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Yellowstone Costume Designer Johnetta Boone on Working With Real Cowboys Kevin Costner and Taylor Sheridan to Prioritize Authenticity

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When it came to dressing cowboys for Yellowstone, now in its fifth season on Paramount Network, Costume Designer Johnetta Boone didn’t have to look too far for inspiration, as Taylor Sheridan, the show’s Creator, epitomizes the Western ideal from hat to boots.

Boone joined the Yellowstone family ahead of Season 2, when Sheridan first described a color palette that consisted of sunset hues inspired by the humanity of the rancher, ultimately setting the tone for each season of the Dutton family saga. Boone is a multi-faceted designer whose work has spanned the worlds of still photography, commercials, television, and feature films, with her designs ranging from turn-of-the-century classic and contemporary to retro and western. She has found herself in the latter design arena for the past four years.

In Part One of Season 5, Kevin Costner‘s patriarch John Dutton, now Governor of the state of Montana, is forced to reluctantly leave the ranch to attend business in Washington, D.C. Boone designed costumes for the lobbyist satire K Street, so she drew on her experience in the political arena to give Dutton’s wardrobe more of a business feel without losing his character’s cowboy spirit. The same went for his daughter, Beth Dutton (Kelly Reilly), whose outfits adopted a bit more polish now that she’s representing her father as a politician.

Below the Line spoke to Johnetta Boone via Zoom video from her home in Washington, D.C., surrounded by bust mannequins that made for an apropos designer background. Upon seeing my own backdrop, which featured a shot of the Yellowstone ranch, she let out an exclamation of joy, imagining she was back in Montana with the cast and crew, who have become a family over the years. Boone discussed how the real ranchers and cowboys who live there have inspired her costume designs over the course of several seasons, and how she collaborated closely with the cast — specifically, Costner, a cowboy in his own right who diplomatically shared his thoughts about what his character would wear, though he ultimately came to trust Boone’s instincts.

Johnetta Boone
Johnetta Boone photo via Glenford Nuñez

Below the Line: I’m a huge Yellowstone fan, and I know you worked on this from the beginning, so let’s start with your initial inspiration for the character styles.

Johnetta Boone: So, Robin, my inspiration for the character styles actually comes from the real cowboys. I came in [for] Season 2. We were filming in Utah, but we were filming on ranches with real cowboys. In addition, now that we’re in Montana, we’re filming on real ranches with real cowboys, and we’re surrounded by ranchers 24/7, so I use them as my inspiration because there’s nothing more perfect for art than reality. It works out great because it doesn’t matter where I am, they’re there. They’re in the grocery store, they’re at the gas station, they’re at the convenience store, they’re at the farmer’s market, they’re at the movies — they’re everywhere.

BTL: Are you taking pictures of them to reflect on what they’re wearing?

Boone: Back in the day, you used to be able to take pictures of people. Now, I don’t take that liberty, so I will just take pictures with my eyes and then use them as a visual reference to find source imagery that is sort of consistent with what I saw. Occasionally, if I am able to take out my phone and take a quick shot without people recognizing it, then I do. But you know, everyone is really on alert now because you don’t know where your pictures are going to end up. So I don’t like to infringe on people’s privacy or their private space. We also have quite a bit of real cowboys on the show, so they are super amenable to me shooting them and their looks prior to when they get into costume, which almost identically mimics their looks anyway.

Yellowstone
Yellowstone image via Paramount Network

BTL: How do you get their costumes to look worn and lived in?

Boone: I get to use them [the real cowboys] as my base for aging, for instance, because we get everything new unless I get it from a costume house, which I don’t typically do. But if I get it from a vintage source or if it’s already worn, it’s not dirty, right? If it’s brand new, then we have to break it all the way down to make it look lived in [or] make it look like it’s been worked in all day… or the night before. That’s a really fine line because we filmed in Texas last year, so the color of the earth is different and the wearability is different because Texas is seemingly so hot all the time and Montana is the absolute opposite most of the time. All that plays into how we approach everything.

BTL: Where do you source most of the clothes?

Boone: Originally, the clothes would come from a costume shop. [With] me, because I’m always working in incentive areas outside of Los Angeles and New York, my preference is to feed back into the community. So I shop in the local shops, and that also brings a certain level of authenticity to the costumes. If it’s coming from a used consignment shop or an antique store, it’s already been worn by a rancher because I’m surrounded by ranchers. So it’s got the perfect markings, distressing, and everything that’s consistent with that.

In terms of the more powerful professional wear, that comes directly from the box retailers, the department stores in their designer areas, or the small specialty shops. I go to them for those pieces rather than sourcing them from reused or resale environments.

BTL: Talk about how the colors had to match the production design and the cinematography.

Boone: Taylor [Sheridan] has actually created that for us. It’s great that he’s a cowboy, and it’s not just coming out of a writers room because he not only understands everything, but it’s his world. We call it the Taylor universe because he’s a cowboy. He gave us a color palette, and the color palette is sunset hues. What a beautiful color palette! Only occasionally do we introduce cooler tones, which are used for the villains [laughs] — the corporate mongrels.

I use the cooler tones for them because they lack passion, they lack compassion, they lack any sort of feeling towards what we would call the Montana humanity or the humanity of the rancher and their family and putting food on the table; their interest and desires are something else, so I always save the cooler colors for them, and all the cowboys and everything in the cowboy world is sunset colors.

Mainly, the Production Designer and I get together, and we just create and mold this world that’s warm and saturated with love and passion — and it’s breathing and living as opposed to being frigid.

Yellowstone
Yellowstone sketch via Johnetta Boone

BTL: I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin Costner over the years and he’s as charming as they come. He has this cowboy way about him.

Boone: I love Kevin. I’m just going to say that! [laughs] Just for the record, not just because. In the beginning, when we first met, he had a very strong idea. He’s a cowboy as well. He has a ranch, so he knows what that world is like. What he wants to know is if he can trust you [and] if you’ve done your homework, and if you know what that world is like.

So, originally, I brought pieces in and made recommendations, and he would absolutely… not necessarily question what my recommendations were… but he would approach me with a thought with regards to why I chose that. Then I would share that with him, and he’d say, ‘All right, then let’s do it.’ That’s amazing.

To get that from an actor who’s portraying a character that they know very well, that’s part of their own repertoire, is huge. They trust and they entrust that your decisions are going to be in alignment with the characters that they’re portraying. You don’t always get that because not all actors actually live the role that they’re playing. So oftentimes, they rely on you to cast that net, to give them some security in terms of building the character. If you get it wrong, you’re both wrong. So you want to get it right most of the time.

BTL: Can you give me an example of how Kevin diplomatically questions you about what his character should wear?

Boone: It would be hats, for sure. I mean, hats are great. Not so much in the shape of the hat, but more in the color. So if he has on a certain look, he’ll say, ‘Well, bring all the hats over.’ In the beginning, I only had, like, two or three colors, and then I introduced other colors. I introduced the navy blue, like, [that] midnight blue, which looks black but is not. When you put them next to each other, you can definitely see that they’re not black.

His brown hat was there, but we also introduced the gray hat as an option for him. So he’d look at the gray hat and the black hat and put them on. He may have on something as simple as a denim shirt and jeans, but the brown hat has a tone. It’s warmer. The cold hat says “the boss.” It means business.

So he would switch them on and off, and he’d say, ‘You know, you’re right. The brown hat works really great for this particular sequence of scenes.’ That’s how we started, and then slowly along the way, he really, honestly, just welcomed my first thought all the time. He may still say, ‘Let’s see the other one,’ but he always looks at me and says, ‘You know, you really worked hard to push me on that one.’ Then we would just laugh [laughs]. He says, ‘Wow, that was a really hard push!’

Yellowstone
Kevin Costner in Yellowstone/Paramount Network

BTL: In this season, as the Governor, he has to wear a suit, so do you have him maintain his cowboy spirit?

Boone: His suit has an entirely different look, but he’s still a cowboy, so he still has his hats. He still has his belt. He still has his boots. Now, what we’ve done for him — and this is what the audience may not recognize — [is that] there are some cases where his ties are a little bit short, or his suit is super snug, like, it doesn’t give him any room to breathe. We talked about that, and this is what happens when you’re building characters and character dynamics.

He said, ‘Well, he doesn’t wear a suit all the time, so he doesn’t always get it right with his suit tight.’ I said, ‘Let’s make your tie the right length.’ He goes, ‘No, no, no. We don’t always get it right. You know, I’m on a horse all the time. I love being on a horse. I don’t want to be governor. So let’s play around with it a little bit and give him some license to not be perfect.’

And I love that. It was an ideal moment when you are totally translating who a character is. In a man’s world, most politicians do not wear black suits. They only wear black suits when it’s a time of mourning. They wear gray. They wear navy blue 90 percent of the time. Brown may be introduced, but not typically. So I took a little bit of our artistic license and gave a deep chocolate brown, which you almost can’t even tell is brown on camera because it’s so dark, but it just gives me that little bit of a difference in a hue so that we have a tiny bit of variety.

I have a different tonality in the grays. I’ve got a deep charcoal gray and a slightly lighter, but not too light, gray. Then we were able to introduce the colors in his hats, and then what I did was I gave him a dress boot because he is still a cowboy, so I didn’t put him in a dress shoe. I put him in a dress western, and then I gave him a dress western belt so you don’t forget that he’s a cowboy, especially when he is going up against his constituents and also the people [who] work for him and any other governors, senators, or whoever he is interacting with in the DC world, he’s always going to look different. You know he’s a cowboy, and he’s not a politician, and that’s what we wanted.

BTL: Moving on to his daughter, Beth, played by Kelly Reilly. How much fun is it to dress her?

Boone: It’s delightful. She’s an amazing person. She’s so lovely, and I have to pinch myself because in the morning she’s British, so she has a British accent, and then when she shifts over to being Beth, she has a full-on American accent. It’s the most incredible thing to watch. But dressing her is so much fun because we’ve got the soft micro florals in the prairie dresses, which connect her to the land and being on a ranch and being a rancher’s daughter. Then I get to put those powerhouse suits on her with those shoulders, and then you see that she’s all about business and she’s going to go out to kick some butt. Kelly has such an amazing body that everything she puts on just drapes her body perfectly.

BTL: Is there ever a question about showing too much cleavage with Beth’s clothes?

Boone: Of course, we’re not going to go all the way below her bust line, so we ride that fine line. In the real world, she shows more cleavage than you would otherwise see in the political realm. However, she’s not from that realm, and she’s out to do business there, so that’s her power, and she uses that. For instance, when Young Beth was at the bar and the bartender said, “Do you have ID?” And she leans over and says, “This is my ID.” You know, [flaunting her breasts], that was the beginning of it all. So we walk that fine line. Taylor absolutely does not oppose walking that line. So there we have the level of approval that we need to go one button lower.

BTL: With the younger versions of the characters of John, Beth, and Rip in this season, was that the beginnings of their style, in a way?

Boone: That was absolutely true because those younger characters sort of gave you an insight into who they are becoming as they mature. When we first saw Beth, she was only 16, and when we first saw Rip, he was also 16, but she still had a little bit of a twinge to her overt sexuality as she was coming into herself [and] feeling a little sassier.

In the beginning, she was that young, innocent girl, and then, when that time came and her hormones kicked in, that’s when everything shifts for most young women. Then you either go in one direction or the other; you either close up, button up a little bit, or open up a little bit more.

So we opened her up, and then that was the introduction for older Beth to show why she was opened up more — because she never wanted to be considered vulnerable. She never wanted to be considered weak. She always maintains that men are the weaker sex. I wanted to make sure that it was consistent with her looks, even when she was younger.

Yellowstone
Gil Birmingham, Mo Brings Plenty, and Luke Grimes in Yellowstone/Paramount Network

BTL: The other stars of the show are the Native Americans, so tell us about dressing those characters, including  Mo Brings Plenty, who plays Thomas Rainwater’s (Gil Birmingham) right-hand man.

Boone: Mo Brings Plenty is a cowboy as well. He doesn’t wear blazers as much in real life, but when he does, they aren’t suit blazers; they’re western blazers. So I went out and scoured the land for amazing vintage western blazers because contemporary western blazers are not made with the same sense of style in terms of fabrication. They’re a bit wider in their cut, and their fabrics are flat. They’re not tweeds, and they have little texture. So I [went] off what he wears in person. I think I did it subconsciously more than I really thought about it and just continued in that thread.

Yellowstone sketch
Yellowstone sketch via Johnetta Boone

BTL: What changes can we expect in Part Two of Season 5 in terms of what they’re wearing?

Boone: Ooh, I don’t even know. We don’t have any scripts yet, so that’s going to be a surprise to us all! We’ll get to the scripts in a few weeks, and then we’ll start to dive in. I would say that, typically, not much changes because Taylor is very specific about the world maintaining its authenticity, so not much will change in terms of [any] deviation [from] their costumes. Beth has already shifted from being the most powerful ranch owner in Montana’s daughter in prairie dresses to a more structured profile in her governmental professional look because she’s now his right-hand.

There’s not much diversity in the costumes; the cowboys are the cowboys. Sarah Atwood (Dawn Olivieri) is Sarah Atwood, and Jamie (Wes Bentley) is Jamie. We’ve seen him in Western wear. We see him in suits. Listen, the only surprise that we got was at the end of Season 4 when Beth had her conjugal visit. That was a total digression. Oh, my gosh, to see her like that was incredible. To drip her in gold like that was just so perfect.

BTL: What’s the best part about this job for you?

Boone: I would say that the best part about this job is working with a community of artisans [who] are passionate about what they do. They are 1,000 percent committed to not only what they do and what we do, but we’re all committed to actualizing Taylor’s vision. You don’t get that kind of passion on every project, and that’s what separates this from any of them — the level of commitment and passion [for] the vision. Bringing the vision to life is outstanding, from the crew right down to the PAs, to the cast, to the cinematographers.

Most of us are there for a minimum of 16 hours a day, five days a week. That’s a long time. They’re on a horse before the break of dawn, and they get off when the sun sets. We don’t think about what we’re doing because we love what we do, and that’s still special. I don’t even think that many of us actually look at being tired during the course of that time. [Only] at the end [are we] like, “Whew!” But when you’re in it, you are just like cowboys.

Part One of Season 5 of Yellowstone is now available on Paramount Network and streaming on Peacock.

Robin Milling
Robin Milling
Robin Milling is an Entertainment Reporter and Producer based in New York. Robin has a wealth of experience as an Entertainment Reporter covering film, theater, television, and music. Her style is conversational and candid, discussing personal issues as well as professional topics with celebrities. She is a writer/producer and host of the podcast Milling About™ with Robin Milling, which can be heard on Amazon Music, Apple podcasts, and seen on YouTube, featuring her provocative conversations with the hottest names in Hollywood.
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