Jeff Bridges as Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, laidback stoner and bowler
Los Angeles, Fall 1991
Film: The Big Lebowski
Release Date: March 6, 1998
Director: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Costume Designer: Mary Zophres
For 4/20, BAMF Style is taking a closer look at one of the most iconic and endearing cinematic stoners.
You gotta love The Dude. All he wants to do is light a joint, sip a White Russian, and bowl while listening to the easy rock of Bob Dylan and CCR. Unfortunately, two misinformed pornographer’s thugs have to break into his home, pee on his rug, and ruin his check post-dating existence. (Supposedly, an early draft of the screenplay revealed that The Dude was able to bankroll his 69-cent trips to Ralph’s as the heir to the inventor of the Rubik’s Cube, but Joel Coen dropped the idea.)
The Dude: Did you ever hear of The Seattle Seven?
The Dude: That was me… and six other guys.
The Dude was partially based on the easygoing Jeff “The Dude” Dowd, an independent film promoter who helped the Coen Brothers secure distribution for Blood Simple in 1984 and was, indeed, one of the “other guys” among the Seattle Seven. Bridges himself had a role in the conception of the character; the Coens had developed The Dude with Bridges in mind and, once he accepted, he readily supplied mannerisms and even clothing to the role of Jeffrey Lebowski.
The Big Lebowski is a perfectly Coen-esque tribute to the interwar noir works of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett; even its title recalls The Big Sleep although The Big Lebowski is far more fitting than the vague title of Chandler’s novel. Like the fictional private eyes of so much pulp fiction, the action only moves with The Dude; even the one brief scene where he doesn’t directly appear – as the nihilists order pancakes – features the van where he and his John Milius-inspired blowhard buddy Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) are currently riding.
The audience follows this easygoing hero – or I won’t say a hero, because what’s a hero? – as he weaves in and out of the increasingly overly complicated plot created by those around him that take themselves far too seriously. As Joel Coen himself said, “We wanted to do a Chandler kind of story – how it moves episodically, and deals with the characters trying to unravel a mystery, as well as having a hopelessly complex plot that’s ultimately unimportant.” The Big Lebowski achieves his goal with aplomb, solidifying itself among the greatest and most iconic comedies ever made.
What’d He Wear?
For someone who spends much of his time in torn hoodies, baggy plaid shorts, or a faded bathrobe, The Dude’s tan cowichan knit sweater is one of the most “socially acceptable” outfits that he wears in The Big Lebowski. Due to its uniqueness and appearance in some of the movie’s most popular scenes, The Dude’s sweater is now recognized nearly 20 years later as one of the most recognizable film costumes with replicas and knit patterns abundant on the internet.
The Dude’s sweater is primarily tan lambswool with a distinctive geometric knit known as “Cowichan” in two darker tones of brown. The knit’s origins can be traced back to the 1850s when European settlers began populating Vancouver Island, then inhabited primarily by the Cowichan First Nation tribe. The introduction of sheep to the area at the same time meant more available wool. The European influence was incorporated into traditional Cowichan knitting and the modern Cowichan sweater was born. Cowichan sweaters can be differentiated from traditional Scottish garments like Fair Isle due to their tradition of being hand-knit using thick, one-ply natural-colored yarn for heavier outerwear than the lightweight, two-ply dyed yarn Scottish pieces. Originally known mostly to the Coast Salish community on Vancouver Island, the pattern became popular and quickly appropriated throughout the 20th century, most famously by Mary Maxim.
Pendleton Woolen Mills in Oregon created their own variation of a Cowichan knit sweater in 1972, and it was this sweater – in tan and brown – that The Dude famously wore on screen. The long-sleeve wool cardigan is worked in a 1×1 rib with a short row shawl collar and a 1.5″ ring pull zipper.
According to Mary Zophres, one vintage sweater and three modern replicas were available for the production, but Bridges only wore the vintage model on screen as it was of the best quality and kept him in character. The exact sweater worn on screen was auctioned in May 2011.
After The Big Lebowski became a cult favorite and fans began clamoring for a cool sweater like his, Pendleton realized their duty to their fans (or perhaps just saw the insane profitability!) and reintroduced The Dude’s sweater as “The Original Westerley”, available on the company site for $239. Wisely not shying away from its most famous wearer, Pendleton proudly announces this sweater as “back by popular demand, down to every last color and detail”, offering the sweater only in tan and brown as El Duderino* himself wore.
*if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.
While cheaper replicas of various quality abound on Amazon and other sites, those should be considered only for costume purposes as a high-quality Pendleton garment made from 100% wool would serve its wearer comfortably and reliably throughout a lifetime rather than the 85% acrylic/15% wool imitation that would serve its greatest purpose on Halloween.
Of course, an industrious Lebowski fan could always take to the needle themselves and find one of the many knitting patterns available, including this one available from Ravelry, which suggests the use of bulky 12-ply yarn “vanilla” ground with contrast colors “latte” and “ebony”, presumably the stripes and the ornate stitching, respectively. This cross stitch pattern can also be found on Etsy sites like this one, available for purchase for only $4.99.
(For a bit of trivia, a Reddit user found that this exact sweater’s place in cinematic history isn’t limited to The Dude; it had been worn in the 2006 film The Lives of Others in a scene set in 1984 East Germany.)
The first time we see The Dude sporting his Cowichan sweater, he is retrieving his busted ’73 Ford Gran Torino from the impound lot. He meets up with bowling buddies Walter and Donny for some drinks and has his first encounter with The Stranger (Sam Elliott) before moseying on over to Maude’s, where he learns about Bunny Lebowski and Karl Hungus. Having successfully passed his exam with Maude’s doctor, he hits a joint and pounds the roof of his freshly-recovered car while jamming to CCR, dropping the joint and discovering Larry Sellers’ discarded homework in the process… although he also crashes the poor Gran Torino into a dumpster while trying to extinguish the still-burning roach on his car seats with a beer.
For these scenes, The Dude wears a dirty white v-neck t-shirt, a pair of pale green casual pants, and jelly sandals.
The Dude’s well-worn white cotton t-shirt has short sleeves and a deeper v-neck than I tend to prefer in life, but… The Dude makes it work. I guess the deep v really ties the outfit together.
His baggy pale green pants are stylistically similar to scrubs worn by doctors and nurses – likely made from a cotton/polyester blend – with a drawstring waistband and patch side pockets with a slanted hand opening.
The Dude’s unique footwear in these scenes is a pair of transparent PVC jelly sandals – or “jellies” – supposedly so-named due to their resemblance to jellyfish. Like a few other costume pieces used in the production, the jellies were actually owned by Jeff Bridges who showed up on set with them one day. Any interested wearer can pick up an inexpensive pair at LaMeduse.com.
The Dude’s sunglasses are probably worth as much as the rest of his entire wardrobe combined; he wears a pair of Vuarnet VL1307 polarized sunglasses which originally went for $350 but can now be picked up new on Amazon for the low(?) price of $91.99 as of April 2016. The Dude’s Vuarnet sunglasses have a matte black plastic square frame with molded plastic nose pads under the 16mm “saddle nose bridge” and 135mm arms. The light green polarized glass lenses are lightweight and 58mm wide.
We next come across The Dude after Walter tracks down the mysterious Larry Sellers who left his homework in The Dude’s stolen car. Despite his admiration for the apathetic Larry’s iron-lunged father, Walter is forced to teach the boy a harsh lesson in “what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps,” and their investigation comes to a dead end as The Dude’s beleaguered Ford takes on even more damage. The Dude attempts to build a home security system, but it somehow fails and he is taken to the John Lautner-designed abode of slick pornographer Jackie Treehorn. The evening leads to spiked White Russians, wet bowling dreams, well-endowed sketchwork, and three forcible ejections for The Dude (from Treehorn’s estate, the “beach community” of Malibu, and an Eagles-loving cabbie’s taxi.)
For this noirish escapade, The Dude is much more colorfully dressed under his Cowichan sweater, now sporting a purple v-neck shirt, a pair of “crazy-striped” weightlifter pants, and white sneakers.
The Dude’s deep v-necked cotton t-shirt is similar to his previously-seen white shirt, except that this one is colored a very vibrant purple that somehow nicely matches his chaotic pants. The best example I’ve been able to find online is this cotton/poly “heather purple” t-shirt from Anvil for the Dude-friendly price of $6.50.
The Dude’s blue, purple, and salmon crazy-striped pants are evocative of the casual pants favored by weightlifters and surfers – particularly around The Dude’s home of Venice Beach – in the 1980s. They have on-seam side pockets with no back pockets and, like the other pants, a drawstring waistband.
The pattern of The Dude’s pants consist of a solid light blue stripe, a purple block stripe, a solid salmon stripe, and a blue stripe with a light blue motif of “stick figure” people alternating with a more abstract pattern connecting them. This pattern is far too unique to make finding them organically at your neighborhood thrift store a likely possibility, but Colores del Pueblo offers a pair of trousers they describe as “hand-woven Guatemalan pants modeled after The Dude” for $55, a fair price given the company’s admirable mission of promoting social justice and cultural preservation through economic fair trade.
While building his home security system, The Dude has his sweater off and leans over to reveal his underwear of choice – a pair of white “tighty-whitey” cotton briefs.
The Dude forgoes his jellies in favor of a pair of white Otomix martial arts training shoes with black side trim. Although they resemble everyday sneakers at first, the Otomix trainers are actually slip-ons with a single white lace at the top near the tongue.
Otomix first produced these shoes more than 25 years ago, and recently reintroduced The Original “Lite” as an even more lightweight option with flexible indoor/outdoor Stingray® rubber soles that wrap the foot “for balance and kicking power”. You can pick up a pair on Amazon for less than $50.
Go Big or Go Home
While our rugged Western narrator hesitates to call The Dude a hero, I think it’s fair to say that’s exactly what he is. The Dude means no one any harm – in fact, his self-confessed involvement in the original Port Huron Statement would indicate that he wants just the opposite – and he’s the perfect example of a relatively altruistic and individualist human living life on his own terms. He manages to stay laidback and smiling while dealing with each new circumstance enfolding around him… although that may have something to do with his reliable pot stash.
Jeff Bridges was very familiar with his character and even had the foresight to ask the Coens questions like “Did The Dude burn one on the way over?” before filming a scene. If they confirmed that he had, Bridges would rub his knuckles in his eyes before each take to make his eyes look bloodshot.
On that note, The Big Lebowski is also one of the best representations I’ve seen of the true characterization of a lifelong pot smoker. He takes on a human-focused, zen-like approach to life, caring more about the things that would make him happy (a rug that really ties the room together) or others happy (poor Smoky’s bowling points) and ignoring the more basic human urges like money (rejecting a $20,000 check that would put him in a higher income tax bracket.)
The Dude knows it’s futile to try and be anything that you’re not. Although he’s thrust into the traditional “private eye” role occupied by a Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade, he is far more interested in his rug and his bowling score than solving any mysteries. When he does get the urge to employ a P.I. trick, scratching a pencil on the first blank page of Jackie Treehorn’s freshly-used notepad, he comes away only with a sketch of an extremely well-endowed man; this scene sums up a main lesson of The Big Lebowski: try to be anything other than you are and you’ll be proverbially – if not literally – fucked.
The Dude’s taste in music – established by the Coens with the help of the legendary T Bone Burnett – is also not surprising given his pacifist-rocker persona. (It was also Burnett who determined that The Dude would share his sentiment of “[hating] the fuckin’ Eagles, man!”
He lights a spliff for a celebratory 420 session in his dilapidated 1973 Ford Gran Torino sedan while jamming out to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s hit “Looking Out My Back Door” from the brilliant 1970 Cosmo’s Factory album.
When The Dude gets to Jackie Treehorn’s house, he is treated to a much different kind of mellow music in the form of Henry Mancini’s “Lujon”, a lush 1961 instrumental that never fails to evoke an exotic Jet Age cocktail lounge.
The intriguing “Lujon”, from Mancini’s Mr. Lucky Goes Latin album, was adapted for the first season titles of Magic City before a lawsuit forced the showrunners to develop a new, original song for the second season. While Mancini’s music might have the ability to transport its listener to a land of vaguely Latin sophistication, his own background was anything but exotic. Born in Cleveland and raised in West Aliquippa – a smoky suburb of Pittsburgh that I could personally tell you is not a tropical paradise – Mancini later became one of the most venerated of film composers, known for such scores as his work in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Pink Panther. His “Lujon”, also known as “Slow Hot Wind”, was released at the height of his early ’60s success and was the perfect track to underline the mystery and ironic sophistication of Treehorn’s lifestyle as well as the enigmatic haze that envelops The Dude as he drinks down the spiked White Russian that Treehorn just served to him…
What to Imbibe
Jackie Treehorn: Refill?
The Dude: Does the Pope shit in the woods?
…and if you know The Dude, you know to refill his glass with a White Russian cocktail. The Dude prefers Smirnoff red label 80 proof vodka, Kahlúa coffee liqueur, and half-and-half from Ralph’s supermarket. He drinks nine “Caucasians” over the course of The Big Lebowski, and those nine were enough to permanently associate the film with the decades-old cocktail.
As mixed drinks and vodka both became popular in the U.S. during the early years of the Cold War, a concoction mixing vodka and coffee liqueur over ice in a rocks glass was first named a Black Russian in 1949. Sometime over the next sixteen years, someone thought to add cream and the Oakland Tribune inserted the first mention of the White Russian in its November 21, 1965 issue as “White Russian. 1 oz. each Southern, vodka, cream”, essentially an unchanged recipe fifty years later except for the greater popularity today of Kahlúa rather than Coffee Southern.
Like The Dude himself, the drink shone brightly in the ’60s then quickly faded away as more fashionable drinks like the Long Island Iced Tea or Cosmopolitan took over on cocktail menus. The White Russian owes any popularity it has to this day to its revival in The Big Lebowski; the only other appearance I can think of in popular media is when Adriana La Cerva drinks them as a “safe cocktail” for her upset stomach in two fifth season episodes of The Sopranos.
Knox Harrington: So you’re Lebowski. Maudie’s told me all about you. She’ll be back in a moment, sit down. Would you like a drink?
The Dude: (sitting down) Uh, yeah. White Russian?
Knox Harrington: The bar’s over there.
Choosing the White Russian, best known as a soothingly sweet post-prandial dessert cocktail, as The Dude’s drink of choice was an inspired decision by the Coens. While a more direct noir parody would have its protagonist slurping slug after slug of cheap bourbon or rye from an office bottle, The Big Lebowski‘s protagonist is the only real character with the self-awareness to realize he doesn’t have to look like anyone he isn’t. Proud to loaf around in cheap, comfortable casualwear between his home and the bowling alley in a hotboxed car, The Dude also knows what he likes to drink and sees no need to deviate.
(In the rare event that he does deviate from his beloved Caucasians, The Dude drinks a beer. Due to the context of the scene where he’s got a spliff going and is forced to put it out with his beer to avoid an unavoidable car accident, he is armed with a bottle of the fictional “Meichtry Draft” beer with a label provided by Earl Hays Press.)
I have a personal connection and fondness for the White Russian due to its formative role in my history of inebriation. When I was 15, I was attending the wedding of a cousin from the Southern California contingent of my family. I hadn’t yet seen The Big Lebowski, but I knew that all of my cousins in that area were major fans. Having enjoyed my first social drinks earlier that year when a friend snuck water bottles full of gin into a party, I felt prepared to imbibe and was looking for something accessible for my young, untested liver. Aware of my fondness for dairy, some gracious cousins suggested White Russians as my gateway into the booze world. This turned out to be a good decision.
The Dude’s unique sense of style speaks volumes about the man who dresses solely for comfort. In fact, his sole form of self-expression is comfort… although his Cowichan knit sweater is a relatively stylish way of conveying this to the world.
- Tan and brown ribbed lambswool Cowichan geometric knit zip-front Pendleton sweater with short row shawl collar
- Purple cotton deep v-neck short-sleeve t-shirt
- Blue/purple/salmon vibrantly crazy-striped “weightlifter” pants with drawstring waist and on-seam side pockets
- White synthetic Otomix slip-on martial arts training shoes with black side trim and rubber indoor/outdoor soles
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, which is one of my all-time favorites. Sit back in your comfiest robe (or Cowichan knit sweater), smoke ’em if you got ’em, and enjoy a White Russian.
Yeah, well… The Dude abides.
While “The Dude abides” could just be regarded as a cool line, it’s actually been traced to Ecclesiastes 1:4: “One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth abides forever,” referencing The Dude’s ability to withstand the changing chaos around him while remaining the same.
Although… how could The Dude afford so much weed? Let’s not forget that this is a guy who is post-dating checks for 69 cents.