Inside the Style Transformation of Netflix's New Addictive Show

Confession: I binged all of The End of the F***ing World within a few hours a couple weekends ago. And if the name itself hasn’t been enough to grab your attention on Netflix, let us assure you that the British dark comedy is as bizarre, dramatic, and utterly entertaining as the name suggests.

The story follows two teens, Alyssa and James, who are on the search for a long-lost father and realizing psychopathic tendencies, respectively. As plotlines and teen dramas wont to do, nothing goes quite as planned, and their adventure soon turns into the two fleeing a gory murder scene.

But among the plot twists, moments of first love (only made slightly confusing by a possible teenage psychopath), and total physical transformations, the characters and story say quite a bit about gender. And this point is best articulated by its star, Jessica Barden.

We spoke on the phone with the actress who, at 25, plays the young, troubled, and ultimately quite lost Alyssa. She walks us through her transformation in the show and tells us why her character doesn’t really abide by any gender norms that might be expected of her. And ultimately proves why clothes certainly don’t make the woman.

Photo: Netflix

I would love to start with Alyssa’s jacket because it was such a prized possession for her and it’s seen throughout the whole series.

The jacket is something that her dad left for her, and it has a little bit of backstory to it. Her dad isn’t really a part of her life anymore, so she has her jacket that her mom probably doesn’t really like her wearing, she kind of hides it away. And [when she leaves her house] that’s the first time you see her put it on. It’s kind of like a statement on her life: She’s going somewhere like her dad did. She has her freedom.

How did you land on that aviator jacket?

We obviously tried on so many different types of jackets, but they were all oversize because they were menswear. I’m actually quite small—I’m only 5’1”—and I feel like it was one of those things that just have to go by look. Also the silhouette with the boots and the jeans, it referenced female character in film—it was quite similar to Mathilda in Léon: The Professional.

A few episodes in, after Alyssa and James find themselves fleeing a murder scene, her look changes drastically. She dyes her hair and goes for a much more sweeter look than before. What did you think of her evolution?

The costumes, the original outfits for Alyssa and James, are influenced by the comics and how Chuck [Forsman] drew them. They have the exact same silhouette, they’re both wearing T-shirts and jeans. There wasn’t anything immediately distinctive of them being a male or female. It mirrors the main theme that kind of runs through the story, which is Alyssa and James both display things which, in the past, would have been like “That’s how a boy would respond” or “That’s how a girl would respond.” But in impossible times, there isn’t any particular way any sex responds to anything. James is the most sensitive in the two of them, and Alyssa is originally the more confident and more feisty of the two. The clothes were really masterful for that as well. They’re choosing to not really have an identity on their clothes because they’re not that type of people.

Photo: Netflix

Right, and then she changed into the floral dress, boots, and, of course, keeps her jacket on.

I wanted her to be. Even in this moment of “Oh, crap, I have to find a new outfit because I murdered someone,” she’s still having that moment where she’s nervous about meeting her dad and she wants to make an effort. It’s a nice thing to have in my head that she’s chosen to wear something girly. And then I thought this at the time: I wanted to look like Miss Honey in Matilda because I felt like she was a person we really wanted to be when we were younger. You wanted to be like the ultimate good woman. And of course, when she gets there, she ends up just having to take the lead.

Yeah, she still doesn’t follow any traditional gender norms, really. It doesn’t matter what she wears; she’s still tough and takes charge.

Yeah, and the fact that she got her period and stuff like that. Charlie [Covell], the writer, was like, “What if she got her period at the most inconvenient moment of her life?” She’s wearing a dress, which kind of happens to everyone. You always get your period in the worst possible outfit.

I thought that was really funny because, well, it’s super relatable. Even when we see a strong female character on screen, that’s usually not a part of what’s happening.

There is some sort of opportunity on social media for that. Thinking of iconic female characters, like Lara Croft in Tomb Raider having to keep the tampon in her belt. It’s pretty bizarre how’s it’s never really come up in anything.

Photo: Netflix

Agreed. What are some other surprising things abut the costumes that we might not know?

The jeans for her outfit—I actually have them on right now. Me and Emma [Rees, the show’s costume designer] went shopping to Urban Outfitters. I was looking around myself, and I was like “These jeans are so good; I really want to get them.” And she was like “Oh, good, try them on,” and then she got those jeans for Alyssa.

So did you keep a lot of this stuff that you wore? What happened to the jacket after you were shooting it?

Whenever I see things of people like “Oh yeah, I kept this and I kept that,” I’m like, what job are you working on because I don’t get to keep anything? I think there’s been like one job where I got to keep something, and it was because they physically dyed it for me. The costume designer was like “You’re allowed this because we’re never filming with it again.” 

So funny. Well, I have to say one of my favorite pieces in the show was James’s Hawaii shirt, post–murder makeover.

Oh yeah, Alex [Lawther, who plays James] really loved that. They solidified a prep day where in this room there was possibly 50 different Hawaiian shirts. Like different color, different prints… and Alex tried basically every single one on. He’s a better person than I am.

Okay, lastly, what can you tell us at all about Season 2? The end of season one kind of wrecked us and left us totally on a cliff. What do you make of it all?

I would really love to see season two just because this is my dream job. Alyssa was just one of those jobs that you get that will always stay with you and you will always be like “that character is now my friend.” I don’t know where it would go, but I want there to be drag queens in it. I want it to go like Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I think it’s a natural progression with Alyssa and James. They go undercover, they find drag queens performing, and to lie low and make money—they help the drag act.