics, he carried an edge of authority that nobody questioned.
The Importance of Hats to Ernest and Mollie’s Killers of the Flower Moon Relationship
With oil on the Osage Nations land, the community became one of the richest people per capita in the world. A curse to many, their wealth and Native American roots made them the targets of white westerners, just as Mollie became to Ernest without her realizing. With him happy to take her money, particularly in the form of thoughtful gifts. Even if he was surprised at the first, a Stetson hat similar to the ones that were commonly seen on the Osage men of the time, featuring the cattleman’s crease.
Claiming Ernest as her own, and signaling the start of their relationship with a Stetson was fitting, as on the day that they were joined in holy-matrimony a second hat came into play. Mollie’s 18-inch black top hat with French ribbon and feather embellishments that completed her bridal look, that included the traditional Wedding coats. Worn and customized by daughters, of the time, after their fathers received them from prominent Political figures.
In a recent interview with British Vogue (that you can find here) Jacqueline West was quoted as saying “I hope [viewers] don’t remember the costumes. If you remember the costumes, you missed the story.” But I think that she is doing herself a discredit.
The story surrounding the Osage Community and the “Reign of Terror” is indeed important and must take center stage. However, without the historically accurate and impeccably detailed Killers of the Flower Moon outfits, and the movie’s immersive experience the impact wouldn’t have been the same. And in the end this isn’t just merely any Western crime drama we are talking about.