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SYFY WIRE Look of the Week

Look of the Week: Us and the utilitarian red boiler suit

By Emma Fraser
Jordan Peele's Us doppelgangers

Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!

The Ghostbusters, Michael Myers (Nick Castle), Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) and Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) all share a fondness for this particular form of practical attire. Whether it is a work uniform, an outfit of incarceration or simply taken from an unsuspecting victim, these characters all have this one-piece garment in common. In Jordan Peele's hit horror movie, Us, the Tethered join these iconic characters in making this sartorial statement. 

Spoilers for Us ahead.

Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Evan Alex, and Shahadi Wright Joseph in Us
Matching vacation attire falls into the "extra" column; nevertheless, the family that slays together stays together, and wearing the same outfit instantly unites and distinguishes themselves from their doubles. A cropped red boiler suit is not your typical beach holiday garb, but when you have spent all that time underground, it is best to protect your skin from harmful UV rays. 

The boiler suit has a variety of names — depending on design tweaks and/or circumstance — including coveralls, siren suit, flight suit, romper, and jumpsuit. Its origin lies in workwear and the military; it was first worn to protect clothing, ranging from mechanics to railroad workers. In WWII, Rosie the Riveter announced “We Can Do It” in a blue boiler suit and the many women who entered the workforce wore something similar. The military association is anchored in the flight suit, as seen most recently in Captain Marvel.

Us – Winston Duke and Shahadi Wright Joseph
It is a gender-neutral garment that is more concerned with function over style, another reason why it is perfect for Red’s (Lupita Nyong’o) plan. Boiler suits typically come in more muted colors, such as navy blue (Michael Myers and Hannibal Lecter), khaki (Ripley) or beige (Ghostbusters); the red of the Us garments is instantly menacing in its boldness. As they hold hands across America it looks like a flash mob style statement or a Coca-Cola commercial — Gade (Winston Duke) jokes that it could be ‘performance art.’ The Tethered are not meant to blend in; costume designer Kym Barrett explained they “are like a bloodstain within the frame. I wanted them to really bleed out from the background.”

Red is used sparingly prior to the arrival of the doppelgängers, which adds to the impact of this ensemble. Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) wears predominantly white with a bold yellow bikini top peeking out, while Gade’s costuming is predominantly blue, white and grey, and Zora’s (Shahadi Wright Joseph) hoodies are in green and yellow. It is only Jason (Evan Alex) with his sunset shorts and Jaws logo on his T-shirt that gets in on the crimson clothing action. Could this color link be related to a Jason/Pluto theory that is doing the rounds? Of course, Adelaide's white ensemble is quickly stained with blood, so much so that by the end of the film it is beyond salvaging.

US Jordan Peele
The utilitarian nature of the cropped red boiler suit is an important aspect of the Tethered “uniform.” They are oppressed and forgotten, abandoned to live beneath the ground; by wearing the same thing they become a monolith. (I do have questions about where Red acquired so many red coveralls in various sizes, but she gets a solid A+ for branding.) The clean line aesthetic of this garment delivers a strong visual as there is nothing fussy distracting from the task at hand. It looks like an outfit from the future (possibly dystopian) while also signifying workwear anchored in industries of the past; duality runs throughout Us and the boiler suit is emblematic of this theme. The Tethered are one, both as they carry out their violent acts and standing hand-in-hand, and the latter resembles a sign of unity or a peaceful protest. 

The thread of red weaving from sea to shining sea is broken up they those who have acquired garments from those they likely killed. The Tethered have worn their own attire for years below the ground, so it is not surprising that some are drawn to the now discarded garments. The materialistic Kitty (Elisabeth Moss) and Josh (Tim Heidecker) are dispatched with precision by their doubles, and Tex (Tim Heidecker) puts on Josh’s robe, which is even more unnerving than the boiler suit by itself. At first Adelaide and her family think they have reached a safe compound when they flee to their friends' fancy home until the red underneath Tex's new robe becomes all too visible. The brown sandals are a giveaway too.  

Us hero
Instead of workwear, these shoes have a religious cult-like connotation. As their leader, Red is taking them to a better place providing them with the tools and methods to do so. They're also equipped with large scissors perfect for stabbing and one brown leather glove (because a pair would look like they are going for a leisurely drive, and that is definitely not on the agenda) that also ties to the whole Thriller of it all. Shoes are important in aiding Zora’s escape from her double — who Red refers to as a “little monster.” As the Tethered family stands outside the home they are about to invade, Adelaide instructs her daughter to put her shoes on; she knows her daughter will need to run in order to survive.

Resembling “sensible” looking Tevas and Birkenstocks (but uglier) these sandals were custom-made for Us. I know they are objectively hideous, but there is something about them that makes me want to add a pair to my summer shoe rotation. We can debate the merits of unattractive sandals, but one item that is definitely on trend in 2019 is the Tethered's signature red one-piece.

Spring/summer runway presentions last fall featured an array of boiler suits, once again bringing them back to the fashion forefront. Brands such as Hermès, Jil Sander, Armani, and Giambattista Valli all featured variations in a number of colors — including red. As with most trends, this has trickled down to the more affordable Madewell, Topshop, Otherwild, and H&M. The year of the boiler suit is here, which, if you are after something a little looser and leisurely over its tighter jumpsuit relative, then you are very much in luck. You don't have to wait until Halloween to try out this particular outfit, but maybe leave the glove at home.