How an Alberta costumer on The Last of Us helped find the show’s signature looks

Still frame from the tv series The Last Of Us. Closeup shot of Pedro Pascal in the bottom left corner of the frame, wearing a <a href=green plaid shirt and looking down solemnly.” srcset=”https://i.cbc.ca/1.6769581.1678126857!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpeg_gen/derivatives/original_300/the-last-of-us-joel.jpeg 300w,https://i.cbc.ca/1.6769581.1678126857!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpeg_gen/derivatives/original_460/the-last-of-us-joel.jpeg 460w,https://i.cbc.ca/1.6769581.1678126857!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpeg_gen/derivatives/original_620/the-last-of-us-joel.jpeg 620w,https://i.cbc.ca/1.6769581.1678126857!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpeg_gen/derivatives/original_780/the-last-of-us-joel.jpeg 780w,https://i.cbc.ca/1.6769581.1678126857!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpeg_gen/derivatives/original_1180/the-last-of-us-joel.jpeg 1180w” sizes=”(max-width: 300px) 300px,(max-width: 460px) 460px,(max-width: 620px) 620px,(max-width: 780px) 780px,(max-width: 1180px) 1180px” src=”https://i.cbc.ca/1.6769581.1678126857!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpeg_gen/derivatives/original_780/the-last-of-us-joel.jpeg” style=”aspect-ratio:1.7765042979942693″/>
Pedro Pascal as Joel in The Last Of Us, wearing his signature green plaid shirt. (HBO)

Rebecca Toon has gone from scraping mud off shoes to helping build out the fashion universe of The Last of Us.

“We can talk about Joel’s green plaid shirt,” says Toon. “It’s a Fjällräven shirt. We took it apart and we reconstructed the front so that the plaids were the same for every single shirt, because we needed over 20 of them. The sewing department painstakingly reconstructed the front of the shirt, and then that shirt went into the breakdown department and it was aged and dyed and painted.”

It’s one example of the huge amount of work that Toon and the costuming team, under the direction of Vancouver-based costume designer Cynthia Ann Summers, put into creating new and adapted looks for The Last of Us, which is based on the video game of the same name.

The Last of Us fans have fallen in love with the show’s now-iconic fashion, particularly Ellie’s pink hoodie and Joel’s jacket

“It’s a Flint and Tinder jacket,” says Toon. “I ended up spending a morning researching boutiques outside of Canada who carried that specific jacket and having it shipped to us as fast as we possibly could get them.”

Still frame from the tv series The Last Of Us. Pedro Pascal steps in front of Bella Ramsey, holding her arm in a protective gesture. Pedro wears a khaki green work jacket and Bella wears a pink hoodie.
Bella Ramsey as Ellie and Pedro Pascal as Joel in HBO’s The Last Of Us, wearing two of their trademark looks: Joel’s green jacket and Ellie’s pink hoodie. (HBO)

The Calgary-based costume designer was first signed on to HBO’s hit show as a buyer, one of the team members responsible for procuring items from stores, secondhand boutiques and elsewhere. As a buyer on The Last of Us, Toon and other crew members were required to find items for over 1,000 background extras on top of pieces for the main and supporting cast members. 

Before she signed on with The Last of Us, Toon worked for over a decade in live theatre, as well as getting some prior film experience as a costumer on the Leonardo DiCaprio-starring film The Revenant. That work, she says, was slightly less thrilling than working on The Last of Us.

“I literally scraped mud off of moccasins,” she says. “So I was doing very glamorous work.”

Toon had unique insight into which thrift stores would have the Last of Us looks they needed. Her experience in live theatre meant she was skilled at knowing where terrific costume pieces could be found around Alberta. Toon was soon promoted during production to second assistant costume designer, working under the lead of Summers, who headed a team of more than 60 costumers.

“I feel like that was a strength of mine — being able to take all my experiences of working in theatre,” she says. “We had to create Austin, Texas in our first episode, so we needed a lot of different types of ‘Western.’ We went to all our outlying rural areas because that’s where we knew we would find those really great Western shirts or those amazing pairs of cowboy boots. Whereas in Calgary, because secondhand shopping is so popular, they get picked over really quickly.”

Collage of images from Rebecca Toon's costuming work on the tv series The Last Of Us. Left: Rebecca standing with a bucket of costume blood. Right: Rebecca surrounded by jackets on all sides in a Lethbridge thrift shop.
Rebecca Toon with a bucket of costume blood (left) and shopping in Lethbridge (right) as she works on the costumes for HBO’s The Last Of Us. (Rebecca Toon)

The costume department’s several-dozen workers performed tasks like tailoring and resizing, as well as making outfits look properly aged and worn out for the 20-year timeline of the apocalyptic fungal takeover. On top of hundreds of outfits for extras, lead actors also needed over a dozen copies of some costumes, owing to continuity in the storyline and shooting episodes out of order — a common practice in television.

“There’s a huge team of people,” Toon says. “[We were] working with the background coordinator to organize all the fittings, and then we also worked with the stunt team who would provide us with the information for their action, and then I would do the fitting for that performer. As assistants, you’re implementing your designer’s vision and acting as her eyes and ears when she can’t be there herself.”

Blood and gore effects, like those on Joel’s shirt following his stab wound in Episode 6, also needed to be coordinated with the special effects and visual effects departments. That group effort and collaboration, Toon says, is key to a television production like The Last of Us.

The other key aspect is being able to pivot on the spot. Even thinking about what is happening in the series from a continuity perspective, while matching that to your shooting schedule, is important.

“[Ellie] just ran through the rain, but we haven’t shot that yet,” Toon says as an example. “So how is she going to look? How wet are her clothes? Those are the types of things that we are considering.”

Rebecca Toon smiles widely against a black backdrop, standing next to a mannequin draped in black cloth and holding a measuring tape.
Costumer Rebecca Toon. (Hugh Short)

Toon is now working on Fargo‘s fifth season, back in the role of a costume buyer. For anyone interested in the industry, she says being open to possibilities is vital to succeeding in the field — even if you just start out scraping mud.

“I don’t think anybody can think, going into film, that you’re going to have all the answers right away,” she says. “It is inevitable that you will, at one point in your life, especially in Alberta, either be putting mud on it or taking it off, or you’re going to be the one that puts the mud on and the next day they say, ‘Actually, no, take it off.’ Be adaptable.”

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