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
December is here, and while you may not be in the mood yet for that “bold” Christmas sweater with working lights (these exist!), a nice warm long-sleeve polo in a reddish, rustic shade is the perfect layer for transitioning from the fall harvest season into the chilly first weekend of the holiday month.
Of course, in the L.A. of Get Shorty, the sun is brightly shining on Chili Palmer and his new acquaintances in the film industry as he takes a meeting with the eccentric pint-sized superstar Martin Weir (Danny DeVito), supposedly based on Dustin Hoffman after Elmore Leonard’s experiences working with him in the ’80s.
Chili is all ears to hear about Martin’s experiences in movies, but Martin finds himself wowed by Chili’s set of wheels… an Oldsmobile minivan that he was mistakenly given at the airport rather than his requested Cadillac. (“It’s the Cadillac of minivans,” Chili was told.)
What’d He Wear?
I’ve received several requests to write about John Travolta’s style as Get Shorty‘s slick loan shark-turned-movie producer. Chili Palmer is hardly a vibrant dresser; he uses a limited palette of strong, dark colors to create a smooth look that simultaneously evokes sophistication and danger.
In addition to his plot-propelling leather jacket, Chili brings three suits with him to the West Coast: a taupe silk suit from which he wears the orphaned jacket, a solid black suit that gets the most wear out of, and this subtly striped black suit that he wears only with a rust-colored polo shirt that coordinates with the russet tones of the stripes in the suiting.
Certainly a man who cares about style, Chili’s suits are styled in the fashion of the 1990s without giving too much to the era’s trends (think Chandler Bing’s boxy three-button suits). At 6’2″, John Travolta is the kind of guy who could have gotten away with the three-button suit jacket fad of the ’90s, but Chili’s single-breasted jacket is more inspired by timeless trends with its (albeit low) two-button front.
Additional concessions to the decade are the padded shoulders and ventless back. The jacket also has a welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, and four-button cuffs.
Unlike his literary counterpart in Elmore Leonard’s 1990 novel, Travolta’s on-screen Chili eschews dress shirts, instead exclusively wearing long-sleeve soft knit polo shirts in dark, solid colors. With this suit, he calls out the subtle striping with a rust-colored silk polo shirt, worn buttoned to the neck as usual.
The soft silk shirt has a large self-collar with gently rounded points and pick stitching visible along the edges. He wears it with all three of the rust-colored recessed plastic sew-through buttons closed up to the neck.
Chili wears his shirt untucked, covering his waistband, but his trousers likely have belt loops and would be worn with a black leather belt, similar to this one from the production featured on Prop Bay with its ridged gold-toned single-prong buckle.
The flat front trousers have side pockets where Chili frequently slips his hands and plain-hemmed bottoms.
It would be hard for a guy like Chili Palmer to have street cred with the mob if he didn’t own at least one pair of gator-skin footwear. Chili sports a pair of black alligator loafers throughout Get Shorty, worn with a pair of black ribbed socks that continue the leg lines of his invariably black trousers into his shoes.
Chili doubles down on his mob street cred factor by sporting all gold jewelry, albeit more subtly than some. His thin gold watch has a rectangular case and is strapped to his left wrist on a flat gold bracelet. On his right hand, Chili wears a gold ring with a large green square stone.
The closest approximation to this outfit in the source novel would likely be when Leonard describes Palmer’s muted dark blue pinstripe suit, worn with a rust-colored tie and a tab-collared blue shirt. Here, we indeed have a muted dark striped suit but the rust coloration is spread from the tie into a more casual shirt.
Saunter into the first weekend of the holiday month by subtly incorporating some color into your wardrobe à la Chili Palmer in Get Shorty.
- Black wool suit with subtle rust striping:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Rust-colored silk knit long-sleeve 3-button polo shirt
- 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!
Rough business, this movie business. I’m gonna have to go back to loan sharking just to take a rest.