Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow, Depression-era ex-con and armed robber
West Texas, Spring 1932
Film: Bonnie & Clyde
Release Date: August 13, 1967
Director: Arthur Penn
Costume Designer: Theadora Van Runkle
Bonnie and Clyde nicely compacts two years of heartbreak and jailbreak into a five minute sequence as abundantly charming Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) chats up the oozing-with-Southern-sex Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) and quickly smooth-talks her into a life of fast-paced larceny across the country.
In real life, the two’s paths were crossed by fate far before they ever met. Clyde was born 105 years ago today, on March 24, 1909, in Telico, Texas. His family was large and poverty-stricken, working on various farms before moving to West Dallas in the early 1920s, where Clyde instantly formed the “Lake Dallas Gang” and committed petty holdups under the tutelage of his easygoing older brother Buck.
Bonnie was a year younger, born in Rowena, Texas. Her father died when she was young, and the sweet-natured but attention-seeking Bonnie serenaded the funeral service with a lively version of “He’s a Devil In His Own Hometown”, a top hit at the time. Ever the dreamer, Bonnie pictured herself finding true love and married too early to Roy Thornton, a local thug who abandoned her early in their ill-advised marriage. Heartbroken and incredibly lonely, Bonnie found herself cooking for a sick friend on January 5, 1930.
At the same time, Clyde was wanted in Dallas for some minor crimes, including a robbery a month earlier that had landed Buck in police custody. Clyde was eager to prove himself as a successful criminal, and his controlling, criminally impulsive nature had repelled several serious girlfriends. He went to visit a friend on January 5, 1930, and there he met Bonnie Parker, standing in the kitchen. The manipulative psychopath had met his vulnerable match, and dozens of lives would be impacted because of that winter evening.
The two were immediately smitten, although Bonnie showed some doubts initially. When Clyde was arrested at Bonnie’s mother’s house (of all places!) a month later, many assumed she would move on. Bonnie, by then, was in love. She reluctantly smuggled a .32 into the Waco jail where Clyde was being held, and he used it to break out with two of his jailbird buddies. They traveled far north, but were captured a week later in Middletown, Ohio. This time, the Waco cops threw the book at Clyde and sentenced him to serve hard time at the brutal Eastham Prison Farm, part of the infamous Texas state prison system. After two years of unendurable suffering, Clyde had learned a lesson, but it wasn’t one that the justice system would have intended.
What’d He Wear?
This is where the film picks up the story. According to the film’s narrative, Clyde and Bonnie had never met, and he is more happy to be out of prison than bitter about the time he spent in it.
Beatty’s Clyde looks charmingly ragtag in his mismatched suit as he scopes out Mrs. Parker’s car, a 1928 Ford. Clyde is still green at this point in the story, with his style to evolve with his self-discovery.
Here, we see the roguish farm boy who dreams of being a big-time outlaw. He wears the pinstripe pants of a sharp gangster, but his ragged brown coat is more indicative of the ground and soil, reflecting his modest agrarian background. He tries further with a fashionable Panama hat and two-tone shoes, but items like that require consistent washing to look good, and Clyde has neither the means nor the motivation to scrub out the dirt. He may be a criminal, but he hasn’t yet met the woman who will inspire him to be an outlaw.
While the circumstances differ from real life, the habits are very similar to the real Clyde. Desperate to leave his poor past behind him, Clyde would wear suits as often as possible, always putting forth his best appearance even when it wasn’t practical. The gang often risked exposure and capture so that Clyde could drive into major towns and buy new suits or get stylish haircuts; as a small man who suffered crushing humiliation in his life, Clyde needed to show the world he was a big shot.
Beatty wears a chocolate brown double-breasted wool suit coat, which has no apparent matching trousers in the film. It has wide peak lapels, characteristic of the ’30s, and flapped hip pockets.
A yellow string dangles from the welted breast pocket in some shots after the store holdup, but I’m not sure what it is. (When I first saw it, I thought it was a pocket watch chain, but screencapping has proved that it is not.)
The jacket has an intentionally poor fit, with the ventless rear pulling at Beatty’s waist he wears it buttoned. The double-breasted front has a 6×2-button layout with dark brown plastic buttons matching the 3-button cuffs. The jacket is a little short, enhancing the impropriety of his look. At some point during this sequence, probably while chasing Bonnie around the stolen car, he tears the right elbow on the jacket. After his first night with Bonnie, we never see the jacket again.
Now on his way to becoming a nationally-known criminal, he has no need for ill-fitting jackets. Clyde wears a pair of dark blue pinstripe trousers that belong to the three-piece suit he wears for some of the film’s bank robberies. Since he has no possessions on him other than his .38 revolver and the clothes he is wearing, we can assume that Clyde keeps the rest of the suit stashed somewhere else and picks it up when he and Bonnie plan their first major bank job.
The trousers are flat front with cuffed bottoms. There are four pockets: two open side pockets and two jetted rear pockets. The left rear pocket closes with a dark blue plastic button. Clyde wears the trousers low in this scene with a black leather belt around his waist. The belt fastens with a squared brass clasp.
As usual, Clyde wears a plain white shirt, but he hasn’t washed it in sometime and the dusty air has combined with ring-around-the-collar to make the shirt appear more of a sandy ecru in color. The shirt has large point collars, buttoned cuffs, and a narrow front placket.
Clyde wears a black and white abstract printed kipper tie that looks like a monochromatic Jackson Pollock painting. He thankfully retires it in favor of more deco-inspired ties for the rest of the film.
Clyde’s hat is a wisely-chosen straw Panama hat. Although the off-white color gets dirty easily, the Panama hat carries a successful connotation, conjuring images of rich Southern industrialists or businessmen on holiday. He keeps a few matches stuck into the wide black ribbon. Clyde also wears newsboy caps and fedoras throughout, but the felt fedora would be uncomfortably warm in the Texas heat, and the newsboy cap evokes images of a boy when Clyde is trying to prove that he is a man.
Clyde insulates his deformed feet in a pair of dirty two-tone wingtips. The shoes are brown and white leather with brown laces, complemented with a pair of black socks.
The next morning, Bonnie wakes up on a car seat in an abandoned house — Clyde is nowhere to be seen! She calls out his name, and he appears at the door, having slept in their second of two stolen cars. This morning, he has ditched the jacket and tie, now sporting a brown flannel vest with a faint widely-spaced pinstripe. Clyde clearly didn’t have this on the day before, so he likely found it in the car. How much would that suck to lose both your car and your vest in the same day?
The vest has four welted pockets and five buttons down the front to a notched bottom. Clyde buttons it haphazardly, skipping the second and the bottom buttons.
Underneath, he wears his white shirt buttoned up to the neck as he does for most of the film. He is wearing the same pinstripe trousers as the day before, with an additional revolver tucked into his black belt.
For his trusty .38, Clyde has a well-worn brown leather shoulder holster hanging under his left arm, rigged up with a white vinyl strap across his back and shoulders. As soon as Bonnie is awake, he’s ready for target practice.
Having found who he was looking for, Clyde Barrow now has just who he needs to become the big shot he always wanted to be:
You’re like me, you want different things. You got somethin’ better than bein’ a waitress. You and me travelin’ together, we could cut a path clean across this state and Kansas and Missouri and Oklahoma, and everybody’d know about it.
Go Big or Go Home
While guzzling down Cokes, Beatty’s Clyde cheerfully offers to show off his two missing toes to prove his state prison record. Bonnie is excited by the prospect, but her sense of West Dallas decorum takes over and she retorts:
I surely don’t intend to stand here in the middle of Main Street and look at your dirty feet!
In real life, Clyde was decidedly bitter about his decision to chop off his big toe with an axe. Fed up with life in the notoriously brutal Eastham prison farm, Clyde hoped an injury would land him a transfer to the main building in Huntsville. On January 27, 1932, he gritted his teeth as a trusted fellow inmate brought the axe down, severing his big toe and nearly removing the one next to it as well.
Little did Clyde know that Bonnie (whom he had already met) and his pious mother had spent the last two years campaigning on his behalf. On February 2, just shy of a week later, Clyde was paroled and hobbled out of the Texas State Prison system on crutches, bitter about his hasty decision and vowing never to return.
Impulsive decisions like the one that nearly crippled him would become the trademark of Clyde’s criminal career. He was a recklessly talented driver, but when he diverted his attention, it led to a terrible accident near Wellington, Texas that cost his beloved Bonnie the ability to walk. An impromptu car theft by Clyde on Christmas 1932 left a young father dead on the sidewalk, with the stolen car he died for abandoned just a few blocks away. He wanted to be a big time bank robber like “Pretty Boy” Floyd or John Dillinger but lacked the skill, the connections, and the patience to gain either, and thus his biggest bank score was around $3,000 late in his career. At least a dozen men died either by his gang or during his crimes, including many private citizens that merely got in the way of Clyde’s impulsive trigger finger.
So if you’re between a rock and a hard place and you feel compelled to model yourself after Clyde Barrow, at least choose the Warren Beatty depiction. If you stupidly decided to cut off your toes, smile about it and show the prettiest girl you can find; don’t wallow in self-pity and take it out on twelve innocent people.
Don’t forget his pickup line, either:
Hell, you might just be the best damn girl in Texas.
This line is most effective when actually used in Texas.
How to Get the Look
It’s a mishmash look, so if you’re going for Depression-era chic, Beatty’s Clyde has got you covered.
- Chocolate brown double-breasted wool suit coat with wide peak lapels, 6×2 button front, 3-button cuffs, welted breast pocket, flapped hip pockets, and ventless rear
- or, a brown flannel 5-button vest with a faint white pinstripe, 4 welted pockets, and notched bottom
- Dark blue pinstripe flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, jetted rear pockets, and cuffed bottoms
- White long-sleeve button-down shirt with large point collars, narrow front placket, and buttoned barrel cuffs
- Black & white abstract patterned kipper tie
- Brown & white two-tone wingtip leather shoes with brown laces
- Black dress socks
- Off-white Panama hat with a wide black ribbon
- Black leather belt with a squared brass clasp
- White sleeveless ribbed A-shirt undershirt
- White lightweight boxer shorts
- Light brown leather RHD shoulder holster, worn under the left armpit, for 4″-barreled .38-caliber revolver
Clyde uses a Smith & Wesson “Military & Police” Revolver, now known as a Model 10, for the majority of the film. It was chambered in .38 Special, which has stood the test of time to this day as one of the most popular and reliable revolver cartridges. The Smith & Wesson also carried a reputation for popularity and reliability, with more than 6,000,000 produced of the standard .38 Special police model.
When Bonnie wakes up to find Clyde target shooting, he has a second gun with him, stuck into his belt. This is a Colt M1917 New Service, a .45-caliber revolver developed during World War I to supplement the .45 ACP M1911 pistols, which had just recently been introduced for the doughboys.
As American arms companies like Colt and Remington struggled to produce enough M1911s for the war, the government asked Colt and Smith & Wesson, then the two biggest American revolver manufacturers, to produce a heavy-frame revolver to fit the rimless .45 ACP pistol cartridge. Both companies introduced their own M1917 models, with Smith & Wesson getting a head start with its patent of the half-moon clip, which allows the revolver to use the pistol ammo. The Army nicely stepped in and asked Smith & Wesson to share their design with Colt. Colt thus modified its New Service model to use the S&W-designed half-moon clip loaded with six .45 ACP cartridges.
Prior to this, the New Service M1909 was using the .45 Long Colt developed a generation earlier in the legendary Single Action Army “Peacemaker”. The M1909’s cylinder was bored to take the cartridge and the half-moon clips, and the M1917 was born. Without the half-moon clips, the cartridges often slipped forward into the cylinder, away from the firing pin, rendering the operation useless. As production of the revolvers matured, half-moon clips became unnecessary due to headspacing machined into the cylinder chambers, but the ejector rod was uselessly misplaced and a thin rod was needed to extract the ammunition.
Externally, the Colt and Smith & Wesson M1917 models differed with the usual characteristics that set apart early revolvers by each manufacturer; the Colt had an exposed ejector rod and its distinctive cylinder release, while the Smith & Wesson had an ejector rod socket and a flat cylinder release.
Clyde Barrow preferred the M1911 series in real life, but the unreliability of .45 ACP blanks in the film industry c. 1967 made the use of the pistol impractical for the film. However, a Colt New Service M1909 (the .45 Long Colt model) was found in Bonnie and Clyde’s car after they were ambushed and killed in Louisiana on May 23, 1934.
The gun, serial #48261, was auctioned off in September 2012:
A Colt New Service Model 1909 Double-Action revolver found in the bullet-riddled car driven by Bonnie and Clyde on the day they died. This revolver comes with a Colt Factory letter indicating it was shipped on August 12, 1911, to the US Ordnance Department in Manila, Philippine Islands. It is marked on the butt with “U.S./ Army/Model/1909/No. 148/261” and is a .45 Colt caliber gun with a 5.5″ barrel. The frame is marked with a monogramed circular government inspector’s cartouche plus the government inspector’s initials “R.A.C.” (Rinaldo A. Carr). The revolver is in very good mechanical condition with the metal having an overall gray patina with traces of blue and most of the factory markings are very good. The smooth walnut grips are in good condition and bear an “R.A.C.” inspection stamp on the butt.
The Barrow Gang in the movie makes use of the Colt M1917, a happy medium between the .45 ACP pistol preferred by Clyde in real life and the practicalities of using a blank-firing revolver for filmmaking. Either way, Clyde proves himself to be a crack shot with both weapons.
Bonnie: You’re good!
Clyde: I ain’t good; I’m the best.
Bonnie: And modest!
Do Yourself a Favor and…
This here’s Miss Bonnie Parker. I’m Clyde Barrow. We rob banks.