The Beach Bum’s Costume Designer Heidi Bivens Unpacks the Movie’s Most Meme-able Looks

Harmony Korine’s costume designer unpacks all the meme-able looks in the movie.

Moondog (Matthew McConaughey) in THE BEACH BUM. Courtesy of NEON and VICE..jpg
Atsushi Nishijima

Before there were think pieces about the “scumbro” aesthetic—crocs, tie-dye, and Guy Fieri flames, for those whose Internet corner doesn’t encompass the microtrend—there were paparazzi photos of Matthew McConaughey and Zac Efron on the set of The Beach Bum. In the earliest photos, McConaughey was captured wearing a Hawaiian-print shorts set and silver Uggs while skateboarding and holding a blow-up sex doll. His costar Efron had an even wilder look: a panini-inspired striped beard and a spiked denim vest emblazoned with patches reading things like “Prayer Warrior,” “Darwin’s Dead,” and “Jesus Is Lord.” It was a lot to take in, especially without any context about how these looks fit into Harmony Korine’s follow-up film to 2012’s Spring Breakers.

At the time, those working on the film were “bummed” that the looks had leaked (and spread like fire on Twitter), admits the costume designer Heidi Bivens, who also worked on the director’s last film, a different take on Floridian style. But in retrospect, she sees it as a benefit. “At the end of the day, you have to embrace it,” she explains over the phone. “It’s the era we’re living in.”

Ultimately, no other era would have benefited The Beach Bum as much as the present, even though the actual storyline could be rooted in any other decade. Without giving much away, it follows Moondog (McConaughey), a Key West poet on a journey to finish his next book, who comes across all sorts of characters in the process, like Flicker, played by Efron from behind a vape cloud. Not only does the film perfectly dovetail with the scumbro aesthetic, which has become the predominant style for the current class of weirdo celebrities, from Justin Bieber, Pete Davidson, and Shia LaBeouf to Jonah Hill, who has a very different look in The Beach Bum as Moondog’s agent, Lewis; it’s also intrinsically linked to the Internet. This movie was already a meme a full year ahead of its March 29 release date. It’s also thanks to memes that Efron’s character wears JNCO jeans, as Bivens explains. Below, the costume designer shares how Efron ended up with such an unforgettable look, the pieces McConaughey kept from Moondog’s wardrobe, and why the paparazzi’s swarming of the set ended up being a blessing.

Do you feel like The Beach Bum has received more attention for its wardrobe than other projects you’ve worked on?

Oh, absolutely. After this experience of working with Harmony and being able to create that world, it’s given me such a direct want to continue to work on projects where I can be that creative. Euphoria [HBO’s Zendaya-produced teen drama, coming this summer] is also that type of project, which has been such a gift to continue to create in that way. That’s a whole other crazy world. It’s going to shock people. People ask me, “Is it like Kids?” My answer is, “Actually, it’s way more intense. Because what kids are doing now is beyond anything that kids were up to when Kids came out.” It’s wild.

Having done Spring Breakers and The Beach Bum, do you consider yourself to be an expert on Floridian style at this point?

[Laughs] Oh, hardly, because Florida is huge and there are so many different types of people and places there. Maybe South Florida? But I’m excited to go back there and shoot somewhere else. I know Harmony has a project called Tampa, which is based on a best-seller. I think he has that script in development with HBO to at least executive produce. Maybe I’ll be going back to Florida for that. Harmony lives in Miami, and he loves shooting there, so I’m guessing whatever he cooks up next will probably be there. So am I an expert yet? I don’t know. But in the future? I foresee I probably will be.

How was the sourcing and portrayal of Floridian style different in The Beach Bum than it was in Spring Breakers?

In Moondog’s world, we tried to create a world that isn’t necessarily completely grounded in reality, whereas in Spring Breakers I tried to keep it more gritty and realistic, although there’s a lot of pop colors and eye candy. Just in terms of my thought process, with Spring Breakers I was more interested in, “What would these girls be wearing? Where would they be buying their clothes?” I didn’t build a lot of costumes for Spring Breakers. I found the majority at the local mall because it was the reality of what they’d have access to.

With The Beach Bum, we didn’t have rules or boundaries. Anything goes. So in terms of the filter all of the ideas would come through, it was much more forgiving. It was more character-based and less reality-based.

What kind of direction did you get from Harmony about Moondog’s wardrobe?

Well, I know he loves the idea of the shorts set. That was something that we decided on in the first fitting. We had lots of different types of things to try in the first fitting, and that felt really natural. For Moondog, ease was the big priority—to be easy, breezy—and the idea that he wouldn’t have to think about what he’d put on because he had these sets he wears like a uniform. That became obvious to us.

Matthew McConaughey and Harmony Korine on set of The Beach Bum.

Atsushi Nishijima

How did Matthew McConaughey respond to the wardrobe he was given? Did he stay in character on set, and did he take anything home?

I remember in the first scene there’s a shirt he wears that he fell in love with. He definitely ended up taking it with him. He wears it in the sequence when he leaves his house, wearing Minnie’s Uggs, and has the yellow blazer on. The shirt that he’s wearing is actually a woman’s shirt. You can’t really tell, but that was the precursor of what was to come for his character arc with the wardrobe, plus Minnie’s boots. That was something I found and thought the pattern was great—it wasn’t necessarily because it was a woman’s shirt. He put it on and didn’t want to take it off. He wanted to wear it on his days off.

In general, a lot of the wardrobe he felt comfortable with and ended up taking with him after the film. I don’t know how much of it he actually wears, but I know there are pieces of Moondog that have stayed with him, maybe emotionally or intelligently, that he has a fondness for, like the ring he wears.

Did he end up keeping the Ugg boots and the thong that he wears?

Yeah, I think he kept one of everything. Anything we had multiples of went into a storage unit. But, yeah, he asked for all of his wardrobe. I think that was in his contract. All seasoned actors and actresses, I find, are smart enough to know that they can have a line in their contract that says they can keep their wardrobe. I know I’d want to if it was me [laughs].

Matthew McConaughey in The Beach Bum.

Atsushi Nishijima

Did Zac Efron end up keeping any of the pieces he wore?

I don’t think so, actually. He was only with us for a couple of days—we shot him pretty quickly—so he probably wasn’t as emotionally attached as Moondog was, considering Matthew was with us for the whole shoot.

Where did the idea come from for Efron’s look, and how did he end up in JNCO jeans?

[Laughs] Well the inspiration came from looking at pictures. The JNCO jeans came from a meme that was floating around. If you Google JNCO jeans, it’s probably one of the first images that comes up, of a guy wears elephant-bell JNCO jeans—it’s, like, the biggest style they make. So that was floating around in our inspiration before we even knew what we were going to do with Flicker. It was just a funny photo. Once we started working on Zac’s character, it was obvious that we had to try it. The minute he put them on in the fitting, it was instant comedy. Then we found out he also knew how to skate in Heelys, so it was comedy gold at that point: Zac Efron in JNCO jeans and Heelys with a giant vape. It got sillier and sillier.

It’s fitting that you looked to memes, because the way that this film captured an audience is so of the Internet era. The paparazzi’s photos of McConaughey were everywhere on Twitter. How were you aware of the impact that this film had while you were still filming?

I think everyone was bummed at first. It’s that thing where you watch the trailer and you feel like you’ve seen the movie already. So we were trying to protect stuff so that it would be a surprise, but we quickly realized that in this day and age you’re not going to be able to. If you’re shooting exteriors, there’s going to be someone on a bridge with a lens. There’s no way to hide from paparazzi when you’re working with people like Matthew and Snoop Dogg. Then we also realized that it built interest because people were aware of the film, even if it was a year before its release. That was free lead-up press. It’s almost like you have to shift your consciousness these days because there is no way to control paparazzi or social media. But I see it as a benefit.

I remember when we were shooting Spring Breakers, we went to great lengths to try to hide the costumes from paparazzi, and there was an insane amount because of Selena [Gomez]. There were young girls crying on the side of the road like Michael Jackson was there. It was really intense. So we went to great lengths to hide the costumes, but they all got photographed by paparazzi, except the crime-spree outfits they wear, like the lion monokini and the sweatpants that say “DTF” on the butt. That was because the producers used huge tarps to cover where we were shooting so that no one had a view of it. On this shoot, all of the locations were too open. But at the end of the day, you have to embrace it. It’s the era we’re living in.

Snoop Dogg wears a lot of purple in the film. Is there a significance behind the color?

Yeah, purple is a color that I thought worked well for Lingerie [his character] because it’s a royal color. So there’s this idea that he would have a majestic, royal vibe.

Isla Fisher in The Beach Bum

Atsushi Nishijima

How comfortable was Isla Fisher walking around in all of the lingerie she wore?

She looked hot in this movie. Her body looks great. She felt confident because we choose things that she felt really good in. I involved her a lot more than I would have if I were doing a fitting with a guy who was wearing his underwear on set. With women in general, when I shoot scenes where they’re wearing underwear, I like them to choose what they’re going to wear. I think it’s always good to collaborate as a costume designer, and talk about colors and what we’re trying to accomplish. In general, if someone is going to be made to be half-naked on camera, my main concern is their comfort. So we didn’t hold back on budget for that. One of her lingerie looks is probably more expensive than six of Moondog’s looks, but it was worth it. We wanted the cuts to be right, and to look expensive because obviously her character is meant to be wealthy.

What would you say was the best day of filming?

I would probably say the finale, which we shot toward the end, with the fireworks. (No spoilers.) The whole crew was there, so we all felt the finale of this experience of working together. It was bittersweet, kind of like the ending.