To commemorate the 39th anniversary of the legendary John Wayne’s passing on June 11, 1979, please enjoy this submission from the estimable pen of BAMF Style reader and contributor “W.T. Hatch.”
John Wayne as John Bernard Books, aging gunfighter
Carson City, Nevada, January 1901
Film: The Shootist
Release Date: August 20, 1976
Director: Don Siegel
Wardrobe Credit: Luster Bayless
I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, and I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.
The Shootist was John Wayne’s final movie role and no actor, before or since, had a more fitting last appearance on the silver screen. Wayne plays John Bernard “J.B.” Books, the most “celebrated shootist extant,” in turn-of-the-century Carson City, Nevada. The film opens with a montage from the Duke’s earlier pictures providing Books’ background as a gunman and occasional lawman in the Old West. Now the last of his kind, Books travels to Carson City seeking assistance from his physician in what may be his final battle against cancer. This deeply compelling story is revealed as Books confronts the consequences of both his life and his own pending mortality.
What’d He Wear?
While we are accustomed to walk-in closets the size of small apartments, The Shootist is set in another era when most people owned far less clothing. Books owns just two sets of clothing – an everyday suit and a more formal “Sunday-go-to-meeting” attire – but never appears in public looking anything but his best.
Throughout most of the picture, Books wears a lounge suit first made popular at the turn of the 20th century. Books spent most of his life in the wild country, but he is also a man who deeply cares about his appearance and reputation. Shortly after arriving in Carson City, Books takes up lodging in the Rogers’ Boarding House and immediately makes arrangements to have his clothes cleaned after his long journey.
Later in the film, Books makes use of the new dry processed cleaning for his more formal suit. Regardless of which suit he dons, Books never appears in public without at least a necktie and waistcoat. Books also rotates the wear of his suit coats, pants, and shirts to fit the occasion.
Books’ lounge suit is a flat gray in color and likely made of wool. This style of jacket, known as a sack coat, has a four-button front although Books wears it open to ensure access to his sidearms. The coat has padded shoulders and wide lapels with shallow cut notches. There are two large pockets, with flap closures, on the coat which Books uses to hold spare ammunition.
The coat is paired with a matching set of flat-fronted trousers with horizontal besom pockets. Books wears a plain brown leather belt with a single metal prong. We may safely assume these trousers have the same 41.5” waist and a 31.5” inseam as his more formal suit pants which are currently listed for sale by the American Heritage company.
Naturally, the Duke wears brown leather cowboy boots with narrow toes and ornamental scroll work. Books adds spurs while riding his favorite horse, Dollar, during the opening scene.
After wearing a plain beige shirt into town, Books wears primarily a tan shirt with fine gray, red and yellow striping. The stripes are all but invisible in a casual viewing of the movie particularly given the difference in picture quality from a film made over 40 years ago. The shirt is long-sleeved with a single breast pocket. The wrists and placket are closed with clear, and anachronistic, plastic buttons.
According to the Heritage Auction website, the cotton shirt is made to fit a 34” sleeve and 18.5” neck. The attached collar is closed with a button and Books regularly wears a black string tie as well.
The lounge suit is worn with a slate gray waistcoat, or vest in American parlance, of a lighter shade than the jacket and pants. The waistcoat has a seven-button front and four besom pockets. Books uses the lower left pocket to hold his pocket watch.
The Heritage Auction website lists Books’ black vest [worn with his frock coat and striped trousers] as being of wool and cotton material in size 50. There is little doubt the gray waistcoat is of the same material and size albeit in a different color.
The inevitability of time is a recurrent theme throughout The Shootist as evidenced by the end of the Victorian Era, the movie chapters being denoted as individual days or the prominent role of his pocket watch in the final scenes.
Books carries an engraved gold hunter case pocket watch with a thick gold chain and large ornamental fob. The watch has a white face with Roman numerals and a “morning glory” second-hand display. One internet source identifies the maker as the N.Y. Standard Watch Company. Books leaves the watch as a parting gift for Bond.
As with all his films made after 1968, John Wayne wore a brass colored Montagnard metal bracelet around his right wrist that first appeared in The Green Berets. Wayne received the bracelet as a gift from U.S. Army Special Forces Captain Jerry Dodds during his tour of Vietnam in 1966. Wayne reportedly never removed the bracelet and is buried with it in Newport Beach, California.
Topping off the entire outfit, the Duke wears a large khaki-colored cowboy hat with a distinctive rattlesnake skin headband. The hat, likely of beaver felt, has a tall 4” crown and a very wide 5” brim. Like most of Books’ clothing, the hat appears used and definitely shows signs of the 10-day horseback journey from Creede, Colorado to Carson City, Nevada. Beaver felt hats are damn near waterproof and warm while the wide brim is perfect for keeping the mountain sun out of the wearer’s eyes.
What to Imbibe
The author of The Shootist, Glendon Swarthout, wanted to distinguish Books from similar characters and had John Bernard order a white wine to celebrate his birthday before the novel’s climactic gunfight. John Wayne would have none of it, demanding the shot (nice pun, eh?) be changed with Books ordering a whiskey. And so, J.B. Books purposefully walked in the Metropole Saloon and purchased a bottle of whiskey. Being a veteran gunfighter, Books limits himself to one – rather generously poured – glass before engaging his three opponents.
The exact whiskey brand is not shown in the movie, but fans may opt instead to sample “The Style of Duke” Kentucky straight bourbon instead.
BAMF Style readers would be wise to heed J.B. Books’ advice to not mix alcohol and firearms. That said, Books carries a matched pair of .45 caliber Single Action Army revolvers throughout The Shootist. These beautifully engraved, ivory handled pieces were John Wayne’s personal property given as a gift from the Great Western Arms Company during his years as their celebrity spokesman.
Books wears a simple brown leather shooting rig with a holster on his right side. He tucks the second revolver into the front of his pistol belt near the single prong brass buckle. The pistol belt has the usual leather loops for carrying additional ammunition.
This author advises against carrying ammunition in this fashion as it all but guarantees the rounds will be fouled with dust and dirt prior to reloading… and for God’s sakes don’t wear a pistol tucked into your belt. For more on J.B. Books’ weaponry, visit IMFDB.
How to Get the Look
If there is a fashion lesson to be learned in The Shootist, it is to always take pride in your appearance even when marching out to face your enemies.
- Dark gray lounge suit consisting of:
- Single-breasted 4-button sack jacket with notch lapels, straight flapped hip pockets, and ventless back
- Flat front trousers with tall belt loops, horizontal besom front and back pockets, and straight-leg plain-hemmed bottoms
- Slate gray single-breasted 7-button waistcoat with notch lapels, four besom pockets, and straight-cut bottom
- Tan striped dress shirt with attached point collar, front placket, breast pocket, and 1-button squared cuffs
- Black satin string tie
- Brown leather belt with large squared brass single-prong buckle
- Dark brown leather cowboy boots
- Large khaki beaver felt cowboy hat with rattlesnake headband (reproduction hats may be purchased at WesternSaddle.com)
- Montagnard bracelet (readers may learn more about the Montagnard people and purchase bracelets here)
- N.Y. Standard Watch Company hunter case pocket watch, complete with thick gold chain and ornamental fob
- Brown leather pistol rig, with matched pair of Single Action Army .45 caliber revolvers
The Western Costume Company of Hollywood, California, supplied at least three pieces of J.B. Books’ clothing including a black waistcoat, tan shirt detailed in this post, and black striped trousers. Side note: These three items are available for purchase online at Heritage Auctions.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
This is my birthday. Give me the best in the house.