John Travolta as Chili Palmer, Miami loan shark and aspiring filmmaker
Los Angeles, Winter 1995
Film: Get Shorty
Release Date: October 20, 1995
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Costume Designer: Betsy Heimann
Today’s Mafia Monday post explores one of the many delightfully idiosyncratic characters from the wonderful world of Elmore Leonard.
Miami loan shark Chili Palmer is effortlessly capable at his job, but – like many people – when a job is too easy, it becomes tedious. Bored with the incompetence of psychotic mobsters in his orbit like Ray “Bones” Barboni (Dennis Farina), Chili embraces the opportunity to go west in search of a delinquent dry cleaner.
Already a fan of movies as his poster of The Thin Man in his Miami office suggested, our charismatic loan shark takes to Hollywood like a duck to water, shaking up the town with his syndicate sensibilities. Chili has found his calling, but his dangerous line of work and true appreciation for classics like Rio Bravo and A Touch of Evil make him the perfect foil to spineless producers like Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman) and eccentric actors like Martin Weir (Danny DeVito).
What’d He Wear?
Like most of Elmore Leonard’s work, there’s no time wasted in exposition when we could be getting straight to the story. In this case, it’s a black leather jacket that sets everything in motion:
Do you see a black leather jacket, fingertip length like the one Pacino wore in Serpico? ‘Cause if you don’t, you owe me $379.
Setting aside the fact that Al Pacino wore no such jacket in Serpico, this line alone tells us three things about Chili Palmer: he’s assertive, he appreciates movies, and he’s [relatively] principled.
Also, it’s worth noting that Travolta is still playing characters who strive to sartorially emulate Pacino two decades after his hotheaded Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever memorably used Pacino as inspiration when getting ready for a night on the town. Interestingly, the line about Serpico’s leather jacket comes straight from Leonard’s original novel.
Chili retrieves his jacket from Ray Bones that same day in Miami, but the jacket itself doesn’t make an appearance on his person until he’s at a screening of Touch of Evil in L.A. a few nights later.
Chili wears a black leather jacket, accurately described as “fingertip length,” styled like a single-breasted suit jacket with long edge-stitched notch lapels and a ventless back. The jacket’s low stance two-button front is split by a horizontal seam above the second button.
The jacket has a welted breast pocket and a jetted hip pocket on each side that sits on the horizontal seam that traverses the front just above the second button. The shoulders appear to be padded and slightly too wide for Travolta’s frame with the roped sleeveheads a few inches off his shoulder.
Plenty of replicas for this popular jacket, in varying degrees of accuracy, exist online such as this $189 example from New American Jackets. To track one down that’s closer to Travolta’s screen-worn jacket, try to find that distinctive horizontal stitch above the second button as well as the wide lapel notches. Jackets like Chili’s would often be marketed as a “leather blazer” today, such as this stylistically similar lambskin jacket from Koza Leathers.
The Chili Palmer of Leonard’s 1990 novel often wore suits and ties; one outfit in particular is described as a muted dark blue pinstripe suit with a tab-collared blue shirt and rust-colored tie.
The cinematic Chili played by Travolta eschews dress shirts, in favor of exclusively wearing long-sleeve soft knit polos in dark, solid colors. This Chili also reflects the ’90s trend of layering black on black, a risky sartorial option as not all blacks are as similar as they seem. Chili goes a safer route, as his leather jacket and soft cotton polo nicely contrast each other due to the comfortably different material.
Chili’s black soft cotton knit long-sleeve polo appears to be the same one he wore with his black suit in Miami and his gray suit in Vegas. It has a large collar and four black plastic buttons that he always wears fastened to the neck.
His untucked polo shirt often covers his black leather belt, which has a gold-toned single-prong buckle. A black leather belt from the production featured on Prop Bay gives a closer look at the belt’s edge stitching and the squared buckle with three thin ridges above and below the prong.
Chili wears a pair of black wool flat front trousers with straight side pockets and and plain-hemmed bottoms.
Although he appears to be wearing black derbies for the balcony-dangling action sequences in the finale (perhaps so Travolta or his stuntman didn’t lose his shoes), the film makes a point of showing his black alligator loafers as he saunters along the iconic terrazzo stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
Chili completes his image as the consummate gangster with all yellow gold jewelry to complement his all black clothing.
On the third finger of his right hand, Chili wears a gold ring with a large green stone. On the opposing wrist, he wears a thin gold wristwatch with a rectangular case and a flat bracelet. Quora users have speculated about the watch’s maker, with one Patek Philippe example proposed as the possible watch.
All black is a risky look, but Chili Palmer pulls it off with a confidence and contrasts, accenting his leather-centric look with gangster touches like alligator loafers and gold jewelry.
- Black leather jacket with edge-stitched notch lapels, low 2-button front, welted breast pocket, straight/on-seam jetted hip pockets, snap cuffs, and ventless back
- Black soft cotton knit long-sleeve 4-button polo shirt
- Black wool flat front trousers with belt loops, straight/on-seam side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black edge-stitched leather belt with gold-toned single-prong ridged square buckle
- Black alligator loafers
- Black dress socks
- Thin rectangular yellow gold watch on a flat gold bracelet
- Gold ring with green stone
Do Yourself a Favor and…
And speaking of his work… you should definitely grab Leonard’s novel while you’re at it!
Now, I’ve been shot at three times before – twice on purpose and once by accident – and I’m still here. And I’m gonna be here for as long as I want to be.
Chili Palmer wears similar outfits in the film’s 2005 sequel, Be Cool. One of his outfits from that film was later auctioned, a charcoal suit and a black long-sleeve 3-button cotton-blend polo made by Jhane Barnes, which discontinued its menswear line in 2013.