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Cowboy Sartorialism: How To Dress Like John Wayne (part 1)

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John Wayne had a singular style, wearing pretty much the same costumes from movie to movie. Part of it was surely maintaining a consistent, iconic look across films. I’m inclined the other part of it was personal taste. These were clothes that were familiar, comfortable, and looked good on the Duke. Why mess with success?

This is John Wayne’s more dressed up look, as seen above. I’ll be adding a post soon about his more casual look.

The Jacket

The Duke usually wore a utility coat with a lot of pockets, if he wore a coat. When they tried to dress him up a little, it was usually with a corduroy or tweed. Both are bold, rustic fabrics with a lot of texture that helps them stand up to rugged hats and boots. In the picture above, taken from McLintock, he’s wearing a sporting type jacket, something that wouldn’t have looked out of place while out riding or lounging around a hunting lodge in the early 20th Century. For an affordable, easy to find corduroy, try this one from Kohl’s. It’s a fused coat, which means there’s an inner inside the coat that’s glued to the corduroy. It’s not the highest quality, but will serve most people pretty well, especially if they avoid the dry cleaners as much as possible. (The heat from the steamers can cause the glue inside the coat to run and leave permanent wrinkles.)

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Orvis makes a really nice coat, one that keeps a lot of the sporting feel of the Duke’s coat. There’s another option, however that might be the best as far as quality and price goes: your local thrift stores. Rarely do I go into a thrift store that doesn’t have a corduroy coat or two. There’s a better chance they’ll be of good quality (they really knew how to make stuff in the past) and for something like, 15% of the Orvis coat, you can walk away with something presentable and classic.

(I make a note here that we’re avoiding the western-style corduroy sport coats you might find at your local western wear store. There’s something really dated and weird about the heavy yokes on the shoulders that just screams 1970’s and they’re generally of really poor quality, not a good buy all around.)

The Shirt

Film technology wasn’t as advanced back then and a lot of times what looks like a solid colored shirt is actually a shirt with a very small pattern. In McLintock, it’s a very tiny gingham in blue, green and white. Since the corduroy has a big, chunky pattern, you’ll want to find either a solid shirt (This is great time to bust out an OCBD) or something with a very small pattern to avoid clashing. Target has some gingham shirts that work, especially the blue one. L.L. Bean also has some shirts that would work well. Alternatively, you could always go with a nice chambray shirt.

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The Pants

John Wayne, like a lot of guys his age, tended to wear some high-waisted khaki pants instead of jeans. This is a pretty cool option, if that’s what you’re into. You could also just go with your jeans, provided they’re not Bon Jovi jeans with patches and fake wear and tear all over them. That’s the clothing version of a mullet: Business up top, party down below. If you wanted to split the difference, there are some pretty decent looking khaki pants with the same cut as jeans.

The Hat

John Wayne wore a silverbelly (or gray) hat more often than not. Part of that is because in movies, black hat = bad guy. (Right off the top of my head, he wore a black hat in The Searchers and True Grit, both times he was playing a character that wasn’t exactly a good guy, even if he was sorta the hero) Silverbelly hats tend to look better on people with ruddy complexions (like the Duke) because they even you out, where black merely provides contrast. (Black hats make me look beet red or deathly pale, my silverbelly makes me look normal.)

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If you have the face for it, a brick crease will look cool and convey they same sort of big, brash presence that the Duke did, if not, your regular silverbelly or brown hat will look fine with this.

The Boots

Wear something a nice, caramel color, preferably made out of a dead reptile.

Coming up soon, we’ll talk about a little more casual version of the Duke’s look. With this look, you’re ready for cocktails and steaks or Thanksgiving Dinner. Just remember though, if you find yourself asking “What Would John Wayne Do” he did pop off and punch a lot of guys in the mouth, so maybe just let it slide if someone brings up politics, religion, or boot toes.

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About Seth

Bury my heart in West Texas.

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