Walk on the Wild Side: Laurence Harvey’s Lee Rider Jacket

Laurence Harvey as Dove Linkhorn in Walk on the Wild Side (1962)

Laurence Harvey as Dove Linkhorn in Walk on the Wild Side (1962)

Vitals

Laurence Harvey as Dove Linkhorn, determined drifter

Texas to New Orleans, September 1933

Film: Walk on the Wild Side
Release Date: February 21, 1962
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Costume Designer: Charles Le Maire

Background

While this may not be the ideal weekend for an outdoors adventure, we can at least walk vicariously with Depression-era drifter Dove Linkhorn (Laurence Harvey), whose solo trek from Texas to New Orleans is interrupted by the arrival of the fiery and opportunistic runaway Kitty (Jane Fonda). The two hitchhike and hop trains together, though Dove turns down her advances as he sticks to his single-minded goal of tracking down the woman he had loved and lost, Hallie Gerard (Capucine).

Despite the cinematic symbolism of slowly lighting someone's cigarette, Dove keeps his association with Kitty strictly platonic.

Despite the cinematic symbolism of slowly lighting someone’s cigarette, Dove keeps his association with Kitty strictly platonic.

Based on a 1956 novel by Nelson Algren (who was born today in 1909), Walk on the Wild Side was a considerably sanitized adaptation though still considered pretty risque by 1962 standards, given Hallie’s occupation at a Big Easy brothel run by the iron-fisted madam Jo Courtney (Barbara Stanwyck). If you’re familiar with the book, then you’re also well-aware of how much the movie differs from its source material aside from retaining the same setting, character names, and select plot details. One can only imagine what Bosley Crowther of the New York Times would have thought of what he called a “sleazy melodrama” had many of the more lurid elements of Algren’s masterful novel been retained or more clearly illustrated on screen.

Of course, we also have the novel (and possibly film adaptation as well) to thank for Lou Reed writing his 1972 classic “Walk on the Wild Side”. The music heard in the movie itself may be one of its greatest assets, as the prolific Elmer Bernstein had been tapped to compose the score. With lyrics by Mack David, the title song was performed by Brook Benton and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song that year, losing to Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini’s “Days of Wine and Roses”.

Jazz organist Jimmy Smith recorded his own version of “Walk on the Wild Side” with Oliver Nelson’s band as the leading track on his album Bashin’: The Unpredictable Jimmy Smith, released in May 1962, only three months after the movie itself was released. This instrumental version just shy of six minutes would be used twice by Martin Scorsese, first in the soundtrack for The Color of Money (1986) and again in Casino (1995).

What’d He Wear?

Dove Linkhorn sets out on his journey from Texas dressed in the timeless gear of a hard-living traveler, spending his days in freight boxcars and his nights finding comfort amidst bales of hay with nothing above him but the stars. Denim is understandably the material of choice for Dove’s duds, having been time-tested over more than half a century by America’s most rugged laborers from cowboys and sailors to lumberjacks and miners.

Dressed for hard travels ahead, Kitty and Dove meet on the way to Louisiana and form their unholy road alliance.

Dressed for hard travels ahead, Kitty and Dove meet on the way to Louisiana and form their unholy road alliance.

It’s generally accepted that denim jackets were likely developed in the 1870s around the time that denim jeans increased in popularity thanks to mass production by Levi Strauss & Co., who is credited with the first riveted denim jacket as, “after all, it owned the patent on the device” according to Josh Sims in Icon’s of Men’s Style. In the century-and-a-half since then, all major denim outfitters—including the “big three” of Levi’s, Lee, and Wrangler—have developed and marketed their own unique spin on the garment that would become known as the “trucker jacket”. The history of the Levi’s denim jacket is relatively straightforward thanks to its clearly defined Type I, Type II, and Type III models introduced over the course of the course of the 20th century, but the evolution of Lee’s jackets are a little murkier.

To try to sort through Lee’s denim jacket history myself, I used Sims’ aforementioned book as well as denim expert Albert Muzquiz’s explorations for Primer and Heddels, writing in the latter that “Lee, unlike their competitor, Levi’s, hasn’t historically been as transparent about their brand’s history.” Luckily, Lee Jeans does offer a timeline on its current site.

The company we know today as Lee Jeans was launched as a Salina, Kansas, grocery wholesale business in 1889 by H.D. Lee, who eventually made the decision to produce workwear when his supply couldn’t keep up with his in-house demand, opening a garment factory in 1912. These early decades for Lee meant plenty of coveralls and overalls until the development of their “101” jeans in the mid-1920s. Lee’s first denim jacket was soon to follow, though the 91J “Loco” railroad jacket introduced in 1925 had little in common with the iconic Cowboy and Rider jackets to follow.

During the early years of the Great Depression, Lee modernized its offerings. The brand’s signature 101 jeans had been developed less than a decade earlier, so they slapped on a “J” ostensibly for “jacket”) and the Lee 101J “Cowboy” jacket was born. Within a year or two, Lee introduced a winter-friendly version of its new jacket, modified with the additions of a thick wool saddle blanket lining and corduroy collar designed to “help cowboys ride out a storm” as Muzquiz wrote for Primer, adding that this was the first denim jacket to feature a contrasting collar. Adding an “L” to denote these new lined versions, this warmer-wearing denim jacket was christened the Lee 101LJ. (According to Lee’s online timeline, the 101J arrived in 1934 and the 101LJ in 1935, though some sources cite slightly earlier dates.)

"Look at Slim in his New Lee Rider Jacket!" was Lee's tagline when advertising to the rodeo crowd in the fall of 1948. (Sourced from Lee)

“Look at Slim in his New Lee Rider Jacket!” was Lee’s tagline when advertising to the rodeo crowd in the fall of 1948. (Sourced from Lee)

Muzquiz further researched for Heddels that the first usage of the phrase “Lee Riders” emerged after the corporation received a patent in 1935, though it would evidently be another decade until this appellation was officially designated to any of its products outside of colloquialism. In 1944, Lee lassoed all of its western-wear offerings and branded them under the “Lee Riders” lineup. Around that time, however, there was a new competitor on the scene when Wrangler jeans were first introduced to the American public in 1947, followed within a year by the Wrangler 124MJ denim jacket.

Inspired by rodeo star’s custom-slimmed Lee jacket, Lee returned to the drawing board and introduced the “New Lee Rider” 101J jacket, first marketed in 1948 for members of the Rodeo Cowboy Association and Cowboy Association of America, further validating its moniker. In addition to its slimline fit and double-pocket design (as opposed to the single chest pockets of earlier Lee jackets), the New Lee Rider was detailed with the distinctive zig-zag top-stitching down the placket and what Muzquiz described for Heddels as “its jauntily slanted yoke.” With the New Lee Rider, the brand was joining the ranks of its competitors by establishing its place among what would become known as the “trucker jacket” for decades to come.

Much like the ’30s series of jackets, the new version of the 101J was soon followed by an updated take on the lined 101LJ in 1949, boasting the same blanket lining and corduroy collar but with the newer zigzag stitch and slanted yoke. Beginning in November 1953, these new 101LJ jackets would be officially marketed as the Lee Storm Rider jackets.

Muzquiz rightfully concludes that “It was in this period that the jacket seems to have crossed the divide from pure workwear and cowboy clothing to a wardrobe staple,” as the Lee Storm Rider would be made famous by wearers including Kirk Douglas in Lonely Are the Brave (1962), Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits (1962), Paul Newman in Hud (1963), and even Steve McQueen off-screen.

Unlike these contemporary-set films, however, Walk on the Wild Side is set during the early years of the Depression, making Laurence Harvey’s Lee Rider jacket a particularly curious choice. While it’s possible that Dove Linkhorn may have gotten his hands on a mint Lee 101J in the late summer of 1933, the 1950s-style Rider he wears on screen is considerably anachronistic for the setting, especially considering its worn state.

One of the first shots we get of Dove Linkhorn's jacket clearly establishes it as a Lee Storm Rider as the riveted buttons are branded "Lee RIDERS". While his wallet was undoubtedly meant to be the focus of this shot, the style blogger in me couldn't help but to notice the branded buttons first!

One of the first shots we get of Dove Linkhorn’s jacket clearly establishes it as a Lee Storm Rider as the riveted buttons are branded “Lee RIDERS”. While his wallet was undoubtedly meant to be the focus of this shot, the style blogger in me couldn’t help but to notice the branded buttons first!

Dove’s blue denim Lee Rider jacket is an iconic American garment with an authentic association of cowboys, railroad workers, and other hard-living figures of the Old West. Even if his choice was not anachronistically correct, costume designer Charles Le Maire undoubtedly knew that dressing Dove Linkhorn in a Lee “cowboy jacket” would visually communicate to audiences that this is not a man to be trifled with. (Lee still offers the 101 Rider as part of its European Collection, though you can find modern Lee cowboy jackets at Amazon.)

The two chest pockets indicate that Dove’s jacket was made no earlier than 1947 as it wasn’t until then that Lee made double-pocket denim jackets. Both pockets are positioned with the top of each flap along the seam of the inward-slanting horizontal yoke (“slanted for easy access – almost certainly for a pack of Marlboros,” as Lee themselves wrote), covered with a rounded-corner flap that closes through a single riveted button. A small black patch branded “Lee” is sewn along the bottom of the left pocket flap. The signature “zig zag” top-stitching along each of the six buttonholes also suggests a post-1947 manufacture. The jacket is reinforced around the waist hem with a short button-tab along the right and left sides to adjust the fit around the waist. Each set-in sleeve fastens at the end through a single cuff button, which Dove tends to wear unbuttoned with each cuff folded back.

One curious detail of Dove’s Lee Rider jacket is the collar. During this time period, Lee only offered two collars on its Rider jackets: a matching blue denim on the 101J and a tan corduroy collar on the lined 101LJ, this latter being the only contrasting collar offered on any denim jackets of this period. When I first viewed Walk on the Wild Side, I assumed that Dove’s contrast-collar Lee Rider was a corduroy-collared 101LJ, but a closer look at the collar via high-resolution video format illustrated that the collar appears to be merely be faded denim. I briefly entertained the thought that, as the collar has beared the brunt of his jacket’s abuse, the corduroy collar may have been removed but the jacket also appears to lack the Storm Rider’s signature blanketed lining, leading me to conclude that Dove Linkhorn must be wearing a late 1940s or 1950s-vintage Lee 101J Rider with a faded collar.

Dove settles up with Teresina (Anne Baxter).

Dove settles up with Teresina (Anne Baxter).

While we know Dove’s jacket is blue as Lee wasn’t making denim jackets in any other color at that time, contemporary behind-the-scenes photos from the production also illustrate Dove’s light chambray work shirt to be blue, albeit a much lighter blue that was still consistent with the prototypical chambray shirts that had been popularized as a staple of U.S. Navy work-wear during the early decades of the 20th century. Like most military clothing, chambray shirts have become rugged civilian staples with most casual menswear brands offering their own takes, though this Wrangler Authentics shirt (via Amazon) seems to offer the color, details, and heritage consistent with what Laurence Harvey wears as Dove Linkhorn. (If you prefer button-through pockets and the screen-accurate dark blue buttons, you should also check out this Lucky Brand chambray shirt, also via Amazon.)

Dove’s pale blue chambray cotton shirt has a long point collar and two chest pockets, each closed with a single button through a narrow flap. The buttons on the pocket flaps, front placket, and cuffs are a contrasting dark blue plastic, sewn to the shirt with white thread through two holes.

Dove sheds his jacket when walking in the hot afternoon sun. The colors of both his and Kitty's outfits are made clearer by this promotional photo (inset).

Dove sheds his jacket when walking in the hot afternoon sun. The colors of both his and Kitty’s outfits are made clearer by this promotional photo (inset).

The Texan drifter wears cowboy boots with decoratively stitched shafts mostly covered by his jeans. The dark leather uppers and shafts are likely brown to coordinate with his belt leather, and the hard leather soles have slightly raised heels.

Kitty promises to get Dove "a pair of real city shoes and a real shirt" someday, though our protagonist looks comfortably at home in his double denim, work shirt, and cowboy boots.

Kitty promises to get Dove “a pair of real city shoes and a real shirt” someday, though our protagonist looks comfortably at home in his double denim, work shirt, and cowboy boots.

Like his jacket, Dove Linkhorn’s jeans are also more contemporary to the film’s early 1960s production than the 1930s setting. While blue jeans had famously been a staple of American work-wear since Levi Strauss took their riveted denim trousers to a new level in 1873, they were still commonly fitted with cinch-backs and suspender buttons through the early years of the Great Depression. (For the record, Levi’s was an early pioneer of jeans for men who preferred belts, first offering belt loops in 1922 as a supplement to cinch-backs and suspender buttons, then offering to cut off back-cinch straps for belt-lovers by 1933, and finally doing away with the cinches and brace buttons altogether by 1944 with the introduction of the new 501®.)

While Levi’s is considered a denim pioneer for many valid reasons, it was Lee that revolutionized one enduring aspect of jeans: the zip fly. For more than 50 years, jeans had been rigged with the same style of button-up fly that was standard on all men’s trousers. This all changed in 1927 with the introduction of the Lee 101Z, the first blue jeans with a zip-fly, nicknamed the “Whizit” after a national contest hosted by Lee. It would be more than two decades before Levi’s would follow suit, responding to concerns from female wearers who found the button-fly to be, uh, immodest.

Dove’s jeans appear to have the “lazy S” stitch across each back pocket that became a signature of Lee jeans with the introduction of their new 101 Riders during the 1940s. By this time, Lee’s iconic but brief-lived “hair on hide” label had already been replaced by a branded cowhide label, and the increasingly obsolete cinch-back strap was also removed. (As with their Rider jackets, new vintage-inspired Lee 101Z jeans are available through Lee’s European store.)

Promotional photo of Jane Fonda and Laurence Harvey in Walk on the Wild Side.

Promotional photo of Jane Fonda and Laurence Harvey in Walk on the Wild Side.

Dove’s floral-embossed tooled leather belt, shown by contemporary set photos to be a medium brown leather, is really the only appropriate type of belt with this kind of Western-themed ensemble. The belt has a single plain leather keeper and a large etched steel buckle in a rectangular shape with convex-curved top and bottoms and sharp corners. (Is there a name for this unique shape?)

WALK ON THE WILD SIDE

Dove completes his look with a well-worn cowboy hat in a simple tan felt, its wide brim so dramatically curled up that the hat seems to have aspirations of being a tricorne.

WALK ON THE WILD SIDE

Laurence Harvey as Dove Linkhorn in Walk on the Wild Side (1962)

Laurence Harvey as Dove Linkhorn in Walk on the Wild Side (1962)

How to Get the Look

The rugged Western look of a denim jacket, chambray work shirt, tooled belt, and jeans is a timeless tribute to the cowboys of the old west, though a closer examination at Dove Linkhorn’s Lee Rider jacket dates the outfit as more contemporary to Walk on the Wild Side‘s early 1960s production than its Depression-era setting.

  • Blue denim Lee 101J Rider “cowboy jacket” with faded collar, slanted front yoke with two chest pockets (with button-down flaps), six branded riveted buttons with zig-zag top-stitched placket, waist button-tabs, and single-button cuffs
  • Pale blue chambray cotton work shirt with point collar, front placket, two chest pockets (with button-down flaps), and single-button cuffs
  • Dark blue denim Lee 101Z Rider zip-fly jeans with belt loops and five-pocket layout
  • Brown floral-tooled leather belt with large rectangular steel single-prong buckle
  • Dark brown leather cowboy boots with decorative-stitched shafts and raised heels
  • Tan felt cowboy hat with wide curled brim

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie and Elmer Bernstein’s jazzy soundtrack.

Sources

Plenty of pros out there have done us all a service by putting their knowledge of denim down for internet posterity, providing invaluable sources as I was drafting this piece and researching the veracity of Dove’s Depression-era denim:

One comment

  1. mpzz

    What’s pathetic here is how Lee has surrendered their heritage so thoroughly. The Lee Rider, cowboy, 101J, Storm Rider jackets are no longer available, incredibly. Even their jeans haven’t been called Lee Riders for decades. The version of the jacket that is available on their European website is horrible. It’s way too long in the body and just looks wrong in every way, down to the denim used. Luckily, you can still find examples of this iconic jacket in excellent shape for a very reasonable price on ebay and similar sites.

    Like

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