The shirts look comfy and well-worn, like true vintage grails. You want to raid Cheese’s closet like you would the rack at a thrift store. The shirts also offer insight into the character—a sweet, polite kid, who always introduces himself with his pronouns, but also apparently has a love of metal.
Cawthon says Cheese’s ascension as a style icon was not necessarily intentional. “It was very much, this is just going to be a kid who throws whatever’s in his closet on,” she says. Instead, she’s getting screenshots sent from her family members about the shirts. “My mom, my whole family, all the Choctaw aunties and uncles that are all in these Rez Dogs Facebook fan pages are constantly sending me screenshots of Native men being like, ‘Love Cheese’s Gwar shirt,'” she says.
Cawthon started on the show as a set costumer for the pilot costume designer Heidi Bivens (known for her work on Euphoria), before getting promoted to assistant designer for the first two seasons and then ultimately the main designer for the third and final.
From the beginning, she says, creator Sterlin Harjo always had a very specific idea of what Cheese should wear, and it was a style that was familiar to Cawthon. “I’m Native, I’m Choctaw and I partially grew up in Oklahoma, and we all know a Cheese—or two really—who really just always wears the craziest graphic tee you could think of, and basketball shorts,” she says.
Some of the items that are still in Cheese’s wardrobe, Cawthon found in the course of her shopping for the very first episode—like that Rage Against the Machine shirt. Characters rewear a lot of clothes on the series for the sake of accuracy: These kids wouldn’t be shopping for clothes all the time. “If they get new clothes we always justify it that they could have stolen it from the mall in Tulsa,” Cawthon says. “It has to be from a store that they could access.” She sourced the tees from thrift stores and Hot Topic—the trick is they just have to be licensed in order to appear on camera.
Still, over the course of the show’s run, Cawthon and her team have had to get some new versions of Cheese’s favorites, in part because Factor, aged from 14 to 18 over the course of the run, and grew in that time frame.
Factor’s own affinities also shaped how Cheese dressed. The actor, for instance, is a huge fan of Godzilla (to the extent that he posted on Instagram about how he recently attended a Godzilla convention). So the costume team took a faded shirt of his with Japanese text and an orange graphic of Godzilla and other kaiju and put it in the show. Since its initial appearance they have recreated it about five times. “He loves it,” Cawthon says. “Now Lane’s like, ‘Oh, I have one in my size,’ and he took one at the end of the season.”
According to Cawthon, Cheese isn’t necessarily thoughtful about what he wears compared to his friends. “They know what looks best on them and they’re wearing the correct size, and they care a little bit more,” she says. “Cheese just doesn’t.”