“Euphoria’s” Costume Designer Told Us Everything You Could Possibly Need To Know About The Show’s Iconic Style Aesthetic

Heidi Bivens — the mastermind behind the meme-inspiring “Euphoria High” dress code — gave us the lowdown on finding the aesthetic for Gen-Z’s favorite TV show.

Over the course of the last eight weeks, the internet has been abuzz with one subject: Euphoria.

After taking a pandemic–prompted hiatus, the show finally returned to our screens on Jan. 9 for its highly anticipated second season and quickly became the second-most-watched show on HBO as well as the most-tweeted-about show of the decade thus far.

Euphoria’s immense success feels like a testament to the power of Generation Z, who, each week without fail, rushed to Twitter and TikTok to break down every frame in real time, theorizing and meme-making at a mind-boggling rate.

And despite centering on dark plot points like the devastating effects of drug addiction and domestic abuse, the show’s sense of nostalgia and teen fantasy aesthetic gripped viewers from the word “go” — so much so, in fact, that it sparked entire TikTok trends.

One trend involved fans videoing themselves wearing outrageous outfits and pretending they’re on their way to class at “Euphoria High,” hinged on the inside joke that the show’s primary characters sport some pretty ~daring~ ensembles to school. We’re talking miniskirts fresh off the Paris runway at 10 a.m. math class. A Louis Vuitton two-piece in the lunch line. You get the gist.

And at the helm of creating these distinctive looks was two-time Emmy nominee costume designer Heidi Bivens, who spoke to BuzzFeed News on the heels of the season finale about how she balances the show’s heavy themes with iconic fashion statements — and described the online response to her work as a “weird honor.”

“I love the humor, and obviously the show is dealing with serious subject matters, so there’s that delicate balance of being able to laugh at yourself and the work, but still honor the integrity of what the story is trying to communicate,” she said of the show's popularity online.

Heidi also attributed the online fanfare to the characters’ zero-fucks-given attitudes as they strut the school hallways dressed to the nines. “I think it all just came together in a way that somehow reached the zeitgeist,” she said, before giving the TikTok creatives her seal of approval. “I think once something reaches that level, it's free game for any kind of comedic fodder.”

Of course, if you’re familiar with Heidi’s work, you’ll know she’s no stranger to kickstarting a global trend. The vibrant looks she created for A24’s Spring Breakers back in 2013 quickly established neon bikinis and pink balaclavas as legitimate fashion choices for those hoping to mimic Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens’ wild energy.

And Heidi's experience with the highly charged recklessness of Spring Breakers’ script ended up serving as the perfect preparation for Season 2 of Euphoria, which partly centered on the backstabbing behavior of Cassie (Sydney Sweeney).

In January’s season opener — a New Year’s Eve extravaganza fueled by drugs, sex, and a bloody fistfight — viewers watched Cassie have sex with Nate (Jacob Elordi), who is the ex-long-term boyfriend of her diehard bestie, Maddy (Alexa Demie).

After hooking up with Nate, Cassie plummets into a breakdown that left fans anticipating an eventual blow-up between the girls — and her spiraling behavior was only heightened by Heidi's deliberately placed visual cues.

After the party, we watch Cassie dedicate her every waking moment to vying for Nate's attention, something that manifests in her dressing more and more like Maddy with each passing episode. Heidi describes this process as adding “Maddy codes” into Cassie’s wardrobe.

And Cassie’s outfits became key to hinting at the growing tension between the girls in a number of awkward run-ins, dreamlike sequences, and ~that~ bathroom breakdown, before reaching a crescendo in the finale fight scene.

But the Maddyfication of Cassie was never clearer than in a scene that was equal parts comedic and cringeworthy, where the two arrive at school in almost the same exact outfit, prompting Maddy to get suspicious.

“I knew that we needed to really drive it home,” Heidi said of this moment. “It was gonna be a scene at school where Maddy would be there, and I just thought, ‘OK, well, it would be great if we really made it obvious that she’s trying to dress like Maddy.’”

Heidi explained that she’d had the idea for this scene herself and decided to pitch it to Sam Levinson, the show’s notoriously independent writer. Of course, Sam was on board and wound up writing it into the script while Heidi got to work on some matching outfits to convey the awkwardness.

“I think as the costume designer, there are these opportunities to work with story and to come up with ideas and pitch ideas to the director/showrunner that influence the tone in a way that isn’t necessarily on the page,” Heidi recalled of her role in helping orchestrate Cassie and Maddy’s showdown. “So, that’s a lot of fun.”

And as the show progressed, it became increasingly clear to viewers that Cassie’s entire identity was built upon her desperate need for approval, particularly from Nate. In search of adoration, she’d completely lost sight of who she was, prompting an overarching sense that Cassie was never really dressed as herself.

Tasked with the job of finding a signature style for someone who lacks any kind of core identity, Heidi said she was stumped when it came to trying to map out Cassie’s wardrobe way back in Season 1.

“From the beginning I had a hard time wrapping my head around who Cassie is and what her look is,” Heidi told me, explaining that she and Sam scheduled a meeting to sit and brainstorm a vision for Cassie’s complicated persona.

“What Sam and I had come up with is that Cassie’s always yearning for this love from others, and not focusing on self-love,” Heidi explained. “She is looking to others for approval, looking to others for inspiration for her style. … So then Cassie becomes this amalgamation of all these different influences and desires in her life that sort of become this composite of who she is.”

Along with a generous serving of onscreen drama, fans of the show will also be familiar with the constant rumors of behind-the-scenes chaos.

Back in 2020, when production on Season 2 was halted by the pandemic, Sam reportedly used the time off to almost completely rewrite the script, which — according to the show’s lead star, Zendaya — wound up with the majority of the original storylines getting cut.

In fact, Sam was reportedly making changes to the script even up until the day before they shot the finale, fueling rumors that offscreen disputes had resulted in certain cast members’ scenes being cut from the show.

For Heidi, adapting to Sam's creative process was similar to a game of baseball, with her at bat trying to hit every curveball and predict his next move. “There was a lot to react to, for sure,” she recalled of Season 2’s ever-changing production. “You had to stay on your toes.”

Heidi went on to reveal that she'd even created entire outfits for scenes that were then tossed aside. “There would be changes that would come in very last minute sometimes,” she said. “There were other times where I had been asked to build certain costumes and create looks for a certain sequence, and then we were very excited about it and moving forward and building the costumes, and then it went away.”

However, Heidi expressed great admiration for Sam, who has recently faced criticism from fans who questioned why he chooses not to collaborate with other writers on the show’s script.

Calling him a “generous” director, Heidi said that Sam gave her complete control of her vision for his characters. “I think from the beginning in the first scripts, especially like the pilot scripts where we’re introduced to most of the characters, there were some wardrobe cues written in for characters like Jules, for example,” she said. “But for the most part, he let me come up with the ideas of how we wanted to start off with building these characters.”

“He hires his department heads and then he really just trusts them and lets them do their thing. And that's such a gift as a costume designer because it really allows you and gives you the room to be creative in a way that's not stifling,” she said.

“I think he has so much to do and think about as the director/writer/showrunner that he is just so relieved to be able to give costumes over to me and trust that I’m going to deliver,” she added, before revealing a specific occasion where her vision didn’t meet the mark.

“I sent an actress to set in a costume that then didn’t work out. But it’s because I misunderstood the context of the scene, but so did hair and makeup, so it wasn’t — thankfully, it wasn’t just me,” she said with a laugh. “But yeah, for the most part, it’s just an easy collaboration with Sam.”

And it's not just Sam with whom Heidi shares a collaborative relationship, but the cast themselves.

In fact, Heidi recalled an instance when Hunter Schafer arrived on set ready to customize her own jewelry for Jules’ New Year’s Eve look. “Sometimes we were getting crafty!” she quipped.

She also said that Jacob — whose costumes for Nate were relatively tame compared to his costars’ — once returned a pair of skinny jeans that mysteriously made it into his trailer while Heidi was away, reinforcing the strict “no skinny jeans” policy on set.

But it sounds as though no other cast member was quite as involved in the creation of their character’s look as Alexa Demie, who plays cool girl Maddy.

“Alexa Demie was very involved with her looks, and would even go fabric shopping with me,” Heidi said, adding that Maddy’s style began to merge with Alexa’s own.

“I think Alexa is really so talented and has an incredible scope of fashion and created mood boards for me from the beginning that really set the tone and the look for the character of Maddy,” she continued.

As a result, Alexa has been one of the show's biggest breakout stars, despite being somewhat enigmatic.

“She’s everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The ultimate mysterious it-girl!” one fan tweeted this week — amassing nearly 100,000 likes — after the notoriously low-key star was photographed hanging out with the likes of Anna Wintour, Kim Kardashian, and Bella Hadid at a Balenciaga fashion show in Paris last weekend.

In fact, Alexa’s mystique evolved into a full-blown meme when fans began photoshopping her into historical events after realizing they were unable to determine her actual age.

Speaking about Alexa’s rise to It girl stardom, Heidi suggested that her puzzling persona actually drives fans’ obsessions: “I think it’s really savvy with the way she’s marketed herself, or not marketed herself, I should say. Her absence from social media actually drives the demand.”

Alexa’s ascent to mainstream fame is just one example of the show’s increasing popularity, with viewership doubling during Season 2. The rush of viewers trying to watch the finale was so great that even the HBO Max site couldn’t bear the pressure, completely crashing moments before the final episode was set to stream.

Reflecting on Euphoria’s sudden surge in popularity, Heidi said she could’ve never predicted that it would become the phenomenon it is today. “I didn’t know that TikTok and all the memes were going to happen this season. I mean, we didn’t have that first season, so there wasn’t any real way of me knowing that that was gonna happen, or that the viewership was going to double the way it did,” she said.

But, of course, rocketing ratings come with increased criticism. Season 2 was accused of normalizing teen drug use and portraying a high school experience that, to some, pushed the boundaries of believability.

Similarly, the juxtaposition of dark themes with the sheer coolness of the show’s overall aesthetic runs the risk of glamorizing its serious subject matters — something Heidi has been sensitive to throughout.

“I always like to create visual interest and for it to be exciting visually, so that's part of my motivation. And then the other half is to serve the story and to not pull people out of the story by making things visually interesting just for the sake of it,” Heidi said.

“I know that creating the story there was some apprehension from Sam’s side to not go too far with that at times … so it does become a balance of like: ‘What is right for this scene, on this cast member, for who’s evoking this emotion, at this time?’” she added. “It’s a lot of moving parts you have to consider just to keep it feeling believable.”

And although there'll be a long wait for Season 3, which has been greenlit for release in 2023, Heidi was keen to share her thoughts about what the future might hold for the East Highland classmates.

“I predict that we’re not gonna be in high school anymore for Season 3,” said Heidi, who hasn’t yet seen a script. “I think that we might be in a different locale, nearby East Highland, but I think we’re gonna see a shift in the story in a way that will be surprising to the audience, and hopefully giving them an opportunity to rediscover what they think Euphoria is.”

All eight episodes of Euphoria Season 2 are available to buy across all major digital platforms.

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