Robert Redford as Harry Longbaugh, aka “The Sundance Kid”, laconic and sharp-shooting American outlaw
Colorado, Fall 1898
Film: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Release Date: October 24, 1969
Director: George Roy Hill
Costume Designer: Edith Head
Last year, we celebrated Robert Redford’s 78th birthday (and Throwback Tuesday, which I’ve decided can be a thing) by breaking down the Sundance Kid’s traveling suit when he and Butch Cassidy pack up and head to Bolivia. This year, for Bob’s 79th, we’ll look at his main outfit leading up to that – a badass assortment of Western wear that epitomize American outlaw style at the turn of the century.
What’d He Wear?
Although the film’s audience would be hard-pressed to call either Butch or Sundance a true villain despite their criminal vocations, Sundance is certainly the darker-demeanored of the two, reflected by his attire. In Bolivia, he wears a black suit and black hat. While still conducting his banditry in the U.S., he wears all black save for a brown corduroy jacket. By default, he becomes the film’s personification of the “black-hatted outlaw” trope although his easy charm differentiates him from more villianous contemporaries like Lee Van Cleef in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
The one major non-black part of his American banditry outfit is the brown wide-waled corduroy jacket. The jacket looks as well-traveled as Sundance himself, providing him comfortable and surprisingly fashionable outerwear that allows a wide range of motion for a man whose job includes jumping on and off of moving trains.
Though it’s a casual jacket, Sundance’s corduroy coat is cut like a suit coat with the only major difference being his jacket’s shirt-style collar, faced in black leather. It has five buttons down the front and plain cuffs. A special Western touch is the yoke that stretches horizontally across the upper back and slants down the chest from the upper portion of the sleeves. It’s simpler than the traditional pointed yoke, fitting Sundance’s understated style and sense of humor.
Sundance’s jacket also has straight flapped hip pockets and a long single rear vent.
Butch would also wear a corduroy jacket when the two pick up their career in South America, but Butch’s garment is a lighter brown example of a more traditional sport coat with notch lapels.
The rest of Sundance’s attire is all black. He wears a black cotton long-sleeve work shirt with black buttons down the front placket. The two chest patch pockets have mitred lower corners, and the cuffs close on a single button. The contrast between Sundance’s shirt and much darker pants indicates that the shirt may just be a very dark shade of charcoal, but let’s call it black for the sake of practicality.
The much darker pants I mentioned are black flat front trousers with slanted front pockets and a straight leg fit down to the plain-hemmed bottoms. Sundance wears a wide black leather belt through the trousers’ tall belt loops, fastened through a large steel single-claw buckle.
Sundance’s gun belt is also wide black leather, slung around his waist with the actual holster for his Single Action Army laced around his left hip… as Robert Redford is left-handed. The cartridge loops for Sundance’s .45 Colt ammunition are located along the right side of his gun belt.
Sundance also shows his fondness for black hats, perhaps to reflect his darker personality. The black “cowboy” hat worn with this outfit is black felt with a flat crown and a relatively short brim that only slightly curls at the edges. It’s not the same hat he wears in Bolivia, which is differentiated by its much thicker ribbon. Rather than a ribbon, this hat has only a slim black band that is tied on the left side.
Sundance sticks to his color theme by wearing a pair of black leather riding boots.
Sundance is sparse with his accessories, wearing only a pair of pale yellow leather riding gloves when he needs them. Robert Redford also wears his usual silver ring on the third finger of his right hand, a gift from Hopi Indians that he had received in 1966 and has worn in “every film I have done since 1968,” as he told the Hollywood Reporter. A look at Redford’s filmography tells us that this was the first movie he made since 1967’s Barefoot in the Park, so it’s likely that this is also his first movie wearing the ring that his fans would see in every subsequent film.
Go Big or Go Home
Arguably one of the finest and funniest moments in the film finds Butch and Sundance weary from days of relentless pursuit from Joe LeFors and his lawmen. Once we finally learn who those guys are, the two determine their best alternative is to escape by any means possible. After attempting to lose the posse by falling down a hillside, the two outlaws find themselves at a rocky ledge, overlooking the Animas River in Colorado.
Up to this point, Sundance has been the voice of reason to the more amiable, easygoing Butch. Butch plans on running off to Bolivia… Sundance laughs him off. Butch suggests joining the U.S. Army to fight the Spanish-American War… Sundance laughs him off. As Butch weights their fight vs. flight options, Sundance wryly counters with:
They could surrender to us, but I wouldn’t count on that.
Once it’s determined that the posse is “going for position” and plans to shoot at them, Sundance prepares to fight. He checks his gun, takes aim, and – Butch halts. What if they jump? “Like hell we will,” refuses Sundance after a glimpse down to the water. This fits with his character, whom we know to be an accurate shot and a man of action. Butch persists.
Butch: I’ll jump first.
Butch: Then you jump first.
Sundance: No, I said!
Butch: What’s the matter with you?
Sundance: I can’t swim!
The sudden revelation is embarrassing, and Sundance knows it. Newman and Redford play the scene beautifully, allowing the statement to land before Redford gives a bashful nod… and Newman breaks out in laughter.
Of course, the true mortality of this situation forces its way back in as Butch slows himself down to realize, “the fall will probably kill you.” The men resign themselves to whatever fate awaits. They remove their jackets, pick up their holsters, and…
How to Get the Look
Sundance manages to pull off a rustic combination of black and brown, although attempted copycats should keep in mind that he was a turn-of-the-century train robber. If you’re comfortable giving off that vibe, go for it.
- Brown wide-waled corduroy jacket with black leather faced shirt-style collar, 5-button front, flapped hip pockets, and single rear vent
- Black cotton work shirt with two chest patch pockets, front placket, and button cuffs
- Black flat front straight-leg trousers with tall belt loops, slanted front pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black wide leather trouser belt with large steel single-claw buckle
- Black wide leather gun belt with Ranger-style buckle, cartridge loops, and left-side holster with tie
- Black felt cowboy hat with flat crown, slim tied band, and flat brim
- Black leather riding boots
- Pale yellow leather riding gloves
- Silver tribal ring
Few guns have received as much widespread recognition or as many nicknames as Colt’s venerable Single Action Army revolver. Whether you prefer the dubious moniker of “Peacemaker” or the more accurate “Gun That Won the West” (a title it shares with the Winchester rifle), there’s no denying that you’ve seen a Single Action Army if you’ve ever seen a Western movie in your life.
While filmmakers are probably a bit overly anxious to arm their outlaws with Colt Peacemakers, it’s documented that the Colt .45 was indeed the preferred sidearm for both Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, particularly while in the United States. During one of his first arrests, when he was merely a 20-year-old horse thief, Harry Longbaugh (the future “Sundance Kid”), had three six-shooters taken from him. Ten years later, he was a “professional” bandit, riding with Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch and packing a Single Action Army.
Whether intentionally or not, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid also correctly depicts Sundance’s preferred model of Single Action Army: the 4.75″-barreled “Quickdraw” or “Civilian” model. The SAA was offered in three standard barrel lengths – Cavalry (7.5″), Artillery (5.5″), and the Quickdraw (4.75″) – with shorter or longer barrel options available by special order. WesternLeatherHolster.com visited the Crook County Museum in Sundance, Wyoming this spring and actually discovered a holster that may have belonged to the Kid himself, remarking that the holster had been modified specifically for a revolver of that size: “cut down from 7 1/2″ to 4 1/2″ with rivets at the trigger guard and toe to keep the gun at the exact position the shootist wanted it to be”.
Butch and Sundance were proponents of the Colt .45 throughout their long career, although Thom Hatch’s book (which I mention below) reports that each man carried a Browning pistol and a Mauser carbine rifle during their final robbery in San Vicente, Bolivia in November 1908. Perhaps the two outlaws were more adaptable with the times than the movie suggests?
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
For a good read, I highly recommend Thom Hatch’s recent book about the duo: The Last Outlaws: The Lives and Legends of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Hatch’s book goes into plenty of detail about Butch and The Kid, including the guns they carried, Butch’s favorite whiskey (Mount Vernon rye), and the most likely story surrounding their now-famous demise.
Think ya used enough dynamite there, Butch?