Kirk Douglas as John “Doc” Holliday, hot-tempered gambler, gunslinger, and ex-dentist
Dodge City, Kansas, October 1881
Film: Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
Release Date: May 30, 1957
Director: John Sturges
Costume Designer: Edith Head
Let’s call today #WesternWednesday as we transport back to the 1880s, following the taciturn lawman Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster) and his infamous pal, tubercular dentist “Doc” Holliday (Kirk Douglas), as they travel from the “beautiful, biblious Babylon of the west” Dodge City—as the rowdy cow town was famously coined by a Chicago newspaper editor—back to Arizona Territory. The two arrive in Tombstone in time for the fateful shootout with the Clanton-McLaury cowboy faction that would be immortalized in countless books and movies, including the 1957 movie Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
It was Kirk Douglas’ performance that elevated Doc Holliday’s public perception from stock character to a deeply troubled figure bitterly aware that he was living on borrowed time.
What’d He Wear?
When not dandified in one of his gray suits for appearances in town, Kirk Douglas’ Doc Holliday hits the trail in a single-breasted riding jacket made from tobacco brown thin-waled corduroy, recalling the original purpose of corduroy as a rugged, durable cloth for outdoorsmen.
The three-button jacket is structured like a tailored sports coat with a full-bellied shawl collar, self-edged with wale in a contrasting direction, that rolls just over the top button. The ventless jacket’s front skirt is squared with no cutaway with a straight, jetted pocket on each hip. The shoulders are padded with roped sleeveheads, and the sleeves are finished with two non-functioning buttons spaced apart on the cuffs.
Shawl-collar corduroy jackets were also popular during the time of the film’s production, and your best bet for finding one today would be to seek out vintage pieces like this fur-collared Cresco corduroy car coat or this semi-fur-collared Sir Jac coat, both dating from the 1960s though neither have the same tailored structure of Douglas’s screen-worn sport jacket. Some modern manufacturers have also embraced this unique style, though it tends to be higher-end fashion houses like Gucci or MR PORTER and with an approach more akin to a cardigan-like jacket. While it’s not corduroy, Orvis offers the “Newbury” shawl-collar jacket in darker brown nubuck that evokes the spirit, if not the exact details, of this classic trail-friendly outerwear.
Doc wears two different shirts with this jacket while on the trail, the first and most rugged being a sky blue cotton long-sleeved button-up shirt with a soft attached collar, rounded at the corners like a classic club collar. The shirt has single-button squared cuffs, a front placket, and a breast pocket with a pointed yoke.
During a daytime scene, Doc wears a fancier off-white shirt with a ruffled front, resembling the long-sleeved pale gray shirts he wears with his city suits.
Though clearly evocative of old west fashions, the costumes of Gunfight at the O.K. Corral have some anachronistic details more contemporary to the film’s production than its setting. For example, the prevailing method for holding up men’s trousers before the 1920s was to fasten suspenders onto the buttons positioned around the outside or inside of the waistband (often supplemented with an adjustable rear cinch strap), seen on everything from dress trousers to early Levi’s denim jeans. It wasn’t until the roaring ’20s and the decad that belt loops became common on trousers, as trouser waistbands dropped and an increasing amount of men began employing the simplified practice of slipping on a belt to comfortably secure their trousers around their waist.
All that to say… Doc’s brown striped flat front trousers with their belt loops—for his brown leather belt with brass buckle—and lower rise are more a product of the ’50s than what may have been encountered on the Santa Fe Trail, circa 1880. The cotton twill Chadwick Striped Trousers offered by Historical Emporium, with their riveted suspender buttons around the waist, would be a period-inspired alternative. Doc’s trousers are straight through the legs to the plain-hemmed bottoms.
Doc’s trouser belt may be considered anachronistic, but there’s nothing inaccurate about his choice to wear a gun belt… though it has been suggested that Westerns grossly overestimate the amount of actual holsters worn in the old west as opposed to gunmen who preferred to carry their six-shooters in their waistband or a pocket.
While on the trail, Doc wears a dark brown leather gun belt with a holster strapped around his right thigh, a more practical alternative to the shoulder rig he sports with his “city dude” suits.
Doc wears dark brown leather riding boots.
Doc appropriately wears an all-black “gambler hat”, a more urban evolution of the low-crowned telescope hat worn by Mexican cowboys in the southwest. The low, round crown prevented hot air from accumulating inside the hat. The telescope hat also featured a wide brim to protect its wearers from the piercing sun; since gamblers spent most of their time inside, the gambler hat featured a smaller, upturned brim like Doc’s.
The tubercular gunman protects his throat against the dry heat by knotting a pale gray kerchief around his neck, occasionally coughing into it as well. He also wears yellow leather work gloves.
When Doc removes his gloves, he reveals his gold ring that shines from the third finger of his left hand with a gleaming, oval-shaped coral red setting.
How to Get the Look
Doc Holliday takes a timeless approach to dressing for the long trail in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in a corduroy jacket that, depending on how it’s accessorized, would look just as appropriate on a college campus as it does on a cattle ranch.
- Tobacco brown thin-waled corduroy single-breasted 3-button jacket with shawl collar, straight jetted hip pocket, 2-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Sky blue cotton long-sleeved shirt with soft rounded collar, front placket, breast pocket (with pointed yoke), and 1-button squared cuffs
- Brown striped flat front trousers with belt loops and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Brown leather belt with brass squared single-prong buckle
- Dark brown leather gun belt with right-side thigh holster
- Dark brown leather riding boots
- Black gambler hat with round crown and black ribbon
- Yellow leather work gloves
- Gold ring with large oval red coral setting
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie. If you’re interested in learning more about the real Doc Holliday, Gary L. Roberts wrote a well-researched and finely detailed biography of the irascible dentist, Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend.
For enthusiasts of Old West history, I also recommend Tom Clavin’s Dodge City, a comprehensive tome that explores “the wickedest town in the American West” and its role in the histories of famous figures like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and—of course—Doc Holliday.