Jason Bourne, 1988 Style

Richard Chamberlain as Jason Bourne in 1988's mini-series The Bourne Identity.

Richard Chamberlain as Jason Bourne in 1988’s mini-series The Bourne Identity.


Richard Chamberlain as Jason Bourne, amnesiac ex-CIA agent

Zurich, Spring 1988

Film: The Bourne Identity
Release Date: May 8, 1988
Director: Roger Young
Costume Designer: Barbara Lane



That’s right. In 1988, Robert Ludlum’s wildly popular spy novel The Bourne Identity (I hope that you at least knew it was a book first) was adapted into a two-part mini-series that was much more faithful to the book’s plot.

While the 2002 version with Mr. Damon is often considered to be superior, the 1988 adaptation certainly held its own in terms of acting, action, and suspense.

At this point in the film, Bourne has just been healed by an alcoholic English doctor (played by the always awesome Denholm Elliott) and is now searching for clues about his past by checking out the bank account from a number implanted in his thigh. OK, so far it sounds a lot like the 2002 version, but after this, things get pretty different.

To compare, check out the first post I wrote about Damon’s Bourne exactly a year ago.

What’d He Wear?

While we all might be more used to seeing Bourne decked out in dark sweaters and overcoats, Chamberlain played a different sort of Bourne: more of a Hitchcockian everyman swept up in overwhelming circumstances rather than an angry amnesiac ex-assassin. Thus, for his trip to the Zurich bank, Bourne sports a nice suit and overcoat in a style still fashionable today, if pulled off correctly. It’s much flashier than we come to expect from Bourne, but it is really just a nice variation of a standard 1980s business suit.

Bourne paces in his hotel room.

Bourne paces in his hotel room.

The suit is lightweight, allowing Bourne’s movements to be comfortable as he evades assassins and jumps in and out of cars. It is gray with faint white pinstripes that are widely spaced.

Bourne’s single-breasted suit coat is very typical of the times with notch lapels rolling down to a 2-button front with a relatively low stance. There is a breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, and 3-button cuffs. The double rear vents also aid Bourne’s mobility in the suit.

And mobility is definitely something you need when chasing after a car full of sadistic German hitmen.

And mobility is definitely something you need when chasing after a car full of sadistic German hitmen.

The suit trousers are flat front with open side pockets and jetted rear pockets that fasten with a button. The bottoms are plain-hemmed (no cuffs). Bourne suspends his pants with a thin black leather belt that fastens in the front with a dull brass rectangular buckle.


Bourne’s shirt has alternating stripes in light blue, white, ecru, and gray. The blue stripes are the most dominant, giving the shirt a general light blue appearance when viewed from further away. The white buttons fasten from a large collar with a moderate spread down a plain, placketless front. Bourne keeps his barrel cuffs buttoned. The shirt has no chest pocket.

The necktie has a striking red ground with a small white diamond pattern spotted throughout.

Jason Bourne: Red, White, and Blue American.

Jason Bourne: Red, White, and Blue American.

The colors, particularly the shirt and tie, reflect his heritage; the American stands out amongst the gray Europeans with his red, white, and blue.

We get a good look at Bourne’s footwear when he tucks his stolen .357 in his sock (a very difficult practice even with the heaviest of socks). The socks in question are a pair of dark gray ribbed socks, which perfectly continue the leg line of the trousers into the pair of black leather 4-eyelet cap toe oxford brogues.

Bourne leaves no doubt about what he's wearing on his feet.

Bourne leaves no doubt about what he’s wearing on his feet.

Bourne’s overcoat is the most dated piece of the wardrobe, a black and white herringbone coat that extends past his knees. It has large ’80s-style notch lapels and a low-fastening 3-button front. Additional details include slanted open side pockets, cuffed sleeves, and swelled edges. The long rear single vent reaches up almost to Bourne’s waist.

A swatch of the overcoat fabric is inset on the right photo, if you're curious.

A swatch of the overcoat fabric is inset on the right photo, if you’re curious.

Bourne skimps on accessories, wearing only a Swatch wristwatch that is best seen during his gunfight with Chernak the spy. The watch has a black vinyl strap, round black case, and white face. The watch has been identified as a Swatch by Teeritz, who maintains The Teeritz Agenda, an excellent and entertaining blog that is absolutely worth following!

"You son of a bitch! This blood's gonna stain my coat."

“You son of a bitch! This blood’s gonna stain my coat.”

It is interesting to also note the wardrobe of the “imposter” that is shot by mistake by the assassin known only as “Gold Glasses” in the Zurich bank. He wears a black and white overcoat also, but with a different pattern. Underneath, he has a pale blue shirt, a red knit tie, and burgundy suspenders. Perhaps an honest mistake during a split-second moment, but “Gold Glasses” should’ve checked the details before making his kill. Of course, since his Walther PPK magically fires seventeen rounds before we see an on-screen reload, we can assume that “Gold Glasses” can be held above the rules of logic.

Hey now, that's definitely not Jason Bourne! Or Matt Damon, for that matter.

Hey now, that’s definitely not Jason Bourne! Or Matt Damon, for that matter.

After all of this, having lost his coat and tie in the boarding house and bloodied up his suit during the subsequent fight, Bourne spends the duration of the film in more traditional espionage-inspired wear, such as a khaki trench coat and a black fedora. The sweaters are indeed here, to fight against the chill of Western Europe, but they are more like sweaters your dad wore in the ’80s than the sleek dark military-inspired sweaters of the Damon series.

Go Big or Go Home

As I said, this Bourne is more of a confused amnesiac than the angry ex-assassin more recently portrayed. He is romantic, showing tenderness and tender love to Marie and caring about her as a person rather than as an asset. (No one can blame him for this, as Marie is played by Jaclyn Smith.)

The biggest difference, however, is Bourne’s past. In Damon’s films, he was simply a government assassin who forgot his past after he was wounded during an attempted hit. In Ludlum’s books and the mini-series, Bourne was a government agent set up to be a “fake assassin” to track and embarrass Carlos, a master assassin and terrorist.

Despite these differences, this Bourne still has – as he himself described – “expertise in small arms and martial arts”. He proves this much during these first action sequences, as he beats the shit out of (or kills!) a series of armed German assassins sent after him. He takes their guns, sequentially a Smith & Wesson Model 19 snubnose, a wooden-gripped Walther P5, and a suppressed Walther PPK.

Here's a free pro tip: If you ARE going to carry three guns, at least try to keep one of them in a holster. The sock thing is just impractical.

Here’s a free pro tip: If you ARE going to carry three guns, at least try to keep one of them in a holster. The sock thing is just impractical.

Bourne is still more of a serious spy than Bond, only seen drinking Perrier at the bank, although he had some red wine earlier during dinner with Dr. Washburn. The literary Bourne was a whiskey drinker, but we don’t see this in Chamberlain’s interpretation. Since you’re not being traced around Europe by armed goons, I’d say it’s safe to let your guard down and enjoy a nip or two of Scotch.

How to Get the Look

bourne88-crop1Whether you’re fighting off scores of German hitmen or going to a business meeting, Bourne’s suit is a great look to emulate.

  • Gray pinstripe wool suit, consisting of:
    • Single-breasted two-button suit jacket with notch lapels, open breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, three-button cuffs, and double rear vents
    • Flat front trousers with belt loops, open side pockets, button-through jetted rear pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Light blue multi-striped dress shirt with alternating thin white, ecru, and gray stripes, large spread collar, white buttons on a plain front, no breast pocket, and buttoned barrel cuffs
  • Red necktie with small white diamond pattern spots
  • Dark gray ribbed socks
  • Thin black leather belt with a small rectangular dull brass single-prong buckle
  • Black leather 4-eyelet cap toe oxford brogues
  • Black-and-white herringbone tweed single-breasted overcoat with low-fastening 3-button front, large slanted slash pockets, long notch lapels, and a long single vent
  • Plain black wristwatch with a round white face and black vinyl strap

The Gun

It may be his first day back on the radar, but Bourne manages to get his hands on three different handguns by the end of the night. The 1988 version sees a lot more revolver use than the 2000s series, which only featured a few fleeting Smith & Wessons in The Bourne Legacy. In fact, Bourne’s main gun in the 1988 mini-series is a snubnose Smith & Wesson Model 19 that he takes after disarming an assassin in the bank elevator.

Bourne with his hostage Marie and his newly acquired Model 19.

Bourne with his hostage Marie and his newly acquired Model 19.

The Model 19 was officially introduced in the mid-1950s, but its development traces back more than twenty years earlier to 1935, just after the close of the “Public Enemy era” that saw guys like Dillinger, “Baby Face” Nelson, and “Pretty Boy” Floyd battling out with cops and G-men on the streets of Chicago and St. Paul. The .357 Magnum cartridge had just been developed in response to Colt’s .38 Super Automatic round that was popular in the hands of gangsters, especially Dillinger and Nelson. The .38 Super was quickly growing for law enforcement acceptance as the only pistol cartridge capable of firing through a car. Colt’s primary rival at the time – and pretty much all through history – was Smith & Wesson. With the help of hunter Elmer Keith, who was able to load the venerable .38 Special round to increasingly higher pressure levels, Colonel D.B. Wesson and the NRA’s Philip B. Sharpe developed the .357 round from the existing .38 Special, extending the case 18 inches to ensure that the higher power round would only be used in revolvers built to accept it. Smith & Wesson wisely, but perhaps not creatively, named their first production handgun for this round the “Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum.”

Fast forward to the 1950s. Smith & Wesson is developing reliable revolvers of all calibers, sizes, finishes, and purposes. Pretty soon, terms like “K-Frame .357 Combat Magnum” and “N-Frame .357 Registered Magnum” mean very little to the general consumer public. Thus, Smith & Wesson introduced a new naming system, with each gun getting its own unique number. The “.357 Registered Magnum” became the Model 27, the “.357 Highway Patrolman” became the Model 28, and the old “Military & Police” became the Model 10. The “Combat Magnum”, which had just been introduced in November 1955, was rechristened as the Model 19.

The original vision of the Model 19 was the “peace officer’s dream”, as conceived by Bill Jordan, an ex-Marine, lawman, and shooting enthusiast. Jordan’s conception of a heavy-barreled K-Frame .357 Magnum with a shrouded four-inch barrel and adjustable sights eventually became the .357 Combat Magnum. Appropriately, Jordan received the first model, serial #K260000.

A great example of a snubnose Smith & Wesson Model 19, as seen on IMFDB. Check out IMFDB if you're ever curious about a gun used in a movie... chances are 99 in a 100 that they have a great page about it.

A great example of a snubnose Smith & Wesson Model 19, as seen on IMFDB. Check out IMFDB if you’re ever curious about a gun used in a movie… chances are 99 in a 100 that they have a great page about it.

The Smith & Wesson Model 19 was produced for nearly forty years and gained a reputation as one of the most reliable wheelguns in production. It was a double-action revolver that could take six rounds of .357 Magnum. At the time of its introduction in 1957, standard barrel lengths like 4″ were the norm. In 1963, Smith & Wesson produced a limited run of fifty Model 19s with 2.5″ barrels, as Bourne carries in The Bourne Identity, with the 2.5″ barrel entering standard production three years later. Other than its obviously shorter length, these snubnose Model 19s also had round butts as opposed to the square butts of the longer revolvers.

In keeping up with the later Bourne we’re used to, however, Bourne does get his hands on some German semi-automatics. In this case, it is a wooden-gripped Walther P5 and a suppressed Walther PPK, both also taken from assassins.

Bourne with a P5 he took from a potential assassin (left) and a suppressed PPK he gets from another assassin (right).

Bourne with a P5 he took from a potential assassin (left) and a suppressed PPK he gets from another assassin (right).

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the series.

Apparently, this can go up to prices around $70. I was able to get it in 2008 for around $20, so hold out for when the $20 price point comes back. It may be entertaining, but nobody should pay $70 for only three hours of material.

Since it’s a much closer adaptation of the original Robert Ludlum novel, why not check that out as well?


  1. teeritz

    I could never buy Richard Chamberlain as Bourne. And I can’t say this series thrilled me when I saw it a few months after having read the book. I pictured somebody who looked more like Burt Reynolds (believe it or not) as Bourne. At least until Matt Damon arrived.
    And it appears that Chamberlain’s Bourne is wearing a Swatch. If you’re gonna buy a Swatch, that’s the model to go for. Practically saved the Swiss watch industry.

    • luckystrike721

      Wow – the idea of Burt Reynolds as the ’80s Bourne would’ve been pretty magnificent. I just started reading the books a few months ago (just finished Supremacy) and now want to revisit them with this in mind. Since I saw the mini-series before I read the books, I just kept picturing Chamberlain’s “Oh God!” performance which may have detrimentally altered my reading experience. Speaking of Burt Reynolds in CIA during the ’80s, did you ever see Malone?

      And thanks for the Swatch tip. Makes sense here as well. I should know to just come to you first on these things!

      • Teeritz

        The only reason I pictured Burt Reynolds as Bourne is because I have the paperback version of the book that was published back in the Eighties and it shows a pair of Ray-Ban-style aviators (although I think Bausch & Lomb called ’em Outdoorsmans) with a shattered lens and I’ve always viewed those as very ’70s type sunglasses. Therefore, Reynolds seemed an ideal fit as I read the book. Although, thinking now, I wonder how Newman would have played it?

        • luckystrike721

          I did a brief look around the web; is the book in this photo the cover that you have? (http://farm1.staticflickr.com/128/389036916_6e5b488ebd_z.jpg?zz=1) Unfortunately, my copies are all Damon movie tie-ins so I never even had a chance to use my imagination. The idea of Paul Newman in an espionage flick is making me wonder if Torn Curtain would be a good addition here. I don’t remember much of his attire, but I’m sure Hitch had him sharply suited. That is, assuming you meant Paul Newman and not Newman from Seinfeld!

  2. teeritz

    Yep, that’s the cover art of my copy. Bought a bunch of Ludlum’s books throughout the mid ’80s to early ’90s. The artwork just positively screams ‘airport thriller’. You’d have no real trouble finding a dog-eared copy in a second-hand bookstore or on eBay.
    Got a spare thirteen bucks (AUD) kicking around?
    And yes, I meant PAUL Newman, smart-ass 😉 I still think you should check out Rod Taylor in “The Birds”. He pairs leg-pocketed khaki green combat pants with an elbow-patched tweed jacket and makes it look great. The perfect outfit for doing battle against a flock of crazed seagulls.

    P.S.- Your line about how many Connerys does it take to change a lightbulb was hilarious. Gotta read the rest of the article.

    • luckystrike721

      Thanks!! I like Matt Damon and all, but I’d feel more comfortable reading a book when he isn’t staring back at me from the cover every time I put it down. Thanks for the link as well. I’ll also need to get my hands on The Birds, as I’ve been meaning to for awhile! The tweed + combat pants combo would be something very new for the blog here and it sounds pretty cool, too!

  3. Pingback: Bourne’s Casual Leather Jacket in 1988 | BAMF Style

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