In Americana, Sydney Sweeney, Paul Walter Hauser, Halsey, and Zahn McClarnon lead an eclectic cast of characters on the hunt for a rare Lakota Ghost Shirt. The directorial debut of Longmire and The Terror writer Tony Tost, Americana, debuted at March’s SXSW film festival.
The film, broken into chapters, weaves comedy and drama through multiple intersecting storylines. The girl next door with big dreams, a sweet farmer, intimidating villains, and a runaway rocker—costume designer Jillian Bundrick drew inspiration from classic American icons to design the aspirational looks of her small-town characters. Bundrick also worked with indigenous designers to dress McClarnon and his tribe in modern, statement-making clothing.
It’s Bundrick’s attention to detail that really captures your attention and colors the vivid world of Americana. Read more about how Bundrick used costume design to mirror and expand the characters and their backstories.
Awards Daily: I definitely got some Coen Brothers vibes watching Americana. How would you describe the film’s visual aesthetic? What were your inspirations when designing the looks?
Jillian Bundrick: Yes, absolutely. Tony Tost had such a great script with a vivid feast of characters that were just jumping off the page. I was so excited to get to work with this ensemble cast. The multiple intersecting storylines were a great opportunity to design a variety of different looks. When I met with Tony, he talked about many of his influences and had me watch films like The Sugarland Express, Nashville, Paris, Texas, to get his overall vibe.
I definitely would say that the things I researched were steeped in classic Americana culture. Tony has a love of country music. I did a lot of research into what country music stars were wearing in the late 70s. You can definitely see that coming through with Penny Jo, who is heavily inspired by Dolly Parton’s 1970s style. I got to go through the books, and I was just picking up all the unique things that Dolly used to wear to try to infuse that into Penny Jo’s outfits.
AD: How did you manage to dress such a large cast of characters with the stricter parameters of time and money that come with a smaller film?
JB: We had limited resources, and we were filming in rural Albuquerque, but the best part about that was just getting to go on a treasure hunt to all the antique malls and thrift stores and finding those magic pieces we could pull in. I’ve designed a lot of films that take place in middle America; that’s sort of my bread and butter. I know how to dress these people. Costumes don’t have to cost a lot to look amazing.
We also had to contend with Covid as well. I had spoken to Tony in December, so I had a Christmas break to sort of mull things over in my head. So the characters were already living in my head when we started prepping in January. I had about a month’s prep, so I had a lot of time to really go in and create wonderful lookbooks for the characters, get on the same page as Tony, and make sure all the characters had specific looks that would stand out and be different.
AD: The characters don’t come from a lot of money, yet, they each have such distinct senses of style.
JB: Yes, the costume designs in Americana are steeped in aspirational looks, emulating iconic heroes in classic American culture, which helps the modern Western crime thriller stand out on its own as a form of escapism from the complex situations the principal characters find themselves in. They lean into flamboyant and exaggerated larger-than-life style, simulating the pop culture icons they admire. We tried to keep other characters more grounded in practicality and the sometimes harsh realities of rural America.
There are so many pieces. It’s hard to talk about every character. But yes, we did make a specific effort to honor the limited budget of the characters while still giving them distinct styles.
With Cal (Gavin Maddox Bergman), his clothes were ill-fitting, thrifted, and worn down. With his love of cowboys and Indians, we imagined that he has a knack for native-inspired, thrifted, vintage-patterned sweaters—patterns he sees in the movies he loves. We see him in these oversized, moth-eaten sweaters, but those are his comfort blanket that he has on under his work jacket. For that, we took a modern, thrifted Dickies jacket that I dyed a scarlet red so that he would stand out in the wide open fields against the big blue sky and the wheat fields. That scarlet red really stands out and helps Cal be an anchor in the project.
Cal was the first character I designed for the film, so I spent a lot of time thinking about him. His style was inspired by a mixture of Sitting Bull portraits that clashed with Charlie Bronson’s cowboy character from Once Upon a Time in the West. I really liked putting those two elements together of this. He’s obsessed with Cowboys and Indians, so his color story is that stark, blood-red, scarlet meeting up with light buck-skin brown. We made his outfits out of ill-fitting hand-me-downs that he would’ve purchased from the discount bin at the thrift store. Having the time to flesh out that character was really fun— finding the baggy corduroys, the holey jeans, the sturdy boots, the canvas work jacket, and then, of course, his beaded headband, which was inspired by the headband that is shown on the cover of the 1971 Link Wray album. The hunt for that headband was a fun task too, and we ended up getting that from Crazy Crow Trading Post. Cal’s styling was very practical, but then we had that comedic element of the headband that he keeps putting on throughout the film. I loved that. The thing about Cal is that he has such an active imagination, and he is just living vicariously through those movies. But, really, what he’s trying to do, it’s, again, this escapism that keeps coming up in this film. Cal’s trying to escape his tragic reality. He’s in living in poverty. He’s isolated; he’s in a domestic violence situation. He totally goes off the deep end and is like, ‘I am Sitting Bull.’
AD: We need to talk about Halsey, whom I did not recognize until the credits rolled. Their rocker look was the most distinct of the film, and there’s a dramatic transformation.
JB: Mandy was described as a dramatic teenage rocker chick. She’s got a dark, tragic, messy past, and I wanted to show that her main punk look is a revolt against her traumatic upbringing.
She’s, first and foremost, a survivor and a tough bitch, which is awesome. She keeps moving forward no matter what situation she finds herself in. I had her emulate the unapologetic punk rock idols of Joan Jett and Blondie. Halsey loves them, so that was a really fun collaboration with her. Mandy’s style empowers her to face reality with a physical armor of heavy metal chains, spikes, razor blades, knives, and safety pins. Those items are a loud warning to others that she’s not to be trifled with.
We collected all the odd bits and ends we used for her iconic Joan Jett-inspired motorcycle jacket. There are all these different found objects like bottle tabs, razor blades, knives, safety pins, always safety pins, metal rings, locks, and a neon pin that one of our assistant prop masters made, which is the cool lady face on her jacket.
The other thing about Mandy’s initial punk rock look is that all of her pieces have a really heavy, hefty weight to them, and that helps anchor her down—her platform boots are tall and heavy, and they keep her on the ground; the metal chain necklaces, her motor jacket, everything is all about protective claws and a ‘leave me alone’ attitude. That’s what makes it so powerful when she goes home, you see where she has come from, and you have the scene where she starts taking off all of those pieces of armor she’s wearing that she’s used to build herself up. It really intensifies the scene to see the weight of all of what she’s carrying on her body, including her scars and her tattoos, just come off, and we see how vulnerable she actually is. That was a really powerful moment, and that transition of her having to come back home, knowing what that entails, and to see if she will get out of it again. Can she survive?
AD: I love Zahn McClarnon so much! How did you approach styling the Native American characters, given that one of the main themes of Americana was fighting against common stereotypes?
JB: That was so great! When Tony brought me in, I think he saw my costume designs from season one of Reservation Dogs. I’ve worked with Zahn multiple times in the past; he’s just wonderful. I love to show the lens of modern indigenous fashion and streetwear and not show the stereotypes and the one-sided. Tony knew that he could trust me with that. Americana was a really great opportunity to show complex characters. Ghost Eye (McClarnon) is well-educated, a revolutionary, and an intellectual activist. His style is old-school cool, reminiscent of the veterans of the American-Indian movement. We stayed very simple with him, with classic lines. We did add a little Enamel pin to his jean jacket that we sourced from an authentic handmade Sioux arts, crafts, and jewelry store in Rapid City, South Dakota, to bring that in that he’s the leader.
Where we really got to have fun with the modern indigenous characters was Hank (Derek Hinkey), the tough, young Lakota man that you first see on a horse with a bandana over his face and the hoodie up with this beautiful beaded medallion. Hank’s style was really inspired by modern native streetwear brands mixed with some classic gangster hip-hop. I was able to work with some indigenous brands that I love to feature. Hank’s black, hooded sweatshirt and his t-shirt that says Priests Don’t Kill My Tribe. T are both from the brand Section 35, which is an indigenous-owned streetwear brand based on the unceded territories located in Canada. It was really great to collaborate with that brand and showcase their work in a modern, cool way. Hank’s Beaten Medallion was also sourced from that same store in Rapid City, South Dakota, Lakota Sioux Arts. That was also a really fun thing to show. Hank exudes a rough and tough exterior, but he is committed to defending his people, land, and culture. And as a member of the Red Thunder Society, which is the revolutionary organization that they formed to protect their land. Through his costumes, I wanted to portray his efforts of helping to decolonize his people from the persecution of America and its enduring systematic racism.
The great thing about Americana is that while it’s steeped in all these complexities, it has such a darkly comedic tone, and the way the story weaves the comedy with the violence is so fast that you just never know what’s going to happen next. I love that it’s steeped in humor.
AD: I did too! Simon Rex and Eric Dane were great villains who felt like dark presences and disrupters coming in.
JB: Eric Dane’s character, Dillon, has a bad attitude, and his vibe exudes trouble. His look started with his vintage cowboy boots. Cal sees those boots, and Dillon becomes the archetypal, evil cowboy.
We got to have a lot of fun with Simon Rex’s character, Roy Lee Dean, because he’s this quintessential western businessman who wants to be a cowboy, is trying so hard, but he’s so clearly from California and loves to play dress up. He’s a conceited west coast transplant playing dress up in his cowboy couture and loves to talk about his snakeskin boots, which we got sourced from this lovely small cowboy boot company in Austin, Texas called Allen’s. We got to have lots of fun finding really interesting pieces for him. The fun of his character is just how much you can tell he’s in love with himself. Simon and Eric playing off one another was a real blast to see.
AD: And tell me about Lefty and Paul Walter Hauser, another actor I absolutely adore.
JB: It’s impossible not to fall in love with him, you know? He plays a simple, goodhearted ranch hand. He’s earnest and kind but so lonely. And I think what’s so sweet about his character; he’s just desperately seeking companionship.
With his character, we wanted to stay stylistically much more realistic and grounded. He’s that salt-of-the-earth character that brings us back into the environment in South Dakota. Lefty’s outfits are very practical and worn down and respective to the work he does on his ranch. He’s got this wonderful, waxed canvas work jacket that’s subtle and beautifully worn in. But Lefty’s character also takes a lot of pride in his appearance; every time he goes into town, you can see that he changes his clothes, takes his work jacket off, and he goes into town with his soft, shearling, fine sway jacket, and he changes into his city boots, which are square-toed and sleeker. He keeps ’em cleaned and shined. He respects the life he leads, and you can tell he’s just a great person. I root for him always! Inspired by classic American cowboys, we tried to make Lefty the sweetest cowboy that you can fall in love with, and he’s charming as hell.
AD: Mission accomplished! Americana is broken down into chapters with elements and pieces of costuming that carry through. How did that play into your design and planning of the evolution of the characters as they move through the chapters?
JB: Yeah, I liked to treat them as little vignettes. I lumped them together; you have Mandy, Cal, and Dillon in their trailer park, you have Penny Jo and Lefty at the diner and on the ranch, and then we have Hank and Ghost Eye and the Red Thunder Society. It’s so interesting to have everything woven together as well.
With Penny Jo, she consumes starts as timid with brown tones. As she gains confidence in her relationship with Lefty, her style starts to flourish. In the beginning, she’s in her waitress uniform a lot, and then the monotony of that gets broken up as she quietly inserts her personality. Because she has that love of country music and that vintage-retro vibe, if you look closely, she’s always changing the vintage red bandanas that she wears in her hair at the diner. They’re different ones each time, but they still match perfectly with what she wears every day. Penny Jo adds her Dolly flare to her waitress uniform by wearing her thrifted, two-toned cowboy boots that she hand-glued rhinestones onto. There are a bunch of fun little Easter egg details if you watch closely—it’s subtle but hints at her dreams and where she wants to go. She even has a chain necklace with a tiny shining star charm on it that she wears every day to remind herself of her secret dream of becoming a famous country music star.
Penny Jo’s style then moves from those timid brownish textures to that more vibrant and aspirational stage ensemble—for her final outfit of the film, I really wanted it to feel like she’s ready to step out onto the stage in Nashville. We took her from dark denim and put her in a lighter wash, tighter denim jeans with embellished rhinestones on the pockets. And the white rhinestone cowboy booties are a great contrast to the long brown, two-toned boots she wears earlier. The vivid bubblegum pink faux-fur jacket is the standout. She also embroiders her white, western pearl snap shirt with poppy flowers that symbolize her name and that she’s reaching out for her freedom. She finally has the confidence to think that maybe if they can get this money, she can go and do her dream.
AD: Americana has so many great side characters! I loved the costume design of Paul Walter Hauser’s girlfriend that he’s trying to propose to at the beginning of the film. How did you use the styling of the minor characters to flesh out the world of Americana?
JB: For that character, we did a very specific, distinctive look that I’m very familiar with in Oklahoma, Texas, and South Dakota. We just really wanted to show that she’s a character who’s a modern girl. Lefty really wants to be with a nice girl—with the flowers on her blouse, the leggings, and the boots; it’s just a very simple sweet look. It shows that Lefty isn’t looking for something grand; he wants companionship and small-time love. But he’s so off-base. Fleshing out all those minor characters was just a matter of doing a deep dive and finding those inspirations in real life. Everything is based on things people actually wear and shows the style of rural America.
AD: Let’s end by discussing the ghost shirt, which plays a big role in the plot. And I have to mention the fantastic dinner party scene.
JB: Wonderful! The ghost shirt was something I worked on closely with the production designer, Russell Barnes. I found this Native American artisan in New Mexico, Wynema Chavez, and we had her recreate a ghost shirt based on images and research that we had found. She created that for us, and we spent a lot of time making sure it was displayed.
And the dinner party, Toby Huss was amazing to dress that, and we got to have a lot of fun with those characters—Chandra (Ines France Ware), and these young intellectuals that are listening to him go on and on is just wonderful. We got to play with all the different types of people that would be there. I had a lot of fun showing a more upscale side to the rural area they were living in.