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The Last of Us/HBOMax

Inside the post-apocalyptic costume design of ‘The Last of Us’

Shaped by pragmatic dystopian worldbuilding, this show's costume design is deceptively clever.


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw


Posted on Apr 20, 2023   Updated on Apr 28, 2023, 7:45 am CDT

At first glance, HBO‘s The Last of Us doesn’t seem like a show where costume design holds much importance. With a more subdued aesthetic than post-apocalyptic fantasies like Mad Max: Fury Road, its characters invariably wear practical clothing like jeans, hoodies, and outdoor jackets.

But every costume tells a story, and TLOU‘s wardrobe choices are actually a crucial element of the show’s visual worldbuilding.

In the latest episode of our Behind the Seams YouTube series, we explore the philosophy behind TLOU‘s costume design—particularly the show’s attitude to post-apocalyptic “realism,” and how these fashion choices play into the story’s survivalist themes.

TLOU‘s narrative is largely driven by pragmatic concerns about post-apocalyptic survival: Scarce resources, community feuds, the logistics of traveling long-distance without reliable motor vehicles. The show’s costumes were selected to fit this tone, making its characters look grounded, practical, and relatable. And since the main story takes place 20 years after the collapse of society, we know that mass-produced clothes are a finite resource, meaning some characters don’t have access to new clothing.

However, this type of grimy authenticity is still an aesthetic choice, playing into survivalist fantasies about what people “should” look like after a catastrophic event. And that’s where TLOU‘s costume choices get particularly interesting.

In each episode of Behind the Seams, we examine a different element of cinematic costume design, whether it’s an in-depth analysis of the Star Wars series Andor, or a look at the concept of historical accuracy. Click here to subscribe now!

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*First Published: Apr 20, 2023, 1:16 pm CDT