There are two absolute truths about the guests who stay at the White Lotus. First, they are awful. Second, they dress impeccably well. The clothes on HBO’s buzzy mini series play a pivotal role in bringing to life the world of an upscale Hawaiian resort hosting a gaggle of needy, wealthy visitors and the employees that remain at their beck and call. From flowy, patterned dresses to linen suits, the wardrobe for The White Lotus was pieced together by costume designer Alex Bovaird, who spoke with W about her process for making the guests stand out while the employees blend in.
“It was sort of unlike any other TV show I’ve worked on because of how we shot it in a bubble,” Bovaird said on a recent Zoom call. The HBO production adhered to strict Covid-19 protocols, and once the costume designer discovered that she, along with the rest of the cast and crew, would need to stay at the Four Seasons in Maui for the duration of the shoot, she had just two weeks to prep for a three-month stay. On top of that, when she did go shopping before departing for Hawaii, it was the end of summer 2020. At that time, stores were barely in the process of reopening and there weren’t many new collections to pick from, so Bovaird had to get a little bit creative.
As a costume designer who says she enjoys going a bit method with her work, she drove down to Costa Mesa in Orange County, which she figured would get her close to where the rich guests of the White Lotus might actually shop if they were real people. She scoured through South Coast Plaza, a southern California staple for luxury shopping (think where the likes of Marissa Cooper and Summer Roberts from The O.C. would frequent). Places like Saks OFF 5TH and Neiman Marcus Last Call also became treasure troves for clothing that was slightly different than what most uber-wealthy people would have in their closets, but perfect for animating the image of these particular folks on vacation in paradise.
“When you’re in a resort [setting], you can take more risks because people dress more brave, have tans, they’re free,” Bovaird said. “We found some really good gems down there, and also in the regular Neiman’s and boutiques because that’s where rich, beachy people are.”
Bovaird is particularly fond of the green palm print dress Jennifer Coolidge’s bereaved space cadet character, Tanya, wears during episode four. The piece was made by Colombian-inspired label Juan de Dios, and the costume designer loved it so much that she worked with Juan de Dios to make another custom dress that Tanya dons for her arrival to the White Lotus in the first episode.
The show’s themes were also woven into the characters’ outfits and wardrobe choices. Resort manager Armond (Murray Bartlett) often sports linen suits as his uniform. Pushed to the edge by the insanity of various vacationers’ ridiculous requests, we see him start to unravel from the very beginning of the first episode. Bouvaird chose linen as Armond’s signature fabric because the material wrinkles and becomes disheveled, just like the resort manager does over the course of the six episodes. Meanwhile, other resort employees such as spa supervisor Belinda (Natasha Rothwell) live in a more pared down wardrobe. Her uniform exists in contrast to the guests’ outfits, which might change a couple of times a day.
“When Tanya has dinner with Belinda, she stays in her spa uniform. That was a conscious choice to not have her change to go to the restaurant, we wanted to make the distinction of the staff versus the guests,” Bovaird revealed. “But even though they are in a uniform, they’re fun tropical uniforms. We always tried to infuse the appeal and aspiration of being at a tropical resort.”
For other wardrobe needs, Bovaird worked with a buyer in Oahu and introduced her to classic Hawaiin shirt brand Reyn Spooner, which she used to outfit some of the men on the show, like Mark Mossbacher’s (Steve Zahn) vacation dad fits and the douchey man-child polos and Gucci loafers worn by Shane Patton (Jake Lacy). Serendipitously enough, there was a shop inside the hotel called Cabana that would open one day a week for the crew, which is where Bovaird found an abundance of other resort wear to round out the White Lotus aesthetic. Some of those pieces included some garments (particularly her swim coverups) and accessories worn by Shane’s tragically try-hard new wife, Rachel (Alexandra Daddario), who struggles to strike a balance projecting the idea of sexy independence, while maintaining a preppy appearance that is supported by her husband’s funds.
In terms of the dynamic duo that could end your life with just a look, college friends Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) and Paula (Brittany O’Grady) were dressed in trendy threads that Bovaird curated from vintage shops in Los Angeles. In the online discourse surrounding The White Lotus, the subject of the books that these two read on their tropical getaway, which complement their respective visual aesthetics and bring their personalities full circle. Similarly, their vacation attire has been a talking point. Bovaird wanted to play against the upscale clothes of the other wealthy guests and put them in shredded T-shirts and vintage men’s Hawaiian shorts. There’s even a duality between their clothes that illustrates their tenuous friendship, with Paula’s Rage Against the Machine and OMD tees and Liv’s evil side, as demonstrated through the prissy, pink dress she flounces around in when she tries to steal Paula’s vacation fling, Kai. Bovaird describes the number as “mean girl compared to cool girl.”
Then there’s “she-EO” Nicole Mossbacher’s (Connie Britton) $75,000 bracelets, which become a major plot point during The White Lotus’ fifth episode. Bovaird, along with series creator Mike White, picked the bracelets from Piaget. They wanted them to be the real deal since Nicole wears them often, and because they knew there would be a close-up shot of the bracelets being removed from the safe. The jewelry arrived at the Four Seasons in an armored car, and Bovaird joked that she couldn’t wait to return the bracelets because they were so expensive.
“When Connie would wrap at 4 a.m., it was always a thing that we’d make sure somebody took the bracelets off her and got them into her dressing room safe or my room safe,” Bovaird recounted. “It was always a bit of a hassle–even though they were insured I didn’t want to be one to lose that money for HBO,” she said with a laugh. The bracelets are the perfect accessory to go along with the frantic girlboss’ Louis Vuitton Neverfull bag.
At the end of the day, according to Bovaird and her costume choices for the whole cast, the driving force behind The White Lotus, and the actual Four Seasons guests who began to arrive near the end of the production’s Covid bubble, could be summed up with one assessment: “There was a lot of life imitating art.”