The Colors of ‘Westworld’: Q&A with Costume Designer Ane Crabtree

In Westworld, everything has meaning. We caught up with costume designer Ane Crabtree to chat about color symbolism, the significance of Dr. Ford’s blue pocket square, and those crazy Hazmat suits.

Westworld is a vibrant place full of mystery and intrigue where every single movement and moment has meaning. Color plays a large role in Westworld, and the costumes aren’t just pieces of clothing that the actors toss on before going to set. As many of the characters wear the same thing day in and day out, their wardrobe is an integral part of the narrative.

We chatted with the delightful Ane Crabtree, costume designer for Westworld. During a break while working on the upcoming adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale for Hulu, Crabtree chatted with us about Delores’ gorgeous powder blue dress, the whites and blacks of Dr. Ford’s wardrobe, those crazy Hazmat suits, and more.

Hidden Remote: So, the whole of Westworld is populated with such strong, interesting women. In particular, the colors of the show are mostly earthy, but with the women you see pops of color. Specifically, there’s been a lot of talk about the blue color of Delores’ (Evan Rachel Wood) dress. A lot of people are looking at it in terms of a Disney princess or Alice in Wonderland. Can you talk us through the choice of that color for her?

Ane Crabtree: “I know that the color is very important to Jonathan Nolan, one of the show’s creators, and I can’t say 100% all the things that this color means, but I know that starting from the beginning, it was certainly a color that existed in the 1850’s – 1890’s in terms of the West. It’s also a color that makes her come up in the forefront of every scene because there’s straw and dirt and earth tones. This way, she pops from the frame. We reserved that color for her throughout the whole of the show. It just looks so beautiful, and it’s a simplistic design choice because it hearkens to the West.

“It’s the color of the sky, and where we’re shooting in terms of the desert, it really stands apart from that landscape, especially if you’re talking about wide, expansive shots in Utah where everything is very red. It began as a very easy choice – what’s going to make her stand apart from the locales? Further than that? That’s all Jonathan, so I can’t speak to that.”

Hidden Remote: It’s funny because I know that when the animated version of Beauty and the Beast came out in the 90’s, Disney noted that Belle was the only one who wore blue in the whole movie. I thought it was interesting that Westworld might be doing a similar thing with Delores.

Ane Crabtree: “I can say that there will be some mysteries that unfold throughout the season. There will be reasons to see that color again in the future.”

Hidden Remote: How interesting! From the sneak peek, it looks like Delores’ look might evolve. What do you have in store for her wardrobe as we move through Season 1?

Ane Crabtree: “We still stay with blue for her later, and I cannot say the reasons why her outfit changes, but it does change in a very large way. Anything that happens in Westworld is always story-based. You will see that color again.”

Hidden Remote: Sticking with color – because color seems to be very important on the show – we have Ed Harris, who plays the Man in Black, and the vigilante cowboy Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) who also dresses completely in black. What are some considerations when dressing a character all in black?

Ane Crabtree: “It’s a very classic Western construct, looking at the Wild West, to have white hats and black hats. It’s also something that exists in Westerns from the beginning of time until the present. And the Man in Black and Hector are both black hats. Black hats are more dastardly, and they may be up to evil, or über sexy, or both! It’s all story driven, and in terms of the hosts, Hector is all in black for many reasons, most of all that he’s a badass, and he’s a gunslinger. In the most general terms, he’s going to go for a black or a darker hat. The white hats are more your John Waynes and Gary Coopers, someone like a sheriff or a law abiding person. A hero.

Ed Harris as the Man in Black in Westworld. Photo: HBO. Acquired from HBO PR rep.

“So, the Man in Black, he’s just tainted evil. I have many theories, but I think the Man in Black is written and drawn a certain way, and he goes for black because he was a good guy in his outside life. It’s all psychological, too. Why would you choose to be a black hat? Maybe in my outside life I’m good, and this is my chance to be evil and make decisions I wouldn’t usually make in my real life.”

Hidden Remote: It’s interesting because at the beginning of the second episode when Jimmi Simpson’s character William enters Westworld and they give him his clothing options, he chooses to be a white hat. It’s funny because when the host brings him into the changing area, she mentions that all the clothes are bespoke, and it’s kind of an interesting parallel to the wild West because bespoke wasn’t really a thing back before mass manufacturing.

Ane Crabtree: “That’s right! So either they had clothing tailored to them, if they could afford that, or they made their own clothes. That’s a definite reality factor that we have on the show. It just depends on the background of the person that’s coming. Generally speaking, if you’re a visitor in the park, you have a lot of money. You want to see what something is like, especially the first time around. Sometimes people want to be a down to earth hero, perhaps like William. The park has many layers and many realms of experience.”

Hidden Remote: And the costumes are so real too! I took a peek at your Twitter and I saw a picture of you and Thandie Newton at a costume fitting for Maeve on Twitter and you both seemed so excited. Obviously, for most of the cast that are in the park, their outfit is a large part of their identity as it’s the only one they wear. So, how psyched would you say the cast was to get into their wardrobe?

Ane Crabtree: “They have to be in love with it! What’s really cool and curious to me is that every single actor on this show is a real actor, and very committed to being their character and being quite serious about the approach. So they had no problem putting on all of these crazy layers and being really really hot in the blazing sun of the desert. They were committed, and very much excited to put the same thing on every day.

“It was the most interesting process I’ve ever had with sitting actors. They rely on you to help them, and also protect them psychologically with their character. This was a show where we all had to say, well, we don’t exactly know the why, but we know where we’re going with this character. There was always excitement. Everyone was wonderful. From day players all the way up to Anthony Hopkins.”

Hidden Remote: Westworld itself as a park, it’s all the Wild West, but outside it’s supposed to be the future. With Anthony Hopkins’ character Dr. Ford, he’s kind of a throwback in a modern age. What was the inspiration for his wardrobe?”

Anthony Hopkins as Dr Robert Ford. Credit: John-P Johnson, HBO. Acquired from HBO PR Rep.

Ane Crabtree: “It’s so funny because sometimes Anthony would say, ‘I don’t know if I want to know what’s going to happen. So you just tell me what trousers to put on, and what waistcoast to put on, and I’ll follow.’ Westworld is his character, Dr. Ford’s, creation, and a lot of his black and white look came from the pilot. For us, it was how would someone like Robert Ford dress. He’s come up with this idea that everything should be bespoke, and that everything should be very old fashioned. It made perfect sense to create him as an old school gent who wore proper shoes and waistcoasts and jackets, and yes, a hat!

“I know there were moments in which Anthony would have loved different versions of things that were 1800’s or 1900’s, but we didn’t want to go too far. But because he is a mysterious creator, and we don’t quite know what the genesis is of Robert Ford, the black and white thing – that very simple thing – is a way to keep him not one thing or the other. He’s just a magician. He’s a person in black and white and you’ll notice details, but you won’t exactly know where he’s headed.”

Hidden Remote: Well, tonight in episode “Dissonance Theory” Dr. Ford had a pocket square that’s a very similar color to Dolores’ dress.

Ane Crabtree: “Aha!”

Hidden Remote: [laughs] I’m not sure if that was intentional or not? But obviously people are obsessing over the show and picking out clues, and it’s hard not to notice that very distinctive blue, especially since it’s one of the first pops of color we’ve seen on Dr. Ford.

Ane Crabtree: “It’s definitely close in color to Delores’ dress. If that’s exactly intentional, I can’t say, but I will say that a pocket square is a very perfect, clean, simple touch to add to Robert Ford as a real thing for him to use, but also it is a touch that says this is a man who is aware of what a true gentleman wears.”

Hidden Remote: Well, it’s definitely an intriguing use of color here. In this episode, we also get bombarded with Hazmat-type suits in Maeve’s flashbacks. What were those like to work with?

Ane Crabtree: “So the initial surgeons in red and white, those were designed by a combo of Jonathan Nolan and Trish Summerville. The new characters you see in episode 4, that is a further idea to the people in the pilot. Those guys are maybe like the garbage men. They clean the hosts up that are badly hurt and they take them and bring them back to the body shop place and reset them. They’re the guys that are not the lowest end of the totem pole, but they are there to pick up dead bodies.”

Hidden Remote: Kind of like the janitors of Westworld?

Ane Crabtree: “Yeah! [laughs] The janitors! But, they will have some significance. Nothing is ever just a one note on the show. Not anything at all. So they will have some beautiful significance later.”

Hidden Remote: Well, since people are embracing the show so much, and Halloween is coming up, I’m thinking we’re going to see some Westworld costumes out there. Do you have any recommendations for people looking to recreate that look for Halloween?

Ane Crabtree: “The easiest thing is a white hat or a black hat. But, you know, you could be one of those crazy janitors from the future. Or, I would want to be Dr. Ford, personally because he’s so specific, but I think that if I were a woman going for Halloween as somebody from Westworld, I would actually choose a gunslinger. It would be unexpected. You can be a badass. Having looked at a lot of versions of that, like, Serigo Leone and Italian versions of the West, man, the women were like badass and hardcore and also really sexy and really feminine. So that could be a super cool way that maybe not a lot of people would think about. You could be a prostitute, that’s quite easy, but I think that gunslinger would be the best thing.”

‘Westworld’ airs Sunday nights at 9/8c on HBO, HBO GO, and HBO NOW.