Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction
Bruce Willis as Butch Coolidge, tough, taciturn boxer
Los Angeles, Summer 1992
Film: Pulp Fiction
Release Date: October 14, 1994
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Costume Designer: Betsy Heimann
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
There have been several requests to see Butch Coolidge’s bomber jacket ensemble from Pulp Fiction get a proper BAMF Style analysis, so what better occasion would there be than Bruce Willis’ birthday? Happy 62nd, Bruce!
Like many classic fictional boxing stories before him, Butch Coolidge finds himself in a hard place between his pride and the mob…and ultimately decides that it’s the latter that should suffer.
What’d He Wear?
Butch stands out from the slick-suited gangsters of Tarantino’s underworld with a sartorial approach that could be best described as tough and timeless working-class style. His clothing is all from classic American brands like Schott NYC, Levi’s, and Converse that all had at least seven decades of solid reputations under their belt by the time Butch donned their wares.
Betsy Heimann, the costume designer who dressed some of the most stylish films of the ’90s, described the origins of Butch’s look in a 2015 interview with Dazed‘s Emma Hope Alwood:
…Quentin said, well I want Butch to wear a leather jacket and I said, “How about one like Nick Nolte wore in Who’ll Stop the Rain?” And so that led me to go to Schott, they’ve been making jackets since World War Two, to just get that a jacket that is like the classic everyman. There’s nothing fashion about it – that’s it.
Founded in 1913, Schott NYC is best known for its history of producing military and motorcycle jackets, including the iconic “Perfecto” jacket that Marlon Brando would popularize in The Wild Ones. “Schott also designed and produced the leather bomber jacket for the Army Air Corps during the Second World War,” as explained in Esquire: The Handbook of Style. “Returning veterans turned the bomber into another civilian menswear staple.”
While the leather flight jacket’s venerated pedigree indeed dates to before World War II, the all-American MA-1 bomber jacket as worn by Butch Coolidge was developed in the mid-1950s as a Jet Age response to frequently changing requirements of air safety and comfort.
The MA-1 bomber jacket is defined by its blouson-style elasticized hem and cuffs with a matching knit collar, typically made from 100% wool for added warmth when needed.
Butch’s jacket is saddle brown sueded leather with a golden satin lining. The matching knit collar band, cuffs, and waist hem are all brown to match the rest of the jacket. The jacket zips up the front with a very long brown leather pull, and there are two slanted side pockets.
As opposed to the minimalist front of the jacket, the back is split down the center by a wide swelled seam that matches the horizontal yoke straight across the top that continues running down the back of each set-in sleeve.
As of March 2017, the only MA-1 bomber available from Schott is a black cowhide leather version (here), but some manufacturers have taken to producing replicas of Butch’s brown suede jacket, such as this one that starts at $169.
To read more about Butch’s suede blouson’s place in the history of cinematic bomber jackets, check out Marta Sundac’s piece for HighSnobiety from November 2013.
Butch is dressing for function rather than fashion. For his planned escape from L.A., he was planning to wear a pale cotton button-up shirt, but the circumstances forcing him back into danger’s way convince him that it’s time to dress for moving and moving fast. He ditches the button-up and instead wears only a plain white cotton crew-neck undershirt.
Evident from the visible tag on the outside and the exposed seams around the short set-in sleeves, Butch actually appears to be wearing his t-shirt inside out.
Butch wears a pair of classic Levi’s jeans. With their zip fly and straight fit, they may be a pair of Levi’s 505 Regular Fit jeans in a “light stonewash” color. His belt is rough brown leather with a simple brass single-prong buckle.
Butch’s dirty sneakers are actually a pair of classic Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star lo-tops with beige canvas uppers and white rubber soles with red piping. They are likely the “natural”-colored M9165 ox sneakers, still available from outlets like Amazon.
Like all of Butch’s clothing, the Chuck Taylor All-Star has a decades-long legacy as the shoe dates back to Chuck Taylor’s 1921 All Stars basketball team. The preferred sneaker of World War II servicemen in training (source), the All-Star even shares some of his bomber jacket’s American military heritage.
Apropos his profession, Butch wears a pair of plain white cotton boxer shorts with an elastic waistband.
Forgetting to wear a watch would be a rookie mistake. Borderline unforgivable, in fact.
Butch’s gold watch that lends its name to this entire plot segment has been identified as a yellow gold Lancet trench watch from World War I. In its course of traveling through generations of asses, the watch is in surprisingly good condition with the faded red numeric markers on the white dial more an indicator of its age than its previously rectal surroundings. Butch wears his on a steel expanding bracelet.
Lancet was a short-lived brand of WWI-era timepieces made by Langendorf Watch Company of Switzerland. In the late 1950s, Langendorf introduced the Lanco brand that has gone through several degrees of rejuvenation; Lanco watches are currently produced by South Africa’s S. Bacher & Company, under license from The Swatch Group. Despite Captain Koons’ claim, Langendorf Watch Company was not the first company to produce wristwatches.
Of course, no mention of the watch should stand alone without its memorable introduction delivered by the brilliant Christopher Walken as Captain Koons, USAF:
This watch I got here was first purchased by your great-grandfather during the first World War. It was bought in a little general store in Knoxville, Tennessee. Made by the first company to ever make wristwatches. Up till then people just carried pocket watches. It was bought by private doughboy Erine Coolidge on the day he set sail for Paris. It was your great-grandfather’s war watch and he wore it everyday he was in that war. When he had done his duty, he went home to your great-grandmother, took the watch off, put it an old coffee can, and in that can it stayed ’til your granddad Dane Coolidge was called upon by his country to go overseas and fight the Germans once again. This time they called it World War II. Your great-grandfather gave this watch to your granddad for good luck.
Unfortunately, Dane’s luck wasn’t as good as his old man’s. Dane was a Marine and he was killed, along with the other Marines at the battle of Wake Island. Your granddad was facing death, he knew it. None of those boys had any illusions about ever leavin’ that island alive. So, three days before the Japanese took the island, your granddad asked a gunner on an Air Force transport name of Winocki, a man he had never met before in his life, to deliver to his infant son, who he’d never seen in the flesh, his gold watch. Three days later, your granddad was dead. But Winocki kept his word. After the war was over, he paid a visit to your grandmother, delivering to your infant father, his Dad’s gold watch. This watch.
This watch was on your Daddy’s wrist when he was shot down over Hanoi. He was captured, put in a Vietnamese prison camp. He knew if the gooks ever saw the watch it’d be confiscated, taken away. The way your Dad looked at it, that watch was your birthright. He’d be damned if any slopes were gonna put their greasy yellow hands on his boy’s birthright. So he hid it in the one place he knew he could hide something. His ass. Five long years, he wore this watch up his ass. Then he died of dysentery, he gave me the watch. I hid this uncomfortable hunk of metal up my ass two years. Then, after seven years, I was sent home to my family. And now, little man, I give the watch to you.
Go Big or Go Home
“Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps,” advised Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) when pepping Butch to take the fall. Marsellus’s words come back to save his life when Butch puts decency before pride by going back down into Maynard and Zed’s den of iniquity to save Marsellus from a horrible fate at the hands of the two twisted rapists…despite Marsellus’s prior pledge to hunt Butch down for his betrayal.
A combination of toughness and luck provided Butch with the opportunity to make a break for it, unnoticed, while Maynard and Zed have their way with Marsellus Wallace. Butch gets to the door of Maynard’s pawn shop, and freedom is in sight…but his conscience catches up with him before he can swing open the door. No…despite the fact that Marsellus was “prepared to scour the the Earth” to find and kill Butch, not he nor any person deserves to be subjected to that kind of torture. Butch embodies the idiom “I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy” in that moment.
Given the level of violence that seems to excite Maynard and Zed, it’s no surprise that the depraved pawn shop owner has a litany of potential melee weapons hanging behind his counter. Not the hammer…not the chainsaw…not the Louisville Slugger… but that sword? That sword will do.
To the tune of The Revels’ 1961 instrumental track “Comanche”, Butch slowly makes his way back down the stairs “holding the sword pointed downward, Takakura Kenstyle,” according to Tarantino’s screenplay. (The screenplay also originally called for The Judds to be playing over this scene.)
With a few dashes of the sword, he cuts down the spectating Maynard and distracts Zed just long enough to give Marsellus the opportunity to exact the first of his “medieval” justice on his tormentor with Maynard’s 12-gauge shotgun.
Butch: You okay?
Marsellus: Naw man. I’m pretty fuckin’ far from okay.
Butch: What now?
Marsellus gets a well-deserved moment of badassery as he describes his plans for Zed. While Butch is no doubt pleased that a twisted rapist will be getting his due, it’s not what he meant.
Butch: I meant… what now between me and you?
Marsellus: Oh… that “what now”. I tell you what now between me and you. There is no me and you. Not no more.
Butch: So we cool?
Marsellus: Yeah, we cool. Two things. Don’t tell nobody about this. This shit is between me, you, and Mr. Soon-To-Be-Living-The-Rest-of-His-Short-Ass-Life-In-Agonizing-Pain Rapist here. It ain’t nobody else’s business. Two: you leave town tonight, right now. And when you’re gone, you stay gone, or you be gone. You lost all your L.A. privileges. Deal?
Marsellus: Get your ass out of here.
And, thus, the narrative rewards Butch for his actions by giving him a twist on the Hollywood ending that Hans Gruber had prophesied for a previous Bruce Willis character: “This time John Wayne does not walk off into the sunset with Grace Kelly.”
Well this time, Hans, he’s riding off into the sunset with his Italian girlfriend on a stolen
motorcycle chopper to the sounds of The Marketts’ 1963 surf rock hit “Out of Limits.”
So, the next time you’re toasting yourself a delicious
Pop Tart Sams Frosted Cinnamon Toaster Pastry in your kitchen, pop some classic surf rock on the hi-fi… and keep an eye on your bathroom door.
How to Get the Look
Butch Coolidge’s suede MA-1 bomber jacket and jeans fits nicely into the ambiguous setting of Pulp Fiction, a version of 1990s L.A. where characters dress, talk, and drink like it’s the Jet Age.
- Saddle brown suede bomber jacket with slanted side pockets and brown knit collar band, cuffs, and waist hem
- White cotton crew-neck short-sleeve t-shirt
- Levi’s 505 Regular Fit light blue stonewashed denim jeans
- Brown leather belt with rounded brass single-prong buckle
- Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star M9165 beige “natural” canvas lo-top sneakers with white laces and red-accented white rubber soles
- White tube socks
- White cotton boxer undershorts with elastic waistband
- Lancet vintage yellow gold trench watch with white dial (with faded red numeric markers and 6:00 sub-dial) on steel expanding bracelet
Butch finds himself in this particular predicament because he killed a man with his fists the previous night, so he’s not necessarily the type to rely on firearms. Of course, Marsellus Wallace does such a bad job keeping his weapons out of Butch’s grasp that Butch can’t help but to get his hands on them all.
The first of these is an Ingram MAC-10 submachine gun, fitted with an intimidating suppressor and left on Butch’s kitchen counter when Marsellus runs out to retrieve breakfast for he and Vincent Vega (John Travolta). Vincent couldn’t have picked a worse time to go to the bathroom and leave Marsellus’ gun unattended, as Butch spies it while toasting his Pop Tarts, erm, Sams Frosted Cinnamon Toaster Pastries, and uses it to eliminate his adversary. Following the killing, Butch crudely wipes down the weapon and leaves it behind.
It’s worth mentioning that Tarantino’s original screenplay described Marsellus’s weapon as “a small compact Czech M61 submachine gun with a huge silencer on it,” likely a reference the Škorpion vz. 61, chambered in the more anemic .32 ACP cartridge than the 9x19mm Parabellum or .45 ACP taken by the MAC-10.
Of course, a big shot like Marsellus Wallace would know better than to hit the streets unarmed. Marsellus packs a Smith & Wesson 4506 in his shoulder holster, which Butch gets his hands on during their confrontation. The weapon is semi-accurately described in the screenplay as “a .45 automatic.”
The S&W 4506 is one of my favorite semi-automatic pistols. Constructed almost entirely of stainless steel and weighing in at just over 2.5 pounds, it’s a heavy and intimidating weapon chambered for the powerful and venerable .45 ACP cartridge. The 4506 model is a traditional double-action (DA/SA) pistol as opposed to the double-action-only (DAO) 4546 and 4566 models.
It was introduced in 1988 as part of the third generation of Smith & Wesson’s semi-automatic pistols, an evolution of the second-generation pistols such as the Smith & Wesson 659 that featured heavily in Reservoir Dogs. A Smith & Wesson 4506-1 would later be part of the now-iconic first scene in the pilot episode of Breaking Bad.
Production of the Smith & Wesson 4506 was discontinued in 1999 after more than a decade. Marsellus Wallace carries an early model with a squared trigger guard, chrome trigger and hammer, and optional adjustable rear sights.
To read more about the firearms used in Pulp Fiction, check out IMFDB.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
Zed’s dead, baby. Zed’s dead.
Mmmmm maybe calvin klein jeans
Great find! Where did you see these? The red tag on the back pockets tells me that he is likely wearing Levi’s in some scenes, but perhaps he swapped out for these Calvin Klein ones later?
I’d always wondered what kind of jacket that was. Good stuff.
Tarantino originally wanted to use ‘My Sharona’ by The Knack for the infamous rape scene because “it has a really good sodomy beat to it.” However, the song ended up being used in ‘Reality Bites’ instead.