Warning: Spoilers for 'Yellowjackets' season one, episodes one through nine, below.
Liza compared me to that very accurate "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" conspiracy meme as I bombarded her Gchat with attempts to figure out the identities of the Antler Queen and her Acolytes in "Yellowjackets." The buzzy Showtime series, executive produced by Karyn Kusama ("Jennifer's Body," "Girlfight"), has basically consumed my Twitter timeline — and life — since it premiered in November. (And I really don't mean to make these bad puns, I swear.) I frantically cross-referenced script clues, screenshots, Reddit theories and Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya's exceptional Autostraddle recaps. Of course, analyzing the costumes, proved integral to my citizen detective approach.
What led to the hunting of a fellow plane crash survivor and possibly (definitely, right?) cannibalistic dinner ritual in the snowy mountains? And which of the high school girls soccer champions are under each of those masks? Well, the costumes may provide some clues.
"We did purposely put in Easter Eggs of what people would be carrying onto the flight and things like that — just because it's fun, mostly," says Marie Schley, who established the "Yellowjackets" lead characters in two timelines, the '90s and 2021, before returning to design episodes eight through ten. (Caroline B. Marx designed two through seven.)
Created by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, and directed by Kusama, the pilot was actually filmed back in the before-times, in November 2019 — longer than the length of time the Yellowjackets team spent lost in the snowy Canadian Rocky Mountains after their fiery crash.
"We definitely started from the ground up when we were making choices about what that world was, what the state of mind was, and what the hierarchy of those people were," says Schley. But in the world of "Yellowjackets," there's always a surprise twist, like, say, Jeff (Warren Cole)'s bombshell emergence as a Wife Guy who actually believed book club exists to adult Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) in current day. "We have a general idea, but no one can really count on things not to change."
Also, be warned: As in the case of the pink Converse Chucks worn by the mohawk-ed Sweater Mask Person standing at the edge of the spiked pit or Van (Liv Hewson)'s "Naked Coed" T-shirt, also spotted on Skunk Head at the sacrifice, clothing can also be a trap. (I'm sorry, sorry!)
"I'm having them swap clothes a little bit, too," Schley says. Eagle-eyed screenshot-ers will notice that multiple Yellowjackets wear the aforementioned sneakers through the season. (Of course, treating clothing as "another resource" also makes practical sense for people just enduring the elements indefinitely.)
That said, plenty of nature-themed clues, harkening toward survival in the wilderness, are peppered throughout the season, even prior to the team's ill-fated flight in 1996.
Inspired by the pilot's scripted scene of teen Misty (Samantha Hanratty)'s chilling nonchalance while watching a rat drown in a swimming pool, Schley created a feline motif for the team manager, who's proven in all timelines that she should never be underestimated. Teen Misty wears a collection of endearingly dorky kitty and cheetah sweatshirts, and, as an Andrew Lloyd Webber show-tunes-loving adult (Christina Ricci, above), she celebrates kittens on her nurse scrubs and as a Halloween costume, complete with black furry ears.
"It's also how cats like to play with their prey," says Schley, who then infused adult Misty's eventual bird obsession (Caligula!) into the mix. "She may be a cat with a bird."
The first episode introduces the Yellowjackets together, both on the field in their soccer uniforms and off, namely at a keg party the night before the doomed flight. Each girl's ensemble (above) helps illustrate their characters: undercover mean girl Jackie (Ella Purnell)'s "kind of preppy but sexy" floral babydoll dress and pink denim jacket, devout Laura Lee (Jane Widdop)'s conservative floral maxi dress, Shauna (Sophie Nélisse)'s indie-grunge crushed velvet and choker and strong but vulnerable Natalie (Sophie Thatcher)'s Courtney Love-inspired, '70s-referential wide-collar top, plaid pleated skirt and moto jacket. (Related mystery: How does Nat's hair stay so perfectly mussed while stranded in the mountains?) But prophetic Lottie (Courtney Eaton)'s pink angora cardigan and patchwork rabbit-fur bomber jacket worn during the flight point toward the team's upcoming woodland peril.
"Basically, aesthetic hints towards where it's going," says Schley. "We tried to give Lottie a little bit of an ethereal quality."
Frequent and repeated butterfly sightings have also earned their very own Reddit thread, while populating shop-the-look posts. Jackie wears an aphid T-shirt (above) on the flight and repeats it in episode eight, when she approaches Travis (Kevin Alves) at the beach. Teen Shauna lies to her best friend about her pregnancy in a Forever 21 butterfly T-shirt reading "lueur d'espoir" ("glimmer of hope") in episode seven (before Laura Lee takes flight in eight), while adult Shauna brings the theme into 2021. Hidden message or hot trend of the era?
"It was just such an iconic shirt of the '90s, mostly, and we did try to filter in a lot of natural themes into the clothing," says Schley.
Also, bridging 1996 to the Juliette Lewis-embodied present day, Schley logically infused Natalie's punk-rock aesthetic with "animalistic" leopard prints, like the teen's mini slip worn to episode nine's "Doomcoming" party in the forest. The girls' rustic take on a classic rite of passage — proposed by Jackie, and complete with boozy beverages fermented by Mari (Alexa Barajas) and natural stimulants foraged by Misty — also serves as a harbinger to the brutal, mystical sacrifice.
"In my mind, it's like a bacchanal kind of thing, and we wanted it to [lead] into those later costumes. So this is the beginning of whatever is coming," says Schley. "It was supposed to be the prettier, fall version that goes dark real quick."
One teammate accents her outfit with a fur strip styled as an asymmetrical shrug (below), while the rest of the Yellowjackets excitedly and resourcefully create party décor and accessories with found objects from nature and their surroundings. "There's stuff in the cabin that they use and then, presumably, they will be eating more animals as they go, right?" asks Schley. Mm...
All the girls inventively use twigs and flowers to fashion their own distinctive flower crowns and garlands, which, honestly, ever since "Midsommar" and "Sharp Objects," feel super ominous. Lottie's pointed imperial-style headdress (above) notably resembles the antlers she grabs off the cabin wall and dons to chase Travis through the woods. "That's definitely hinting towards later on," says Schley.
Taissa (Jasmine Savoy Brown) impressively designs mirroring feathered face masks for herself and Van, to veil the latter's injuries from the vicious wolf (or maybe-wolf?) attack and ensuing (and absolutely harrowing) stitches by JV player and former Girl Scout Akilah (Keeyah King). "I loved making those masks for them because they needed to look like rock stars with their masks on," says Schley.
Taissa's and Van's partial-face coverings allude to the eventual identity-obscuring ritual masks, which Schley and Kusama initially discussed in detail. Setting off the intrigue in the pilot, Misty (above and below) is the only one to reveal her face hidden underneath a panel of fur.
"We really liked how barbaric and brutal the fur pelt mask was, but then [Misty] pulls it up and — I love it — because it's like a bride lifting veil. It's very much a female thing," says Schley. "People keep talking about the theme of 'Yellowjackets,' and what I really responded to was how feminine, but strong and vicious these girls are. So I wanted to incorporate that — and how imaginative and creative and intelligent [they are] — into their costume. They've been thrown into the wilderness, but they're also creating a world within that environment."
A closer look at the ceremony finery reveals repurposed sweaters and thick fabrics, combined with animal fur — some faux for vegan actors, like Hanratty — to keep them warm as the temperature plummets and snow falls.
But teenagers, especially young women, also use clothing and accessories as self-expression as they're finding themselves. And, as we've seen, these ladies are very crafty.
Purple Alpine Sweater Balaclava and Raccoon Tail Hood (above) both wear ponchos with colorful strips of fabric artfully woven into the pelts, similar to a design on a potholder — "like you would learn at camp," says Schley, who also opted for vibrant colors and sparkle to pop during the night shoots.
"Even though these girls are really tough, and really vicious, and survivors, in my mind, they're still girls who like to decorate themselves," she says. "We have bits of jewelry and stuff woven into it and things that they repurposed to make it look good. Make it individual the way teenagers do."
Schley imagines that each team member wears remnants of an animal, like the skunk and beaver, that they hunted (or found in the cabin). But each one also "represents something in that hierarchy," she says: Taissa's connection with wolves and Shauna's to rabbits have been much-discussed online. And I'm wondering if a striped raccoon tail speaks back to Natalie's penchant for wearing stripes?
Schley created original sketches using references from masked ceremonies from around the world, and enjoyed creative freedom to then present to Kusama, Lyle and Nickerson. Tweaks would be made based on plot.
"At one point, I even had more faces showing and everyone was like, 'It has to be full coverage," she says. "Like the bunny, which ends up being one of the creepiest masks, made out of a stocking. We made it that morning [of the shoot], because part of the face was visible on that particular character [in the original design] and nobody wanted to be locked into a skin color or a hair color or even an eye color."
The most terrifyingly enigmatic costume is, of course, worn by the mysterious Antler Queen, with a shimmering chainmail veil (actually a gold '90s dress) draped over the antlers, presumably taken from the hunter's cabin. Based on Reddit conspiracies, comment threads and Twitter theories, Jackie and Lottie are the top bets for her majesty (and, on the flip side, the dead girl in the pit). But Schley designed AQ's robes for the wearer to be completely unidentifiable — and for story's sake, too.
"We use the antlers, the veil and everything to totally distort her frame, so that it wouldn't look like a human being anymore [as if they've] been transformed into the spiritual world wearing that," says Schley.
Schley will dispel one theory going around: that the Antler Queen must have extremely long — and dark — hair because it's been styled and woven through her robe.
"It's so interesting that they thought that we had woven their hair through the garment," she says. "In my eyes, those are decorative. It's human hair. Because she's the queen, she's the top of the pyramid, but in my mind, it wasn't woven from the head of the character." (Plus, the hair embellishments are intentionally similar colors: "It's very much considered, so that it's not giving too much away.")
Schley actually designed the creepy locks of hair to mimic royal ermine. Historically, Western European monarchs use the fur to decorate majestic capes and robes to project power and wealth. "That's just aesthetically what we were going for," says Schley. "It doesn't necessarily tell you much more about the story other than that it looks queenly and otherworldly."
So I mention another hair conjecture: The Antler Queen decorates her attire with trophies from previous meals. "Not a bad theory," Schley says. "We'll find out. I don't know how that'll end up being."
And don't bother comparing heights with Yellowjackets team photos, like I did. Hanratty, the only main cast member filming the wintry mountain ritual scenes in the pilot, told Hollywood Life that stunt coordinators are actually wearing the ceremony finery — not any actors. Also behind-the-scenes, Schley conceived and designed the furry costumes to allow for flexibility and opportunity for what lies ahead in Sunday's finale and season two.
"We had to make it fertile ground and leave a lot of room for our creators to write stories," says Schley. "We set some goalposts that they could weave into their plot." Buzz, buzz, buzz!