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Admittedly, there’s a lot to love about Beef, the Netflix series that follows two strangers who become inextricably linked in a maniacal revenge story after a road rage episode goes wrong. Starring Ali Wong, Steven Yeun, David Choe and Young Mazino, the series has highlighted some of the dangers associated with endless rage. Whether it’s the show’s slow descent into madness, the Instagram-friendly decor in the set design or the tremendous performances from Wong and Yeun, there’s one thing we can’t stop thinking about: the fabulous fashion, under the direction of costume designer Helen Huang.
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The costume design in Beef might be some of the most dynamic costuming on TV today. We sat down to chat with Huang to discuss her approach to dressing these unforgettable characters, and how to steal the look for yourself. Reader beware, there are some spoilers ahead.
Exploring the Asian American experience through dress
Huang knew that she wanted to dress a project with a majority Asian cast after seeing the national conversations around the Asian American community in 2021. “For years, Asian characters would come on to shows and serve the purpose of forwarding the narrative but never being a part of the main story. But when you have a show like this where [Asian Americans are] the main characters and you get to do an arc and you get to do nuance, I really wanted to do that.”
Having grown up in Silver Lake, California, Huang identified personally with Danny and Paul Cho, sibling characters played by Yeun and Mazino. “I know these men. They're the men that I grew up with. They're my dad, my brothers and my friends because I also grew up in the San Gabriel Valley.” Huang had an intimate understanding of how Danny and his brother would dress, the subtle forces that would guide their fashion decisions and how to provide a stark contrast to the wealth of the Lau family (played by Wong and Joseph Lee). Whether it was dressing the lives and the people she knew, or outfitting a glamorized influencer family, Huang’s approach to each character was equally nuanced and carefully considered.
Dressing Ali Wong as the Instagram-friendly flower shop owner
When viewers first meet flower shop owner Amy Lau, played by Ali Wong, she’s wearing a floppy knit white hat and matching white ensemble. The almost playful nature of the look makes her look childlike and innocent, despite the fact that she’s nearly run Danny Cho off the road while unknowingly setting off a string of events that ultimately descends into complete and utter madness. When dressing Amy, “I started by looking at different flower shop Instagrams to see what type of person she is,” says Huang. “[Amy] would never go into Saks Fifth Avenue, she’s a boutique dresser and wears boutique labels.”
It was important to Huang that Amy was in a carefully curated wardrobe of clothes designed to convey a lot of time, effort and thought into the power of clothes. Says the designer, “I was like, what if she was just in whites while she's doing all these terrible things, and there was this huge rage building off of her. It's such a controlled outer appearance. You know, there are people wear white and they're people who don't.”
To add Amy’s calculated-cool edge to your own wardrobe, start with her signature accessory, a floppy white hat. Huang used the hat to, in one glance, define Amy’s public persona: “She kind of looks like a little exclamation point,” says Huang. “I think it takes it to a place thatsays who she is, but also gives it a kind of surreal quality, because it's a very decisive style choice and not something that you would picture someone wearing when they have a road rage incident.”
The Crocheted Bucket Hat from Madewell is just floppy enough that you can flip up the brim, throw on some thin-frame glasses, and hit the road (safely, of course). This hat is available in two colors in women’s hat sizes small-medium and medium-large.
One of the most challenging looks Huang worked on is the white dress whose cutout is placed just low enough that it would reveal a tattoo that David recognizes at a pivotal moment. For a style that’s just as chic as the one Wong wears in the scene, look no further than the Lina Linen Cutout Midi Dress from Banana Republic. The midi dress is offered in a heavyweight linen fabric that’s breathable without sacrificing structure. The cutouts add visual interest while revealing the back of the wearer. For an Amy Lau-style innocence, shop the white colorway, but know that it’s also offered in black and orange, in regular, tall and petite women’s sizes 00 to 20.
Halfway through the season, Amy’s character undergoes a dramatic makeover. Her long, flowing black hair is cut into a severe blonde bob, and her innocent white color palette is replaced with darker and more sophisticated tones. It was important to Huang, though, that the bones of Amy’s characters weren’t entirely discarded. “I always think it's very weird for characters to have a seismic shift—especially women—when they're going through something emotional,” she says. “I believe it's important to say, even when terrible things are happening that are out of control, you have a pretty good grasp on your own identity, and that doesn't really waiver.” So rather than putting her in new shapes and styles, Huang kept Amy in the same silhouettes, and made subtle changes with color.
When you’re ready for your own self-assured mini makeover, consider the Sleeveless Fitted Dress in Good Wool from Theory. The dress is sleek, stylish and timeless, available in six colors in women’s sizes 00 to 18.
From $183.75 at Theory (Save up to $51.25)
Fashioning stunted style for Steven Yeun
In stark contrast to Amy Lau’s glamorous Instagram-worthy lifestyle, Danny Cho is decidedly more pedestrian. Danny’s sense of personal style is more nuanced, due in part to the fact that much of his wardrobe was thrifted. Huang relied on styles from the late ‘90s and early 2000s, from brands like Nautica, Express and Liz Claiborne. Unlike Amy and her husband George who work endlessly to ensure they’re in the latest styles, Danny and his younger brother Paul look toward the styles that were popular when they were younger.
“My thought about Danny is that he is this person that stopped dressing himself when he was 25 and just continued wearing the same thing,” she says. “And even if he bought something, he would repurchase the same thing again. He’s not really trying to build his aesthetic, it's more just that it became more practical, and then he kind of got stuck somewhere. “
A blue chore coat punctuates the first outfit viewers of Beef see Danny wearing. The lightweight outer layer, also called a work jacket, is a workwear staple, offering movement, airiness and a heavy dose of style. One of our favorites has to be the Garment Dyed Work Jacket in Recycled Denim from Alex Mill. This classic style is updated in seven colors, in men’s sizes XS to XXL.
One of Danny’s evident breakthrough moments takes place while he’s attending the local church at the suggestion of old friends. In this scene, Huang opted to dress the character in the cheap polo shirt that his parents would have dressed him in on Sundays growing up. The Super Soft Jersey Mens Classic Fit Short Sleeve Pocket Polo Shirt from St. John’s Bay is a classic, affordable style that would be just at home on the putting green as it would be in a pew. Shop the style in ten colors in men’s sizes S to XXL.
Although Danny and Paul have a decidedly budget-friendly wardrobe throughout the entire season, the same treatment wasn’t offered to every man on screen. Amy’s husband George, played by Joseph Lee, dons some of the most interesting menswear on TV today. The character wears unique, trendy styles like colorful suits, oversized sweatshirts and boutique brands that pair beautifully with his wife’s carefully curated wardrobe. To replicate his luxurious style, consider the Abstract Mohair Cardigan from Ahluwalia. The fuzzy sweater features an abstract red, green and cream print in soft and cozy mohair. The sweater can be yours in men’s sizes S to XL.
Art as fashion with Fumi
Perhaps the most distinctive wardrobe in all of Beef belongs to Fumi, Amy’s reserved and stoic mother-in-law. Early on in the season, it is revealed that Fumi isn’t just George’s mom, but was also the muse to his late father. And indeed, Huang dressed the character, played by Patti Yasutake, in some of the most artful clothes we’ve seen in years. “When she puts on clothes, she's presenting herself to the world as art,” says Huang of Fumi’s wardrobe.
Dressing Fumi fulfilled a long-held dream for Huang. “I’ve always wanted to dress a woman who wears Japanese designers. I said to Sonny [Sung Jin, writer and director of the series], ‘if you're going to do this, we're not going to water it down. I'm not going to throw a belt on it to make it more flattering.’ The look is what the look is. We're not going to make her more feminine.” This meant that Fumi wears avant-garde styles from some of the most famous Japanese designers that incorporated unexpected colors, silhouettes and textile treatments.
No list of avant-garde designers would be complete without the doyenne of Japanese designers, Rei Kawakubo. The Ruffle Tie-Neck Long Sleeve Shirt from her Comme des Garçons label features a dramatic high ruffle neck. The matching Bow Detail Cocoon Midi Skirt ($1,245) completes the look with unusual bows throughout. Shop the shirt in women’s sizes XS to L.
Another icon of Japanese design, Issey Miyake was best known for his innovative Pleats Please line. The Tangible Pleats Shirt makes it clear why the designer’s aesthetic has endured for so long, even after the designer’s untimely passing in August of 2022. The stretchy blouse features an abstract purple, green and black print, along with a distinctive shawl overlay. Shop the style in a women’s size 2, and don’t forget to purchase the matching Tangible Pleats Skirt ($960).
To add high style with a considerable boost of color, look no further than the Yellow Palazzo Pant from Busayo Collective, a Brooklyn-based design label that uses African-inspired textiles. These wide, yellow polka-dotted pants are bright, bold and create a unique silhouette on the body. Best of all, with Rent the Runway, you can rent the pants for one week at $50, or buy them used for just $110. Add in the matching Puff Sleeve Shirt (rent from $40, own for $95) for a complete look that’ll allow you to channel Fumi’s elegant artful style.
Rent from $50 at Rent the Runway
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