Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal) has a laundry list of concerns in the post-apocalyptic Last of Us world. Thankfully, when he does get the opportunity to sleep, his durable jacket serves a dual purpose as something to lay his head on. Sure, it can’t protect Joel from what happens at the end of the fourth episode, but at least his slumber was comfortable for a few blissful minutes.
“When you're on the run or the road like Joel and Ellie (Bella Ramsey), you only have what you can fit in your backpack, on your body. So everything has to double; your coat might be used as a blanket or rolled up as a pillow or whatever else you need it for,” costume designer Cynthia Ann Summers tells The Daily Beast’s Obsessed. Function takes precedence over style, but Pascal’s Joel proves you can have both.
Since The Last of Us debuted last month on HBO, it has taken the baton from The White Lotus as the must-see weekly series. A quarantine zone (aka the QZ) in Boston lacks the refinement of a luxury resort in Sicily, but that doesn’t mean audiences aren’t taking note of the clothes. Neil Druckmann, who created the wildly popular video game, and showrunner Craig Mazin have ensured that the texture of the source material is baked into the series, including Summers taking aesthetic cues for Joel and Ellie.
Ever since the explosive season premiere, Summers has received a steady stream of messages from fans wanting to know where they can purchase Joel’s jacket, denim shirt, jeans, and boots. “I'm a little surprised, to be honest with you, at the amount of interest in exactly what all the items the characters are wearing,” she says. In some cases, cosplayers want to perfect their costume, but this everyman look is lighting up an array of men’s lifestyle sites too.
Now, we have the answers to the particular questions about where to source items like Pascal’s jacket, how the game influenced these choices, and the challenges of working on a “jeans and T-shirt” show.
“As a costume designer, you want to do costumes—period pieces, fantasy, and fashion-driven shows are attractive. What's harder is for the costumes to be not the main event but so integral with the sets, the story, the lighting,” says Summers. “To be so integral to tell the story within that and not stand out. That's harder to do. I find that harder to do.”
Summers has experience with post-apocalyptic titles like Snowpiercer, ticked the game adaptation box with Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, and created stunning fantasy creations in A Series of Unfortunate Events. She has also showcased accessible sartorial flair in the canceled-too-soon Baby-Sitters Club that inspired the watermelon earrings I wore during this interview.
Whereas I pick specific earrings out for my job, Joel doesn’t do the same for his gig as a construction worker when the series opens in 2003 Austin. “I didn't want him to look like he thought about what he chose to put on. He needed utilitarian wear,” says Summers.
Nailing Pedro Pascal's Look
Joel simply throws on whatever is practical for work, but it isn’t as easy as grabbing something off the rack for the costume team. “That outfit was super hard to get, which sounds nutty because it is literally a T-shirt, jeans, and boots,” shares Summers. “Finding the right shirt that is the right color or that will dye to the right color—because Craig was very specific with his color palette—it's simple, but it all had to work.”
Mazin's specificity about the blue of Joel’s shirt points to how the costumes shouldn’t pull focus: “The landscapes, costumes, sets and all the action that happens on it and within it, everything harmonizes in a beautiful way that doesn't jump out at you. It's very character driven. You want to be watching what's being said and what's happening. You don't want to be like, ‘Oh my God, that costume!”
The search for Joel’s first tee involved “dozens and dozens of shirts.” In each case, Summers's team “broke them down before Pedro even tried them on.” Even in 2003, Joel wasn't wearing brand new clothes.
“It came down to this one shirt that, unfortunately, was going out of production,” she says about the Crossley garment that was the number one pick by Mazin. At first, Summers could only source four, and she needed at least 30 to cover the progression of dirt and blood, stunt doubles, photo doubles, and extras in case of on-set mishaps. “That’s every costume designer's nightmare,” she says about the scramble to find this haul in the timeframe. Summers turned to the Howard Clothing Co. to help track down the Italian brand from across Europe.
Thankfully, Joel’s Levi’s jeans didn’t require an international treasure hunt, and neither did the Trailblazer boots by Irish Setter. The 2023 pair are broken down to look different front the design worn by Pascal in the scenes set two decades earlier.
In the present, rather than distress or age an off-the-rack garment, Summers wanted to custom make the jacket vital to Joel’s look in the game. “I wanted to create it, so we had our own because, in the game, it's a little bit nondescript. It feels a bit like a Carhartt, but it doesn't hang like a Carhartt,” she says. “Going from an illustrated character to a live-action, things don't hang, move, or light the same.”
Unfortunately, after trial and error, the garments they created using waxed cotton didn’t fit Mazin’s vision. At the last minute, she “had my shoppers bring in every waxed cotton jacket they could find that looked anything like the game.”
Of the three top contenders, the best-selling Huckberry brand Flint and Tinder jacket was selected. “We modified it slightly, then broke it down a lot and managed to get 30 of them because it's the jacket that travels throughout the whole season,” Summers says. A durable shirt was another must for Joel’s 2023 look, and this search covered everything from high-end to affordable garments bought by farmers and ranchers.
A Wrangler shirt that is part of a line exclusively sold in Walmart was selected partly because it “didn’t have the Western yoke in the front.” Avoiding fashion lines was a must as “he's just Joel, and he's a man trying to get from day to day. He's angry, so I didn't want to diffuse that with anything fashionable.”
Summers warned Pascal thathis relatively true-to-the-game costume was “not going to be as exciting as The Mandalorian,” which didn’t phase the actor.
“I'm excited to be wearing comfortable clothes, with boots I can work and run in,” Summers recalls him saying. “Bella said the same thing because she does a lot of period work.” This reaction helped put the designer’s mind at ease: “That was a great boost for me because I was like, ‘Oh, these two great actors coming in, and they're used to playing within these amazing period pieces and sci-fi, and here's your jeans and T-shirt, and you're gonna get really dirty, bloody and everything else.’”
Dressing Bella Ramsey as the Perfect Ellie
Whereas The Baby-Sitters Club had an overt nod to the iconic plaid suit worn by Alicia Silverstone in Clueless, teen attire in The Last of Us is much more Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini) from Freaks and Geeks. An army jacket paired with a hoodie, baseball tee, jeans, and Converse could work in 1980 or 2023—Cordyceps brain infection or not.
“That was important for us to land on a nonspecific time period,” Summers says, when I mention the ubiquitous style choice for Ellie. “Even though we know we start in 2003, Austin, Texas, within four days, the whole world falls apart to this pandemic,” says Summers. “So if you think about that 20 years, people stopped with their fashion in 2003.”
Not everyone is fashion-forward, but there is another reason why you won’t spot Ellie leaning into early ’00s trends like ultra-rise pants. “We wanted to find a look for Ellie that spoke to the game but also had a timeless teenage look, so we weren't taken out of this suspended reality that we're in,” the designer says.
“You need to look for that middle ground, that Middle America look,” Summers says about the initial baseball tee with the purple ringer neck. Ellie is not a typical adolescent and has never gone to the mall. However, in Episode 3, she does acquire the red shirt with a gold palm tree print from Frank’s (Murray Bartlett) closet to match the recognizable ensemble from the video game.
“You'll notice there are pieces of the iconic look—and I'm not gonna give it away—that remain with her for the rest of the season,” Summers teases. The duo will travel through burning summer heat and minus 40 temperatures (with the windchill factor) winters. “Layers may be added or changed somewhat. There are pieces that remain that I think were important to stay with the character,” she says. The “organic trail we left behind” should please gamers and new fans.
One clothing connection eagle-eyed viewers have spotted is the green and red plaid shirt Joel changes into when grabbing supplies from Frank and Bill’s (Nick Offerman) home. Frank is wearing this shirt during his fight with Bill about sprucing up the neighborhood (“Paying attention to things—it’s how we show love”), and while Joel is only an acquaintance of the couple, this link doesn’t go unnoticed.
“All of that is due to Craig Mazin,” Summers says about this choice. “It's all in the small details, especially on a show like this, and he tries to connect and weave characters together in ways that we probably wouldn't think of.”
Imagery isn’t chosen randomly, including references and Easter eggs from the game. The artwork on Ellie’s red shirt and Joel’s now-deceased daughter Sarah’s (Nico Parker) pink Halicon Drops band tee is created by The Last of Us video game company Naughty Dog. When Druckmann made the game, Halicon Drops is what his then-two-year-old daughter “called her stuffy, and he thought it sounded like a cool band name.” Summers says that details like this add layers of humanity that “make it easy for the rest of us on The Last of Us.”
There are no longer stores to shop in—other than Frank’s boutique—but The Last of Us demonstrates that all you need for a signature look is one durable jacket that can double as a pillow.