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Yellow Ties and Hoodie Stars: "True Detective"'s Costumes Were About Character, Not Plot

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire March 10, 2014 at 5:18PM

The secret of "True Detective"'s costumes is... they weren't really meant to be secrets.
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True Detective

Like a sports team hititng the showers, the creative personnel behind "True Detective" have been dispatched far and wide for post-finale interviewers: creator Nic Pizzolatto, director Cary Fukunaga and creepy scarface Glenn Fleshler among them. But the most revealing is Slate's talk with costume designer Jenny Eagan

For one thing, Eagan solves the mystery of why a bayou detective wears such well-cut suits -- "It’s Matthew McConaughey. He's sexy. There was going to have to be some sex appeal there." But she also reveals a lot about what did, and more importantly, didn't go into the show's costuming decisions. For instance, was the Reverend Tuttle's yellow tie a hint that he might be connected to the quasi-mythical Yellow King?

I don’t particularly like yellow, in general. But I did use it in a few places throughout the show -- for instance, in Billy Lee Tuttle's tie and pocket square -- to denote wealth. There's a bit of a peacock element to wearing yellow, like you’re showing off, trying to be something special bigger than you actually are. That's why we used yellow there. There wasn’t really any more to it than that. 

So, no. In fact, if you read Vulture's interview with production designer Alex DiGerlando it's quite clear the Yellow King -- i.e. that creepy thronelike sculpture at the heart of Errol Childress' spiral maze -- was never a person at all. But what about that woman with the black star tattoos and the stars in her hoodie. Surely that was on purpose, right? Um...

That was a vintage hoodie we got from Los Angeles, and then aged a bit … We had an ager that we put to work on just about everything. We took extras' clothes and gave them all a big wash over with a cool tan, to give a feel of dinge to it, a layer of dirt. We wanted to make everything feel much more down and a little bit poor, for a lack of a better word. But as for the hoodie, we didn't notice the connection until we saw her in costume with the stars on her neck. I looked at her like, "Holy shit!" It was all sort of ironic. When I saw that online, I was like, "Jesus, I didn't know that, either."

Ultimately, what's on screen is what's on screen, and intentions don't matter. Unless, that is, you start to weave your own narrative composed of whispers only you can hear: Clearly Billy Lee Tuttle's tie means he's the Yellow King, and clearly the spiral on the wall in Marty's house means Hart's daughter is the killer's next victim. Marty talks several times in the course of the show about "the detective's curse": missing the clues that turn out to be right under your nose. But there's a flip side to the curse as well: seeing everything as a clue, which leads you everywhere and nowhere at once. It's hard to tell how many of these seductive Easter Eggs were laid into the show on purpose: Vanity Fair called "True Detective" "the first show to embrace the digital era," which would have been true had the freeze-frame details littered through the show turned out to be more than incidental. But with few exceptions, they didn't: the cop figurines posed over a naked Barbie in Hart's daughter's room turn out to be a reflection her awareness of her father's obsessions, not a clue to her eventual fate (Her dad gets hit with a hatchet; she seems him in the hospital; she leaves). Part of being a detective is knowing what to look for; the other, just as important part is knowing what to ignore.

This article is related to: True Detective


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