The Sundance Kid’s Charcoal Dress Suit
Robert Redford as Harry Longbaugh, aka “The Sundance Kid”, American outlaw
New York City to Bolivia, Spring 1901
Film: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Release Date: October 24, 1969
Director: George Roy Hill
Costume Designer: Edith Head
For Western Wednesday, BAMF Style is taking a look at one of the most classic and unique films in the genre, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
The film is loosely based on the true story of the turn-of-the-century outlaws who fled to South America after their gang, the Wild Bunch, was broken up by the long arm of the law. William Goldman’s witty, engaging screenplay became a hot commodity in Hollywood once studio execs warmed up to the idea of its Old West heroes fleeing. A veritable “who’s who” of the era’s most popular actors were considered for the titular leading roles before Paul Newman and Robert Redford were cast, cementing their place in film history as one of the most dynamic buddy duos to hit the screen.
Redford’s Sundance Kid provides a steady presence that balances the idealistic Butch as played by Newman. Like many traditional cinematic gunslingers, Sundance is laconic and suspicious with a laidback sense of humor as opposed to the charming and clever Butch who is always looking for the next laugh. Each brings a sense of balance to their bickering partnership that strengthens it as a brotherhood rather than a friendship or professional association. Tension rises and falls throughout Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but at no point is there even any threat that one will turn on the other, even as both seem to share the affections of Sundance’s romantic partner, Etta Place (Katharine Ross).
William Goldman said he was drawn to the story of Butch and Sundance as it countered F. Scott Fitzgerald’s theory of “no second acts in American lives,” with the duo faced with determining their second act in the face of the changing state of the American frontier. Given the choice of adapt or die, they choose a third option: fleeing to Bolivia, by way of New York City.
The changing state of the American frontier catches up to horseback bandits Butch and Sundance, and the duo is given the choice: adapt or die. Instead, they choose a third option: fleeing to Bolivia, by way of New York City.
What’d He Wear?
Sundance’s “day dress” outfit of charcoal jacket and waistcoat with striped trousers is his most formal look in the film. When situations call for a suit, he typically sports a gray tweed three-piece suit more fitting his usual image of an outdoorsy gunslinger, but he rises to the occasion for a formal portrait in New York with this turn-of-the-century take on a Masonic suit that was also preferred by some real-life Wild Bunch bandits at the time…but more on that later.
Although its purpose is mostly ceremonial in New York for a day of portraits and jewelry shopping, Sundance’s formal day dress serves a greater purpose when it lulls a Bolivian bank president into a false sense of security; the president willingly leads this prosperous prospect through his bank, grinning ear-to-ear until Etta hands Sundance his .45 and the ruse is up.
Sundance would have been the height of 1901 fashion in his sack jacket, with Brooks Brothers introducing its iconic “Number One Sack” that year and redefining American menswear for the better part of the 20th century.
Redford’s charcoal worsted wool jacket in the film was custom made for him by Western Costume with his usual padded shoulders and heavily roped sleeveheads, although the wide shoulders are not as noticeable given the cut’s traditional shapelessness. It follows the sack cut, unshaped by darts and short-fitting with a rounded cutaway bottom, although the four black plastic buttons are one more than Brooks Brothers’ seminal sack coat’s 3-roll-2 stance.
The ventless jacket has notch lapels, a welted breast pocket, and straight flapped hip pockets that line up directly with the lowest buton. There are two decorative buttons at the end of each sleeve.
The jacket was auctioned in June 2011, fetching $8,500, although some modifications had evidently been made since Redford wore it as the Sundance Kid. His name and measurements (40 chest and 17½ sleeve) are still printed on the tag, but dark taping has been added to the edges.
Sundance wears a charcoal waistcoat that matches his jacket. It fastens high on the chest with short notch lapels that roll to the top of the six-button front.
The waistcoat has four thinly-welted pockets, and Sundance keeps his unseen gold pocket watch in the lower left pocket, allowing easy access for the left-handed gunslinger. The watch has a thick gold “single Albert” chain through the fourth buttonhole with a dropped fob that hangs down to just above the vest’s straight-cut bottom.
Sundance wears cashmere stripe trousers, another fashion from the era typically associated with morning dress. “Cashmere stripe” refers to the stripe itself rather than the material, which was traditionally worsted, and has been used to describe a variety of similar patterns of black stripes on a gray ground. In Sundance’s case, the stripes appear to alternate in thickness between hairline and a slightly thicker stripe.
True cashmere striped trousers would have more likely followed the baggier “sponge bag” style, but this adherence to the era’s fashion wouldn’t translate as well in 1969. In fact, Redford’s flat front trousers are very much a product of 1969 with the slim, tapered leg and low rise that reveals the bottom of the trousers’ belt loops peeking out from his waistcoat.
Redford’s trousers also have a straight fly with no extended waist tabs and frogmouth front pockets; he slips his left hand into this pocket during the many takes of the trio’s photo session.
Cashmere striped trousers have essentially gone the way of morning dress with your best bet being buying a costume or going vintage if you want a pair of your own, such as these pleated trousers with side adjusters available at Savvy Row.
Butch opts for a more “city dude”-friendly pair of Chelsea boots for their photo session, but Sundance evidently wears the same tall black leather plain-toe riding boots that he wore with his gray tweed suit, a surprising yield given the rest of the outfit’s formality.
Sundance wears a white cotton dress shirt with a front placket and single-button rounded barrel cuffs. Detachable collars were de rigeur for even semi-formal attire at the time, so he wears a stiff rounded club collar.
For the New York photo session, Sundance’s silk tie is multi-striped in gradient shades of blue and gray. For one of the gang’s bank robberies and celebratory post-heist dinner in Bolivia, he wears a dark navy silk tie with a foulard pattern of lavender squares, each with a small purple dot in the center.
Three years earlier, Robert Redford had received a silver ring as a gift from a Hopi tribe that he began wearing on the third finger of his right hand in nearly all of his films to follow.
Like the rest of his outfit, Sundance’s homburg was the cutting edge of turn-of-the-century fashion, having been popularized in the English-speaking world in the 1890s after Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, returned from Germany wearing one. Sundance sports a gray felt homburg with a wide black grosgrain band and gray grosgrain trim along the edge of the hat’s signature stiff, kettle-curled brim.
Although he wisely doesn’t wear it during the actual photo session shown in the film, promotional images of the trio’s New York photo shoot feature Sundance’s wide black leather gun belt with a large steel single-claw Ranger-style buckle and a holster for his Single Action Army revolver hanging down against his left thigh.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid‘s formal portrait session of Butch, Sundance, and Etta pays homage to two famous photos of Sundance, taken months apart and more indicative of successful businessmen of the era than the rugged bandits who persistently raided the express trains of Mr. E.H. Harriman.
Okay…What Did He Really Wear?
In The Last Outlaws: The Lives and Legends of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Thom Hatch describes the gang’s infamous photo session in Fort Worth in the fall of 1900, coming off of a successful bank robbery months earlier in Winnemucca, Nevada:
A few blocks from the Maddox Hotel, at 705 Main Street, stood the Swartz View Company, the studio of photographer John Swartz. Inside the second-floor studio was taken the most notable and ill-conceived photograph of the Old West era. On November 21, Butch Cassidy, Harry Alonzo Longbaugh, Harvey Logan, Ben Kilpatrick, and Will Carver – dressed in their Sunday-go-to-meeting clothing – sat together for a portrait.
Butch’s derby was tilted jauntily to the left, Carver’s to the right. Logan pushed his hat back to expose his forehead and wore a nosegay in his buttonhole. Ben Kilpatrick’s lanky frame dominated the center of the photo. Sundance appeared uncomfortable, uncertain about whether or not to smile. All the men wore white shirts with crisp, stiff collars and long ties, and exhibited shiny watch fobs. The well-dressed gentlemen in the photo might have been mistaken for a group of bankers or merchants.
The notion to record their visit to Fort Wroth with a lasting souvenir such as a group photograph has been credited over time to both Butch and Sundance. It would be in keeping with Butch’s personality to find amusement in joking around, perhaps even mocking – in a cowboy way – the well-to-do folks who wore such dude clothing every day. On the other hand, Sundance was known to have a propensity for dressing up in nice clothing and showing off whenever the occasion arose. Whatever the reason, the photograph would prove to be a foolhardy idea.
The outfit sported by Redford as Sundance looks like an amalgamation of looks from across the gang. Redford borrows the club collar shirt and dark sack jacket and waistcoat from Ben Kilpatrick (front and center) while also jauntily wearing his hat back on his head like the bushy-mustached Harvey Logan (top right) did for the real life photo. The collared waistcoat and single Albert watch chain with a dropped fob look most like the ones sported by the real life Butch Cassidy… while the real life Sundance Kid with his dark patterned three-piece suit and wide-knotted tie looks most like Paul Newman’s Butch Cassidy!
Months later, Butch and Sundance were on the run, determining to leave the dangers of the United States behind them to bask in the warm freedom that South America has to offer. As portrayed in the film, the duo decided to live it up before leaving for good with a jaunt through the Big Apple before sailing for Buenos Aires, their first port of call.
Sundance preceded Butch to New York City, arriving with his fiancee, the mysterious and alluring Etta Place, on February 1, 1901. They immediately took residence in a second-floor luxury suite at a West 12th Street boarding house, living as Mr. and Mrs. Harry Place. They would be shortly joined by “James Ryan,” Etta’s brother, portrayed by Butch Cassidy.
Two days after their arrival in the city, Sundance and Etta had their formal portrait taken at the DeYoung Photography Studio on Broadway. You’d never guess that Sundance was a train-hopping, fast-shooting bandit to see how at home he looks in his staid formal attire of a high-fastening double-breasted frock coat, silk top hat, bow tie, and well-shined cap-toe oxfords.
“…from New York City, with a picture of him and his wife, saying he had married a Texas lady he had known previously,” read the notation made by David Gillepsie after Sundance personally mailed him a print. Before they reached New York City, Sundance took Etta to meet his family, where he had introduced her as his wife despite no actual evidence that the two had gotten married.
Butch, Sundance, and Etta boarded the freighter SS Herminius on February 20 after nearly three weeks and a spectacular blizzard that had sent massive ice floes down the East River.
Go Big or Go Home
Thom Hatch describes the enthusiasm that must have flowed through Butch, Sundance, and Etta as they toured New York for three weeks before their eventual departure to South America:
They were flush with money and the prospects of adventure and a new life. But first they were anxious to see all the wondrous sights this vibrant city of nearly three and a half million people had to offer.
Indeed, the lively ragtime-influenced track that plays over the montage of the trio’s adventure in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid even captures the spirit with its title: “The Old Fun City”.
“Accustomed to saloons, snow-capped mountains, and desolate open places,” Hatch continued, “the three Westerners must have marveled at the skyscrapers, automobiles, and bright streetlights that welcomed them.”
Hatch describes a trip to the famous Tiffany & Co. store, located in 1901 at the corner of 15th Street at Union Square, where Butch purchased a $40 gold watch for himself while Sundance picked up a diamond stickpin for himself and spent $150 on a gold lapel watch for Etta.
How to Get the Look
Sundance dudes up for the gang’s tour of New York, presenting himself as a fashionable, dapper gentleman of means.
- Charcoal worsted wool single-breasted 4-button sack coat with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, decorative 2-button cuffs, ventless back
- Charcoal worsted wool single-breasted 6-button waistcoat with short notch lapels, slim-welted pockets, and straight-cut bottom
- Gray-and-black “cashmere stripe” wool flat front trousers with belt loops, straight fly, frogmouth front pocekts, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- White cotton dress shirt with white detachable club collar, front placket, and 1-button rounded cuffs
- Blue patterned silk tie
- Black leather calf-high riding boots with raised heels
- Gray felt homburg with black grosgrain band
- Black leather gun belt with steel Ranger-style single-prong buckle and left-hand-draw thigh holster
- Gold pocket watch on gold “single Albert” chain with dropped fob, worn in left vest pocket
- Silver Hopi ring with black imprint, worn on right ring finger
Elements of Sundance’s take on formal day dress are more 1969 than 1901, but perhaps Sundance has adopted some of Butch’s forward-thinking attitude: “I got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals.”
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
To learn more about the real Butch and Sundance, check out Thom Hatch’s The Last Outlaws: The Lives and Legends of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a terrifically entertaining and informative read that I quoted liberally in this post. You can find the book on Amazon.
What was initially planned to be a movie montage of Butch, Sundance, and Etta enjoying the sights and amusements of New York City became a challenge when director George Roy Hill was refused permission to film on the period set of Hello, Dolly! in the neighboring soundstage. To work around this, Hill reformatted the sequence as an energetic series of still photographs, taken of Newman, Redford, and Ross on the Hello, Dolly! set then sliced and merged into a series of hundreds of actual period photos.
Great article – thank you!
I must watch this movie again, haven’t seen it for many years.
Thanks for the kind words! I’m glad you have an excuse to revisit this classic 🙂
Robert Redford has a great physique, he’s lean and athletic. Even when he was older like in The Last Castle as a 60 something. But he does lack a bit in the shoulders. He looks good with a straight padded shoulder in his suit jackets and sports coats. Lucky has hit on the fact that a padded shoulder is his preferred shoulder for tailored jackets. Redford knows what looks good on him and he sticks with it.