The Secrets Behind the Bikinis of Harmony Korine’s New Film, ‘Spring Breakers’

Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers is already grabbing nationwide attention. But the film’s bathing suits also have a story to tell, reports Misty White Sidell.

Michael Muller/A24 Films

By now you’ve probably heard about Harmony Korine’s new film, Spring Breakers, which stars Disney princesses Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez, Pretty Little Liars’s Ashley Benson, and James Franco. After only a limited release last week, the film has already taken in $270,000 at the box office, shocking audiences with its overwhelming sense of recklessness. But while the characters’ riotous onscreen antics have viewers intrigued, they have a little storytelling help. Bikinis—the outfit of choice for the film’s lead characters—are crucial to Korine’s tale of a vagrant vacation.

Korine filmed Spring Breakers as an ode to neon (using it in everything from wardrobe to scenery) while trailing four girls as they maneuver Florida’s hedonistic landscape. Capturing the few indulgent calendar weeks that serve as a Shangri-la to many of America’s college kids, both Korine and costume designer Heidi Bivens fulfilled the movie’s clothing quota with a strong showing of teensy bathing suits. As far as screen time goes, swimwear takes up about 70 percent of the film’s wardrobe, placing a big responsibility on some very small scraps of fabric.

The effect is an overwhelmingly trashy lineup of beachwear that goes against the grain. This is not a film filled with elegant maillots and swim caps like in Grace Kelly’s High Society. Instead there are loads of ill-fitting triangle tops, hot-pink mesh tops saturated with beer, and cover-up sweatpants with ‘DTF’ silkscreened onto the rear end. The awkward divergence from fashion is so compellingly wrong that it appears cool in the most ironic, hipster kind of way.

The clothes look like Paris Hilton’s celebutante wardrobe was purchased on The Jersey Shore’s shopping budget. There are bubble-gum-colored bathing suits and beach-print bikinis paired with bright cut-off shorts and candy necklaces; mirrored sunglasses with Von Dutch-style trucker hats.

But the swimwear holds more meaning than meets the eye. According to Bivens, “Each of the actresses tried on probably 100 bathing suits each” before settling on their final costumes. She pulled items from mall stores like Hot Topic, Victoria’s Secret, and Forever 21 to keep a sense of realism at play. “These girls would really shop in a mall,” she explains, noting that she kept a close watch on the piece’s price tags to make sure they’d be affordable in real life. “When girls go on spring break they constantly wear bathing suits. I don’t even think they really wear underwear,” she says.

Upon arriving in Miami for a debauchery-filled getaway, the film’s four central characters wear bikinis that express their unique personalities, while also serving the overarching plot. “The idea is that young girls like to dress alike even if it’s by accident.” Bivens explained. “They just tend to gravitate towards the same stuff even if it’s on a subconscious level.”

That meant working within “a washed neon palette, not super, super bright,” said Bivens. Selena Gomez’s Faith (a baby-faced Bible devotee) wears bikinis that play on 1950s silhouettes, appearing relatively conservative compared with her screenmates’ fare. Her soft neon blue balconette bikini top and boy-short bottoms are accessorized with a cross necklace and old-school Adidas sneakers. “We always saw her as more young and naive,” Bivens explained. Coddy (played by the filmmaker’s wife, Rachel Korine) is “more sporty than the other girls,” with green or bright blue suits, topped with mesh tops and football jerseys. Benson’s Brit is the girliest, while Hudgens’s Candy is the trashiest. “While were shooting we read a tabloid blog post that said Vanessa looked like a white-trash paint-huffing girl,” said Bivens. “We were like, ‘Perfect!’” Undergoing the biggest transformation with a rust-blonde wig (a decision that required its own meeting), ill-fitting clothing, and a chandelier belly-button piercing, Hudgens saw it as an opportunity for “people to get to see me as more of a real girl than a Disney character,” as she explained in a movie trailer. As if there weren’t a better way to step away from the mouse ears, Hudgens’s wardrobe is also the one most laden with drug references. In one scene she wears a T-shirt that says “Weed Be Good Together,” with two marijuana leaves holding hands.

After falling under the influence of Franco’s character, Alien, the girls form a crime-spree gang and grow to wear the same thing—which signifies their pack mentality. (The film’s “gun ballet” sequence has Korine, Hudgens, and Benson waltzing in matching pink-and-purple monokinis.) Later Hudgens and Benson wear the same highlighter-yellow two-piece. “It’s like a uniform,” Bivens explained. “Much like gangs have their own colors in real life.”

The film’s wardrobe is so inimitably strong that Opening Ceremony has created a Spring Breakers capsule collection, to coincide with its release—giving the movie an added dosage of cool-kid clout. It will hit OC’s New York and Los Angeles stores on March 22, later expanding to London and Tokyo by April 5. The range’s graphics spell out each of the characters’ personalities with symbols, much like the film’s bathing suits do with figurative imagery. (Benson’s character’s bubbly persona is illustrated with two bright green dolphins; Korine’s with two anatomically placed dripping ice-cream cones; Gomez’s with an inverted purple cross; and the most fitting of all, Hudgens’s with a pale pink marijuana leaf.) And, in order to be consistent with the film, the Opening Ceremony collection will, of course, include multiple bikinis.