Gary Cooper as Will Kane, newlywed city marshal
Hadleyville, New Mexico Territory, Summer 1873
Film: High Noon
Release Date: July 24, 1952
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Men’s Wardrobe Credit: Joe King
Born 119 years ago today on May 7, 1901, Gary Cooper received his second Academy Award for Best Actor in recognition of his now-iconic performance in High Noon as a laconic lawman whose sense of duty compels him to make a lone stand against a band of dangerous outlaws.
“Each generation has imposed its own politics and values onto High Noon,” wrote Glenn Frankel for a detailed Vanity Fair retrospective in 2017. “Yet what has largely been forgotten is that the man who had written the script had set out with a very specific goal: to make an allegory about the Hollywood blacklist, the men who sought to enforce it, and the cowardly community that stood by silently and allowed it to happen.” Indeed, while screenwriter Carl Foreman had undoubtedly had the famous Red Scare in mind as he penned his script, High Noon has found fans on both ends of the political spectrum though it initially met with conservative-minded opposition from figures like John Wayne, who had refused the leading role and vehemently spoke out against the film’s anti-blacklist sentiment.
Though Duke and director Howard Hawks would eventually team up to make Rio Bravo in response to High Noon, Wayne still accepted Cooper’s Best Actor Oscar on his friend’s behalf, famously concluding his speech by joking that he was “gonna go back and find my business manager, and agent, and producer, and three-name writer, and find out why I didn’t get High Noon instead of Cooper!” High Noon also received the Academy Award for Best Film Editing and two Oscars in recognition of the soundtrack, composed by the prolific Dimitri Tiomkin who would also pen the score for Rio Bravo.
We meet the taciturn Will Kane on the morning of his wedding to Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly). “Well, one more ceremony and Will’s a free man,” declares the judge, as this bright Sunday is also to be Kane’s final day as the popular city marshal of Hadleyville, a fictional town in what was then New Mexico Territory. The upstanding lawman is reluctant to give up his badge until his replacement arrives and, only seconds after he hangs up the tin, he’s informed that the dangerous criminal Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) has just been pardoned and is on his way to Hadleyville via the noon train. Awaiting Miller at the depot are a trio of dangerous gunmen—”three gunnies,” according to Deputy Marshal Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges)—which includes a young Lee Van Cleef making his screen debut.
Kane’s friends urge him to leave town as Miller no doubt wants to violently settle the score against the lawman who put him away, so a hesitant Kane begins riding away with his new bride, finally stopping his horses outside of town: “It’s no good, I’ve got to go back, Amy.” Despite Amy’s protestations, Kane buckles on his gun belt and pins his star back to his vest, choosing his duty to Hadleyville over his new marriage. However, Kane’s expectations of reciprocation fall dangerously short as no one in the town rises to his aid, with even his own deputy bitterly turning over his badge due to Kane’s reluctance to recommend the unscrupulous Harvey as his successor. Kane finds himself increasingly disillusioned over the following hour as his friends to continue to abandon him and the minutes creep closer to high noon and the inevitable confrontation with the Miller gang.
What’d He Wear?
High Noon essentially plays out in real time over its 84-minute running time, following Will Kane from his courthouse wedding right up through the famous gunfight on the street. Kane dresses for his nuptials in an informal variation of morning dress consisting of frock coat, striped waistcoat, and cashmere-striped “spongebag” trousers, though he wears it with his standard day wear of a flannel work shirt and string tie rather than the more formal white shirt and cravat.
Kane dresses up for his nuptials with a dark woolen flannel frock coat, an informal alternative to the dress coat. The single-breasted, two-button frock coat has a full-length, straight-cut skirt like a dress coat rather than the tapered cutaway quarters of a traditional morning coat. Kane’s frock coat has straight hip pockets with wide flaps, two non-functioning decorative buttons slightly spaced apart at the end of each sleeve, and two ornamental buttons along the back waist seam, a holdout from equestrian riding coats.
Apropos the setting, Will Kane wears a dark felt hat with a wide, curled brim and round crown in the telescope or gambler shape, but with a taller crown. Golden Gate Western Wear, home of Knudsen Hat Company, offers an all-black replica of Gary Cooper’s High Noon headgear and describes it as “similar to a gambler-style hat but taller in the crown and wider in the brim.”
The decision to place Gary Cooper’s heroic but flawed character in a black hat signified that High Noon was a new kind of Western, diverging from the decades-old practice of clearly establishing white hats for heroes and black hats for villains.
Kane wears a light-colored flannel shirt, likely an off-white or pale gray, that may have been too informal for a dressier wedding but suits him perfectly when he reverts to his duties as a marshal overseeing the town. The shirt has a soft, narrow attached collar with rounded corners like the classic “club collar”, and the long sleeves are shirred at the cuffs where they fasten through a single button. The shirt has a horizontal chest yoke that slants slightly toward the center, where the dark four-hole buttons contrast against the shirt’s front placket.
Dressing up for his wedding, Kane wears a dark bow string tie patterned with a neatly arranged array of pin dots, though he ultimately discards the tie after it gets loosened and disheveled during his stables fight with a drunken Harvey Pell. This style of neckwear was common in the old West—indeed, even the justice who marries Will and Amy wears one—as a cross between the more gentrified bow tie and the bolo-style string tie associated with cowboys and ranchers.
After discarding his frock coat, Kane re-pins his five-pointed Marshal star to the left side of his waistcoat (known as a “vest” in colloquial American parlance.) Kane’s vest is patterned in a balanced two-tone stripe that clashes with the slightly different “cashmere stripe” of his trousers, though these garments weren’t meant to match. The single-breasted, six-button vest has a shawl collar that is cut off at the back, which is finished in a dark satin lining. He wears his pocket watch in the right-side pocket of the vest’s two forward-slanting, slim-welted lower pockets with the chain strung “single Albert”-style through a hole next to the vest’s third buttonhole, and the fob hangs free.
Kane’s formal striped trousers emerged in fashion during the early 19th century to accompany the frock coat for daytime dress. The “cashmere stripe” refers to the distinctive gray-and-black striping pattern and not the soft, luxurious wool obtained from the cashmere goat. Kane’s wool trousers follow the cashmere stripe or “spongebag” tradition with balanced stripes that alternate in width, likely black stripes against a dark ground ground. The trouser bottoms are plain-hemmed, befitting their more formal context.
The trousers are more reflective of the contemporary 1950s production than the old west era depicted on screen. Most men’s trousers before the 1920s weren’t even made with belt loops, typically held up with suspenders that connected to buttons around the waist, though Kane’s cashmere-striped trousers are worn with a wide, dark leather belt; even if some in the old west did wear belts with trousers, these more formal trousers would not have been a likely candidate to be worn with a belt. Kane’s trousers have a flat front, another concession to the ’50s as most formal trousers had pleats; in some instances, his gun belt bunches the fabric on the front of his trousers together to create the appearance of reverse-facing pleats. However, the flat front pattern of Kane’s trousers is more complementary with the Western-inspired front pockets with their concave-slanted openings.
As this particular Sunday was supposed to see no more action than Will Kane’s wedding and his last day on the job, Kane hadn’t been wearing his gun belt until he realized he would be facing down Frank Miller’s gang. He returns to his office and straps on a dark leather Buscadero gun belt with a solid octagonal single-prong ranger buckle and his single-action revolver holstered against his right thigh for a right-handed draw.
The accepted history of the low-slung Buscadero rig is that these were first worn by Texas lawmen around the turn of the 20th century and soon popularized by movie cowboys from the early years of the silent era through the golden age of Western serials into the 1950s, worn by icons like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and the Lone Ranger. The Buscadero has long been figured to be an accepted anachronism, an element that adds to the American cowboy mythos even if most Western gunslingers carried different holsters… if they holstered their sidearms at all! (To read more about how guns were actually carried in the old west, check out Jane C. Bischoff’s “The Buscadero Bio” for True West magazine, Phil Spangenberger’s “Hideout Hijinks” (also for True West), and Cochise Leather Company’s history of Western gun leather.
While much of Will Kane’s wardrobe isn’t unfamiliar when compared to the prototypical heroes of Western fiction, one differing aspect that I appreciate are his boots. As opposed to the taller cowboy boots or roper boots seemingly ubiquitous in Westerns, Will wears ankle-high dress boots more appropriate for a day where he expected nothing more than to get married and ride out of town via wagon. Likely black leather, his plain-toe boots have gently raised heels and pull tabs, not unlike Chelsea boots though they lack the elastic side gussets.
The considerably lower shafts of Kane’s boots gives us a glimpse of the black socks he wears as he catches his breath following his fight with Harvey Pell.
These boots are best seen in a behind-the-scenes photo of the cast watching TV, an entertaining juxtaposition of the cast dressed for the 1870s while experiencing a contraption that wouldn’t be introduced for decades yet.
Go Big or Go Home
John Boessenecker neatly illustrates the sacrifices made and difficulty faced by American city marshals who sought to carry out their work with honesty in his excellent biography Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, The Man Who Killed Bonnie and Clyde, particularly as described in the chapter highlighting Hamer’s brief but colorful service “taming” the Texas border town of Navasota:
The office of city marshal—tantamount to a chief of police—should not be confused with the U.S. marshal, a federal lawman appointed by the president. The city marshal’s jurisdiction was within city or town limits. As a rule, smaller towns with a few officers had city marshals; larger communities had a chief of police… The city marshal’s duties were set both by custom and law. By custom, marshals would patrol the streets on foot and horseback and respond to calls for assistance. At night they walked back alleys, shook doorknobs, and looked out for prowlers, burglars, and rowdy drunks. Under Texas law, marshals were specifically required to identify and arrest all vagrants in their jurisdiction; to suppress gambling and confiscate gaming tables and gambling paraphernalia; to enforce public health, sanitary, and quarantine statutes; to enforce antiprostitution laws; and to maintain a fee book of all court costs in civil and criminal cases. In many communities, they were also charged with such mundane tasks as keeping roads and bridges in good repair, maintaining public windmills, and picking up stray dogs.
For every thousand people in small towns today, there is an average of two full-time police officers. Under that formula, a town like Navasota, which then had 3,200 people, would have six officers. But in 1908, no community that small had a tax base large enough to pay for six police. As a result, western and rural villages often hired the toughest marshal they could find, knowing that for the most part he would have to handle criminals and rowdies alone. Only in cases of emergency would the county sheriff or his deputies be able to help.
“If you’re honest, you’re poor your whole life,” explains the town’s former marshal, Martin Howe (Lon Chaney), who Kane seeks out for advice with less than a half-hour until noon. There’s plenty that can be gleaned about Will Kane’s character by his choice to become the Hadleyville city marshal, having evidently served well enough to earn the respect of most townspeople… and illustrating just how selfish they are not to assist in his time of need after the range of duties he would have been expected to perform for them.
Like myriad Western heroes in movies, TV, and real life, Will Kane relies on the tried-and-true Single Action Army, the Colt revolver introduced in 1873 that quickly gained fame as the “Peacemaker”. The original Single Action Army was chambered in the powerful new .45 Long Colt round, though a wide range would become available including rifle calibers like the .32-20 Winchester, .38-40 Winchester, and .44-40 Winchester so that users would conveniently need only one type of ammunition that would serve both revolver and rifle. (The .44-40 Colts were officially marketed as the Colt Frontier Six-Shooter when production began in 1877.)
Colt originally offered the Single Action Army with a 7½” barrel. This long-barreled configuration would become known as the “Cavalry” model, with additional variants including the “Civilian”, “Gunfighter”, or “Quickdraw” model (4¾” barrel) and “Artillery” model (5½” barrel). While shorter- and longer-barreled SAA revolvers were produced like Wyatt Earp’s apocryphal “Buntline Special” with its foot-long barrel, these three barrel lengths were the standard for mass production as well as military issue during the last quarter of the 19th century.
Colt would produce more than 350,000 of these revolvers during the first generation of Single Action Army production, which began in October 1873 as the “New Model Army Metallic Cartridge Revolving Pistol” in .45 Colt and ended around 1940 following the introduction of varying barrel lengths and at least 30 different caliber options. As Westerns grew in popularity and the Single Action Army itself began attracting renewed attention after World War II, William R. Wilson founded the Great Western Arms Company to produce copies of the original Single Action Army, inspiring many other companies to follow including Cimarron Firearms, Freedom Arms, Ruger, Uberti (now owned by Beretta), and even Colt, who resumed production in 1956.
Will Kane carries a Single Action Army Artillery model holstered on his right hip, through he also pulls a second Peacemaker with a shorter Civilian-type barrel from his desk drawer and tucks it into his waistband.
Though the first Single Action Army wouldn’t be produced by Colt until October 1873, nearly six months after High Noon is set, it’s ubiquitous as the preferred sidearm of not just Will Kane but also the four men who came to Hadleyville in search of him as well as his former deputy, Harvey Pell, whose pearl-handled Single Action Army is taken from his discarded holster by Amy during the film’s climax. (Interestingly, Frank Hamer was presented with a Civilian model Colt Single Action Army in 1910 by the Navasota city council in recognition of his exemplary work as city marshal; he would continue to carry “Old Lucky” for the rest of his career.)
Few other firearms are featured in High Noon, though Kane is seen inspecting the Winchester Model 1873 lever-action rifles in his office. He appears to load his weapons with Winchester brand ammunition as well.
How to Get the Look
Gary Cooper’s outfit as a lawman standing tall in the old West is very specific for its time and place, though I help this provides a helpful guide for any potential cosplayers, High Noon-themed Halloween costumes, or just gents who want to add a dash of Will Kane into their wardrobe.
- Black flannel single-breasted 2-button frock coat with notch lapels, wide-flapped straight hip pockets, decorative 2-button cuffs, and decorative 2-button back waist seam
- Off-white flannel shirt with soft rounded-corner collar, front placket with dark contrasting buttons, slanted front yoke, and shirred 1-button cuffs
- Dark pin-dotted silk bow string tie
- Dark striped wool single-breasted 6-button waistcoat/vest with shawl collar, two forward-slanting slim-welted pockets, and straight hem
- Black-on-gray cashmere-striped woolen formal trousers with tall belt loops, slanted Western-style front pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Dark leather trouser belt with large squared single-prong buckle
- Dark leather Buscadero gun belt with solid octagonal single-prong ranger buckle and right-hand-draw holster
- Black leather plain-toe ankle boots
- Black socks
- Black felt gambler-style cowboy hat with tall round crown, black silk band, and curled brim
One outfitter that specializes in recreating menswear (and women’s fashions) from this period is Historical Emporium.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
They’re makin’ me run, I’ve never run from anybody before.
While High Noon never makes its setting explicit, there are some context clues that I was able to use to pin down the date. The use of the 37-stag flag suggests a time frame to within 1867 and 1877, assuming that Hadleyville keeps vexillogically current. Particularly with earlier Westerns, Hollywood notoriously armed its gunslingers with Colt 1873 Single Action Army revolvers and Winchester Model 1873 rifles even if the true setting was decades earlier, but we’ll give High Noon the benefit of the doubt and narrow the time frame to the mid-1870s. (There are still some anachronisms as pointed out by IMDB, including Pabst signs and pre-gummed envelopes that were not used until the 1890s as well as a boarding house dated “1888”, but I like to think that this flag was chosen for a reason with the filmmakers intending an earlier setting.)
The pendulum clock on Mart’s wall indicates that it’s July, specifically a July where the first day was a Tuesday, which could have only been 1873. We know this is a Sunday, and the train depot calendar says “26/27”, so we can effectively pinpoint the setting of High Noon to be Sunday, July 27, 1873.