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Our Flag Means Death Costume Designer Breaks Down Season 2's Punk-Pirate Looks

Gypsy Taylor explains the surprising historical details that influenced the 'rule-bending' comedy's costumes

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
Rhys Darby, Our Flag Means Death

Rhys Darby, Our Flag Means Death

Nicola Dove/Max

[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the Season 2 finale of Our Flag Means Death.]

Packing a ton of plot twists and emotional upheaval into a tightly paced eight episodes, Our Flag Means Death just concluded its tumultuous second season. Season 2 ends on a heartwarming note, with Ed "Blackbeard" Teach (Taika Waititi) and Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) settling down to open an inn together. This gives fans a satisfying happily-ever-after if the show ends here — although showrunner David Jenkins intentionally left things open for a potential third and final season, teasing a team-up between Stede, Blackbeard, and pirate queen Zheng Yi Sao (Ruibo Qian). 

Along the way, Our Flag Means Death continued to deliver its unique brand of historical storytelling, offering a chaotic mash-up of 18th century sources and modern themes. Working in tandem with theatrical visual effects and a soundtrack featuring Kate Bush and Nina Simone, costumes play a key role.

To cap off the season, TV Guide spoke with costume designer Gypsy Taylor. Among other topics, we discussed Stede and Blackbeard's evolving wardrobe, the historical research behind characters like Zheng Yi Sao, and Taylor's favorite unsung costuming details among the supporting cast.

This season there's a lot of journey to the costumes. Characters are experimenting with self-expression. I'd like to talk first about Stede, who starts as a caricature of a foppish aristocrat, but looks a lot more practical this season. What was the vision for that look?
Gypsy Taylor: The story is that he's lost everything. Blackbeard's gone on a heartbroken rampage and he's destroyed everything that looks like Stede on the ship — which would include that wonderful wardrobe. You know, like how you'd throw your boyfriend's clothes in a box out the window.

Stede was on his boat heading to the island at the end of Season 1, just wearing this one outfit. We see him in a filthy version, he's been living in it for two or three months. Rhys [Darby] was a little bit disappointed because he was like, "Do I get to wear any rings?" And I was like, "No! You've lost them all!" Then as the season starts to go on, he starts stealing some other pirate clothes and he starts to get really sexy and come into his own gorgeous pirate self.

And he gets that cursed suit.
Taylor: The cursed suit was so much fun! That's the first time in months that he's seen something beautiful like what he used to own. It's on this Spanish ship, so we went with a dandy matador look. Rhys put the calico version of that on in the fitting room and instantly embodied this character. He was flicking the tails and spinning around and he stood up straighter and his butt clenched… It was magic to watch.

I love that dandy side of him. There's a lot going on in terms of gender presentation with the main guys. They're both trying to escape toxic masculinity, but Stede's also chasing this idea of being a badass, and then Ed is doing the opposite because he abandons his leathers. I'd love to hear your thoughts on that, and how Ed is for half the season wearing things like sackcloth and linen. 
Taylor: The leather is very constraining, and it's very much his persona of Blackbeard. To lose all of that means he's lost his toughness, and that exterior that's sort of like armor. So we went straight for the opposite end and just put him in a rice sack that he'd made into a jumpsuit. The idea behind it was that Wee John had sewn it because he'd started to learn to sew and knit — the concept being that there [were] rice sacks below the decks, which was very common in pirate ships.

Once Buttons turns into a seagull, his clothes were left behind on the ship. So Blackbeard takes those linen clothes, and he's like, "This feels right, this is kind of light."

I don't know if you're able to speculate about Season 3, but given the symbolism of Ed's leathers, do you think we've seen the end of that outfit, or is it going to stick around?
Taylor: I can't say anything to Season 3, but I do know that in the finale the leathers magically come back. I had a conversation with [showrunner] David Jenkins because he says, "Well, we have to end the show with him wearing his Blackbeard leathers, that's what we all know of him." And I was like, "How the hell has he gotten them?" You know he's thrown them off the boat, into the ocean, never to be seen again. And David just turned to me and went, "He's Blackbeard, he can do anything." I thought that was pretty funny. 

Taika Waititi, Our Flag Means Death

Taika Waititi, Our Flag Means Death

Nicola Dove/Max

That's exactly the kind of fairy-tale logic the show thrives on.
Taylor: We often refer to it as Looney Tunes. It's not exactly historically correct. Funny sh-- happens and we all sort of took on that Looney Tunes theory of like, episodes change and something appears and then it doesn't.

The good thing with costume and pirates is that the way they get their outfits is they just steal them. So whatever we came up with, I was like, "Oh well, they run into a French ship and they've stolen a great leather jacket." Costume elements could appear based on that rule that pirates steal anything. 

I'd love to hear a bit about the crew's looks. The show does a really good job of illustrating their personalities, but this season a lot of them also have this makeover where they start out wearing Blackbeard's goth/punk outfits, then change into something more comfortable.
Taylor: Characters like Izzy and Fang were already established in the Blackbeard gang, so we didn't change them too much. With Fang I added extra sperm whale teeth and extra studs. I got rid of his shirt and we covered him in tattoos. Time had passed and he'd evolved a bit. Izzy was very classic, so we didn't need to change him at all. He was pretty adamant not to be evolved as the other guys had been.

Frenchie and Jim, which are the biggest transformations we see, they've spent months at sea with Blackbeard, who is a tyrant. He's made them wear head-to-toe black, and they've had to piece together outfits from around the ship. So Jim is covered in all these ropes to make them look tougher, and their belt is a giant fish hook. Frenchie's an artist, and he's stolen a beautiful leather jacket — he's brought the little flag element into the back of his jacket with some embellishment. Then Archie just looks like she's picked out of a crowd of pirates from the Republic of Pirates.

As far as the other characters go, we continued on from Season 1 and just kept their same outfits, but three months later. They were stuck on an island, so I gave Wee John a little necklace that he'd tied out of old rings that he'd found. And we gave Olu some shells and pieces that they could've crafted on the island.

Once we see them all go to Zheng's ship, I wanted to keep elements of the Zheng uniform. So you see with Black Pete, he kept the shirt but ripped off the sleeves and got some new pants, and Roach kept the pants. It starts to become like a mesh of all the little adventures that they've gone through, or the trauma that they've gone through.

Our Flag Means Death

Our Flag Means Death

Nicola Dove/Max

I love the contrast you mentioned between Izzy and the others. All the other characters are having fun experimenting with their looks, and Izzy is so static. Do you think he's more sure of his identity?
Taylor: Definitely sure of his identity, you nailed it there. He's also very sentimental, like he's got his mother's ring around his little scarf. You know his glove on his hand, he wanted to keep it on that hand and I was like, "Shall we add some studs to it?" And he was like, "No no, keep it as it is." He's just very much about routine and rules and sentimentality.

Even for Calypso's party, I was like, "How far do we wanna go?" Everybody's dressing up and covering themselves in flowers. Once we learned that he was singing La Vie En Rose I was like, "I think we should keep it classic." Just put a little rose here, and Wee John's done your makeup, and you'll look classic and beautiful.

This show has a really fun relationship with historical accuracy. I was interested to read that you do a lot of historical research, maybe more than other members of the creative team. How do you decide which characters should look more historical and which ones are more anachronistic?
Taylor: I always started with the historical first. I actually didn't know much about Captain Zheng, so I got really into the history of pirates. I would always start there, with that 18th century historical moodboard of the paintings that were done of them, or the etchings. Then I'd add our rule-bending concept, which was to make everything a bit more rock 'n' roll and a bit more streets of New York in the '80s. I was able to push completely out of the historical, and put things like safety pins and screen-printing and bleach. You know, zips and studs, and all these things that are very 20th century costume elements, but on an 18th century silhouette.

Is Zheng based on a specific 18th century outfit?
Taylor: There's one really specific [etching], she's wearing those Chinese pants. I looked at a lot of 18th century Chinese work uniforms as well, I looked at one from a collection from a museum. We copied that exact neckline of an 18th century Chinese smock. The same with the shoes. I looked at some workers' shoes from the 18th century, and they had those kind of black ballet flats with a woven bottom and little white socks.

I was using beautiful Chinese silks and Japanese embroidery techniques that were used in the 18th century, and sort of mish-mashing it all together because she would travel the Silk Road through Egypt and Morocco, and collect all these fabrics.

Same with Anne Bonny. Again, there's some etchings of the real Anne Bonny — quite a famous one with her gun and her pants. I was like, "Oh yeah, I wanna start there and then I wanna sex her up a lot," because her and her girlfriend have a really great S&M relationship, really sadistic. I wanted to bring that fetish element into her. That's where the corset came from. We based that on an 18th century corset, but made it leather because it was more pirate-y.

The twist on her was that David Jenkins came to me and said, "This episode is basically Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" And I was like, "Great, I love that movie!" So I went home and watched that movie, and noticed that Elizabeth Taylor has this beautiful necklace and this patterned blouse. I was like, "Let's recreate this pattern on Elizabeth Taylor's blouse," which is set in the early 1960s. So we recreated it and then made an 18th century blouse.

Minnie Driver and Rachel House, Our Flag Means Death

Minnie Driver and Rachel House, Our Flag Means Death

Nicola Dove/Max

I feel like this season the villains are the most historically accurate. There's this contrast: Ned Low and Prince Ricky have a formal look, like with the British naval uniforms, and then the good guys have this anarchic vibe.
Taylor: Yeah, I never really wanted to mess with the uniforms. That was actually a really fun one to get historically correct. We had the proper frock coats and the heavy wools, and the heavy brocade. Ned Low and Ricky were very much straight out of an 18th century historical book. But then with Ricky, I gave him the one black lace Madonna-meets-Michael Jackson glove, just to mess with it a little bit.

With Ned Low, once we had his beautiful Paganini-inspired 18th century suit on, David Jenkins was like, "I just picture him being silver." We painted his suit silver, and then art department and props came up with a silver violin, and makeup put these silver teeth in. So he's instantly turned into a rock star.

Finally, are there any little details that you'd like to highlight for viewers?
Taylor: One of the background characters that I love the most is one of these pirates when Stede is the maitre d' at Spanish Jackie's. His first encounter with a customer is this horrible swearing pirate. I'd been listening to a pirate podcast that morning on the way to work, and I was learning all about how many rats were on board. I was like, "I reckon that pirate should just have a whole jacket made out of rats." That's what you'd do with all the dead rats, right? You'd have a little fur bolero.

I asked one of my team members to make me like a hundred little fur rats. She'd hand-sewn all the tails and little feet and ears. Then we built this vest and they covered it in blood and dirt, and made it all like wet rats that had been living at sea for a hundred years.

That's the kind of thing you might see a fan wearing at a convention, a really specific background character.
Taylor: God, I hope so. You'd have to get in real close to see there's actually little tails all over the whole thing. 

I'm trying to think of another really sweet thing. That whole Silk Road thing was really interesting to me. I found this museum piece of a necklace that was all these little leather satchels that collected little pieces along their travels. We started making this beautiful piece, and we ended up giving it to Auntie. It's these little trinkets from Japan and Egypt and Morocco; she wears all her souvenirs around her neck close to her heart. There's a lot of little things like that where we go into great detail and I give a little backstory, but maybe no one will ever notice. Or they might! You never know!

Our Flag Means Death Season 2 is now streaming on Max.