Today marks the 79th anniversary of the death of Bonnie and Clyde on a rural road in Louisiana. While I wouldn’t want to honor a killer like Barrow, it’s certainly the right day to commemorate with a suit from 1967’s iconic Bonnie and Clyde.
Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow, romantic but flawed Depression-era bandit
Texas, early 1930s
Film: Bonnie & Clyde
Release Date: August 13, 1967
Director: Arthur Penn
Costume Designer: Theadora Van Runkle
With his violently quick temper and poor skill for actually robbing banks, there is little reason for Clyde Barrow to have the fame he does today. However, Clyde chose to bring along young Texas waitress Bonnie Parker for his adventures and a legend was born.
Bonnie and Clyde enjoyed undeserved fame during their own short but fast lives, partially due to their own vanity. While “vacationing” in Arkansas in 1933 on their way to Joplin, Missouri, the happy couple stopped by the side of the road with fellow gang member W.D. Jones, who snapped photos of all three of them in their fancy duds.
After the gang was forcibly kicked out of Joplin by police gunfire and two more murders, the photos were found and run in the newspapers. Clyde and W.D. were proud of the impressions they made on the public in their sharp new suits, but Bonnie was upset that a photo of her jokingly chomping on one of the men’s cigars earned her the reputation of a “cigar-smoking gun moll”. She spent the remaining year of her life trying to amend this error by imploring kidnapping victims to tell the world that she didn’t smoke cigars.
Thirty years after the violent deaths of Bonnie and Clyde, screenwriters David Newman and Robert Benton came across their story in John Toland’s account The Dillinger Days. They quickly put Flatt and Scruggs on their stereo and began typing out a screenplay. In 1967, the film was released in theaters and its shocking violence intermixed with sex – but in an artistic, non-exploiting way – titillated audiences and thrilled critics. The entire principal cast (of five!) was nominated for Academy Awards, as was director Arthur Penn, the screenwriters, the costume department, and the cinematographer. Naturally, with nominations like that, it was also up for best picture. Only cast member Estelle Parsons walked away with an award that night, but producer and lead actor Warren Beatty, who literally begged Jack Warner to let him make the film, was vindicated.
What’d He Wear?
Beatty, arguably a much better looking man than awkward pipsqueak Clyde Barrow was in real life, wore some nicer clothing as well. Although very ’60s in its style, Bonnie and Clyde channeled 1930s fashion to create a contemporary retro look that had men donning fedoras and women in berets.
As Barrow himself, Clyde’s principal outfit was a sharp dark blue pinstripe three-piece suit, shirt, tie, and hat. Luckily for us, the Ultimate Collector’s Edition features a disc with all of Warren Beatty’s costume tests, which show off more of the suits that we see in the film.
The suit itself is very dark blue with a thin white pinstripe. The jacket is slim cut and double-breasted with moderately slim peak lapels. The six buttons close with two in the front. Clyde’s jacket has 3-button cuffs, a breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, and a ventless rear.
Clyde’s vest is clean and simple, much like the look of the whole suit. It is single-breasted with no lapels and no rear strap. The rear lining is dark blue silk to match the jacket’s inner lining. It has six buttons down the front and four open pockets.
The suit’s flat front trousers have side pockets and two jetted pockets in the rear; the left back pocket closes with a dark blue button. They also have cuffed bottoms, which were very common in the 1930s. A black leather belt with a squared brass single-prong buckle is worn through the loops, suspending Clyde’s pants and fastening onto his shoulder holster when necessary.
Clyde’s white shirt stays consistent under the suit, although he sometimes wears others when wearing parts of the suit casually. The shirt has a long turndown collar with a moderate spread. The white buttons fasten down a narrow front placket and the barrel cuffs are worn buttoned. The shirt has no pockets.
When not wearing a tie, Clyde almost always wears the shirt buttoned up to his neck. After losing his virginity to Bonnie towards the end, he begins to wear the shirt neck open, perhaps a symbol of losing his repressed urges. I wrote a paper about this my freshman year in college, but can’t remember the details.
Clyde’s usual tie is a short silk tie in a very deco style with a dark blue and white pattern. Short and wide ties, as also seen in The Sting, were very en vogue during the 1930s into the ’40s.
During the move to Joplin, he also wears a wide tie (with a thin knot) in alternating shades and sizes of brown stripes. We later see this tie with a few other outfit, notably while playing games in the Joplin apartment and when the gang meets Frank Hamer.
On his feet, Clyde wears a pair of two-tone brown & white cap-toe spectator shoes with brown laces. A pair of black dress socks protect his chopped-off toes from interacting with his dirty shoes.
During the Parker family reunion (and Beatty’s screen tests), Clyde also sports a pair of black & white two-tone cap-toes.
Clyde wears many hats throughout the film (literally and figuratively, but also shut up). His first headgear is a brown wool newsboy cap that just screams “amateur” when he bursts into the first bank, nervously shaking his gun in his hand, collar flicked up over his jacket. He also sports the cap in a later scene, during the reunion with Bonnie’s family.
By the next bank job, Clyde is more professional in his brown felt fedora with a wide brown band. This is the hat seen on many of the posters and promotional material for the film.
Finally, Clyde wears an off-white straw Panama hat with a black band during the drive to Joplin. Beatty also tried this hat on during the screen tests.
Clyde’s underwear is the standard for the era: a white ribbed sleeveless A-shirt and white lightweight boxers.
When chasing after a runaway Bonnie or hiding out to treat his wounds in a rural Louisiana cabin, Clyde doesn’t feel the need to dress up all the way. He typically just wears the pants of his pinstripe suit with a different shirt and set of shoes.
The shirt is a light blueish-gray with alternating dark and white thin stripes. It is more casual than his dress shirts and has a narrower spread collar. The white buttons fasten down a plain, placket-less front and he still wears the barrel cuffs buttoned. Like the other shirt, this too has no pockets and is typically buttoned up to the collar.
Clyde’s shoes for these scenes are a pair of casual black leather laced dress shoes, still worn with his black socks.
Go Big or Go Home
Clyde grows throughout the movie from boastful but unskilled and impotent armed heister into a talented and notorious bank-robbing mastermind who has no problem successfully sexing his girlfriend. While that is a heck of a transformation to make over the course of two hours, it should be remembered that Bonnie and Clyde were together for four years in real life. Don’t feel bad if it’s taking a few years for your own bank-robbing skills to emerge.
In addition to the robbing and killing people, we learn a few things from Clyde in these scenes that are not acceptable in polite society.
- He talks incessantly during a movie.
- He litters, tossing his matches on the ground.
We never get much of a chance to see what Clyde likes to smoke or drink in the film, but we do see him smoking a few unfiltered cigarettes, especially towards the beginning (Although, this being 1967, it might have been stronger than just tobacco.)
In real life, Clyde enjoyed Bull Durham cigarettes, which are certainly not being manufactured anymore. Although Clyde’s brand of choice isn’t in production these days, you can still grab a pack of Bonnie’s favorites – Camel unfiltered cigarettes, also the choice of Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, and – after season 4 – Roger Sterling of Mad Men. Clyde also rolled his own, which would be the least expensive option.
Also, being a good Texas boy, Clyde certainly loved to eat. To get into the Clyde Barrow mindset, you’ll want to stuff yourself with some good pork barbecue. As Bonnie’s favorite meal was reportedly red beans and rice, this would make the perfect side dish. Of course, you’ll not want to make anything too work-intensive – someone’s gotta keep an eye out for approaching police cars. When on the go, Clyde shovels down a Klondike bar and an apple.
How to Get the Look
The film depicts accurately, at least in my opinion, how a guy like Clyde would have been dressing. Much like the real Clyde, Beatty’s character likes to be dressed up whenever possible – especially in public – but has a limited clothing selection due to constantly being on the run. He has a core outfit and several variants that switch up various parts of his wardrobe.
- Navy blue pinstripe suit (with navy silk lining), consisting of:
- Double-breasted 6-on-2-button suit jacket with moderately slim peak lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Single-breasted 6-button non-adjustable vest with four welt pockets and notched bottom
- Flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- White cotton long-sleeve shirt with long-pointed collar, narrow front placket, and buttoned barrel cuffs
- Dark blue and white silk deco-style necktie
- Brown and white two-tone leather cap-toe spectator shoes with brown laces
- Black dress socks
- Brown felt fedora with a dark brown band (or a brown wool newsboy cap)
- White ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt
- White lightweight boxer shorts
- Light brown leather RHD shoulder holster, worn under the left armpit, for a 4″-barreled revolver
Clyde’s sidearm in the film is the venerable Smith & Wesson “Military & Police” .38 Special revolver, now marketed as the Model 10. The Model 10 has gone through a variety of nomenclatures, from its original naming as the “Smith & Wesson .38 Hand Ejector Model of 1899” to “Smith & Wesson Model 10”. It is an insanely popular revolver, with more than 6,000,000 produced during its lifetime. It found its way into the hands of many world police agencies and even serves in some militaries.
The Smith & Wesson “Military & Police” was developed in 1899 as the first S&W revolver with a cylinder release latch on the left side much like the popular Colt revolvers. It has gone through several design updates but has always remained fundamentally the same – a sturdy, reliable six-shot .38 Special double action revolver with fixed sights. Barrel lengths are available from a 2″ snub nose to a long 6″ length, with the standard 4″ barrel being the most popular. The .38 Special round can reach up to 1,000 ft/s when fired from the revolver.
It was commonly known as the “Military & Police” until 1957, when Smith & Wesson began numbering their handguns, and it was rechristened the “Model 10”. Originally offered with a tapered barrel and a rounded “half moon” front sight, the design was changed in the late 1960s to feature a heavier “bull” barrel and a sloped ramp front sight.
So what about Clyde? In real life, he was more fond of the M1911 pistol, but Bonnie and Clyde places a Smith & Wesson in his hand, perhaps due to the frequency of firing scenes and the unreliability of .45 ACP blanks at the time. Clyde clearly carries a period-correct early model with a 4″ barrel, plain grips, a tapered barrel, and the rounded front sight. He carries it in a light brown leather shoulder holster under his left armpit with a light tan strap suspending it across both shoulders.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
We got a dollar ninety-eight and you’re laughing!
For anyone thinking, “I don’t know, that suit looks black to me,” the costume testing clapboards prove it. “Blue pinstripe,” the boards proclaim.
The film’s Academy Award-nominated costumes were designed by the legendary Theadora Van Runkle, who also dressed the characters of Bullitt and The Godfather Part II.