‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ Is the Hat Movie of the Year

From Leo’s ‘Cattleman’s Crease’ to DeNiro’s ‘Open Road,’ each character’s hat has a deeper story to tell.

Robert DeNiro Jesse Plemons Leonardo DiCaprio and William Belleau in 'Killers of the Flower Moon.'

Robert DeNiro, Jesse Plemons, Leonardo DiCaprio, William Belleau, and their hats, in Killers of the Flower Moon.Photographs: Getty Images, Apple; Collage: Gabe Conte

Killers of the Flower Moon is an indisputable Martin Scorsese masterpiece. As the legendary director grapples with his own mortality, he’s put out one of the finest films of his career, one that characteristically muses on similarly heavy themes: greed, corruption, betrayal, colonialism, violence. Based on the 2017 David Grann book of the same name, Killers of the Flower Moon tells the little-known story of the Osage murders in 1920s Oklahoma and the formation of the FBI. See, the Osage Nation had the foresight to maintain mineral rights on their land so, when oil was discovered, it made them fabulously wealthy. It also made them the target of a vast murder plot by their white neighbors.

I had eagerly been anticipating this movie since it was announced, an anticipation that only grew stronger when presented with the one single still that was available and then, each subsequent trailer. Something else I instantly clocked in the trailer? A cavalcade of hats, each bigger and more beautiful than the last. This was not false advertising, but merely a small sampling of the reality: I can confirm that all three hours and 26 minutes of Killers of the Flower Moon are absolutely teeming with hats.

This film was costume designer Jacqueline West’s first time working with Scorcese (who, it must be noted, is no stranger to wild hats). “Few directors are as conversant about clothes,” she told me. “He really has incredible taste in clothing, and a wonderful Italian eye. It’s in his blood.”

She floated two Westerns to the director when explaining what her influences would be: 1926’s The Winning of Barbara Worth and 1948’s Blood On The Moon.

Of course, hats were a practical necessity in 1920s Oklahoma, to protect from the sun—these guys didn’t have any Supergoop SPF—and rain when working outdoors. But, more than that, West said, “the hats were meant to be there to tell a story.”

More than 300 hats were created for the movie. The principal actors’ hats—Leonardo DiCaprio as Ernest Burkhart and Robert DeNiro as his uncle, William Hale, for instance—were made by Jack Scholl at Weather Hats in Belle Fourche, South Dakota. (West had a connection to them through her husband, who is a Bullock, as featured in HBO’s Deadwood.)

Scholl, who grew up a rancher but became a self-taught hatmaker about two decades ago, had a previous brush with Hollywood when he made some hats for Brad Pitt to wear in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button—but those scenes were cut.

“I’ve never really been a big movie guy,” he told me. “My wife, she told me all about Martin Scorsese because she had followed him.” Scholl made 17 hats for the film, each of which took six days from start to finish. He also made one for Scorsese to wear while filming, protecting him from the incessant plains sun.

Jack Scholl handmaking the hats.

Jennifer Scholl

The other hats were made by Stetson, or sourced cheaply from international wholesalers and then bent and covered with dirt to look authentic and weatherbeaten. “We were always running out of hats,” assistant costume designer Joseph Cigliano told me. “No matter how many hats we had, we always ran out.”

All of the hat styles, though meant for utility, were also deeply intentional. They also had pretty sick names: the Gus, the Cattleman’s Crease, the Tycoon, the Boss of the Plains. (“The most popular hat of the period is the simple bowler,” Cigliano added. “And even though Martin didn’t respond well to those, that was the most popular hat of the period. Probably five in 10 people wore those, but it’s not reflected in our image of the West.”)

The hats that the Osage men wore were notably different from the rest: black, rounded, without any dents. “Because it wasn’t a classic American, white cowboy hat, it became the hat of the Osage,” West explained. “It was fabulous on him with the braids, and it became this wonderful silhouette that you see in all the research.”

William Belleau as Henry Roan wearing the traditional Osage hat, and Leonardo DiCaprio as Ernest Burkhart.

Courtesy of Apple

As William Hale, the mastermind of the conspiracy against the Osage, Robert DeNiro wore a hat called “The Open Road.” West called it “a very classic rancher’s hat, as opposed to a cowboy. It was like a cut above, it was almost like a fedora, but it was much more western.”

Leonardo DiCaprio plays his slippery nephew Ernest Burkhart, who marries the Osage woman Mollie Kyle, played by an outstanding Lily Gladstone. Burkhart first comes to these parts after serving in World War I, wearing a little newsboy cap—not unlike what you might see off-duty Leo wear as he’s cruising around Tribeca in a CitiBike.

As he courts Mollie, she presents him with a hat, one meant to make him more respectable and esteemed.

Lily Gladstone as Mollie Burkhart giving Ernest Burkhart a hat.

Melinda Sue Gordon

“Someone once called me a method costume designer,” West told me. In this case, the method meant getting in tune with what Mollie would want when she was picking out a hat to give to Ernest.

“Stetsons were status symbols among the Osage,” West continued. “She would’ve been very careful to pick him something that she liked. I had to get into her head of how she wanted him to get out of that flat cap and make him somebody more husband-worthy.”

So she gave him the Cattleman’s Crease, which is a classic silhouette, with a personalized Osage headband.

As Ernest becomes more and more enmeshed in the plot against the Osage, West also uses his hats to communicate his change of character. Ernest starts off with a white hat, says West, and “you notice his hat gets darker as it goes on.”

Dark hats also show up to signify other characters’ shifty, less-than-honorable intentions. Take Louis Cancelmi as Kelsie Morrison. “It suits him. Something about his whole character is something slick about him, and it has that almost Spanish dancer kind of look,” West said. “And black, because he’s sinister.”

Louis Cancelmi as Kelsie Morrison, right.

Courtesy of Apple

The one hat I distinctly remember from Grann’s book was the cowboy hat always worn by Tom White, played by Jesse Plemons. At one point in the film, Mollie has a vision of “a man with a hat” and I thought that could be anyone—until, that is, White shows up at the door wearing an absolutely massive 10 gallon hat. “You need that silhouette through the window, that big, real cowboy hat silhouette,” West said. “He was a real Texas Ranger and he was the only FBI agent allowed to wear a cowboy hat.”

Jesse Plemons as Tom White, aka the “man with a hat.”

Courtesy of Apple

Beyond the utility, the storytelling purposes, and the way that they made the film feel truly lived-in and authentic, the hats were also a personal milestone for West—she was finally able to feature hats to her heart’s content.

“Directors are often hat-phobic, because you don’t want to cover your actor. I had a director who once said, ‘At 10 million an eyeball, don’t cover up either one of them with a hat,’” she shared. “But Marty really understood the hats, and loved the hats. I never had him tell me to take off any hats.”

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