Pam Grier’s Black Suit in Jackie Brown
Pam Grier as Jackie Brown, flight attendant and money courier
Los Angeles, Summer 1995
Film: Jackie Brown
Release Date: December 25, 1997
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Costume Designer: Mary Claire Hannan
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today marks a BAMF Style first, focusing on a badass woman from the movies: Pam Grier as the eponymous lead in Jackie Brown, adapted by Quentin Tarantino from Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch. QT had long been a fan of Grier—and rightly so!—including a reference to her in his debut feature, Reservoir Dogs (1992). He had hoped to secure a role for her in Pulp Fiction (1994) until he realized that the actress’ strong presence would make it difficult for audiences to accept Eric Stoltz yelling at her on screen.
After Tarantino and Roger Avary acquired the film rights to three of Elmore Leonard’s novels, the director reportedly “fell in love” with Rum Punch, selecting that as his next feature. In the hopes of hiring Grier for the lead, he changed the character from the white Jackie Burke to the black Jackie Brown, her new surname alluding to Pam Grier’s famous role in Foxy Brown (1974). This character modification wasn’t Tarantino’s only homage to Grier’s career, as the soundtrack also included pieces from Roy Ayers’ original score for Coffy, the blaxploitation classic that provided Grier with her star-making role upon its release 47 years ago on May 13, 1973.
Tarantino had been nervous about how Leonard would react to the changes in his adapted screenplay, but the author not only regarded Jackie Brown to be the finest of the 26 adaptations of his works but also possibly the greatest screenplay he had ever read.
The plot remains essentially the same as the novel, with the action shifted from south Florida to southern California, as 44-year-old flight attendant Jackie is picked up as part of an ATF operation led by agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) and local detective Mark Dargus (Michael Bowen) to entrap gun-running kingpin Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), for whom Jackie had been running cash from Mexico to make ends meet for herself. With the help of lovestruck bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster), Jackie devises a plan that could potentially get the feds off her back, get the dangerous Ordell out of the picture, and yield a half-million dollar payday for herself.
Co-star Robert Forster was fairly nominated with the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, but Grier’s performance earned her nominations from the Awards Circuit Community Awards, Chicago Film Critics Association, Golden Globe Awards, Saturn Awards, and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
More than 20 years after its release, the film remains a shining gem in Tarantino’s canon, the one from his oeuvre most likely to appeal to audiences who aren’t particularly fans of his other work without alienating those who are. To read more about this excellent movie, I recommend these tributes from BFI and /Film.
What’d She Wear?
I chose Pam Grier’s black suit from the climactic finale of Jackie Brown due to its adjacency to menswear; though I’ve been writing BAMF Style for eight years, women’s fashion in general is still beyond what I’d consider my general métier.
The black suit and white shirt is the female equivalent of Tarantino’s “uniform” developed in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, only missing the black tie worn by Jackie’s male counterparts in those earlier films. Even the lethargic Melanie (Bridget Fonda) is impressed, not only commenting to Louis Gara (Robert de Niro) that it’s “a nice outfit on her” but also reassuring Jackie herself that it “looks really good on you.”
Jackie picks out the $267 suit from the Jones New York section of the fictional Billingsley department store (which was, in fact, the actual Macy’s in the Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance), though I’m not sure if the actual suit was made by Jones New York. In chapter 20 of Rum Punch, Jackie refers to the black silk suit as “an Isani I’ve had my eye on,” referring to the short-lived fashion house founded by Jun and Soyon Kim in 1988 that closed its operations in the 1990s not long after the novel was published in 1992.
Jackie’s ventless suit jacket is single-breasted with notch lapels that roll to a single-button closure. Like most women’s clothing, the jacket buttons right-over-left in a tradition cited to date back to centuries ago when middle- and upper-class women were typically dressed by their servants. Due to right-hand dominance at the time, clothiers found it was more efficient to “reverse” the traditional button direction. (You can learn more from Benjamin Radford’s 2010 Live Science article.)
Women’s suits tend to offer more variety in cuts and styles than menswear, but Jackie’s suit jacket—aside from the button placement and the female-oriented silhouette—follows the stylistic pattern that has been standard in menswear for the better part of the 20th century. While still proportionally shorter than most men’s suit jackets, Jackie’s suit jacket appears to be longer than many women’s suit jackets with a fuller skirt that covers the seat. The silhouette is flatteringly fitted to Pam Grier’s physique, a lucky draw for an off-the-rack women’s suit.
The jacket has a breast pocket with a wide welt and flapped hip pockets. The shoulders are padded but not to the dramatic extent of the fashionable power pantsuits of the previous decade, and each sleeve is finished with three functioning buttons on the cuff. These buttons and the single button on the front are flat black plastic with four sew-through holes.
Although Jackie may appear to be wearing the same white cotton button-up shirt from her flight attendant’s uniform, this shirt can be seen discarded with the rest of the uniform in her dressing room and, instead, she wears the white slubbed blouse that was displayed with the mannequin, wearing the very long point collar flat atop the jacket lapels. The major differences between this and her uniform shirt is that the non-slubbed white uniform shirt appears to have a slightly narrower point collar and a breast pocket on the left side.
Following the traditional right-over-left buttoning direction for women’s clothing, the shirt has four buttons up the plain front—with no button at the neck. Shaped with reinforced front darts, the shirt has a straight hem looks good when worn untucked with her suit.
Rather than the full, sand-washed silk skirt of Jackie Burke’s suit in Rum Punch, Grier’s Jackie picks out a suit with trousers, fitted around the hips and fuller through the leg down to flared bottoms.
Jackie wears the same plain black leather pumps with thick heels that were authorized with her uniform. The uniform called for thin black stockings, though I can’t tell if she removed them when she put on her suit pants.
“I decided to wear this suit instead of my tired old uniform,” Jackie had explained to the clerk at Billingsley, referring to the bright royal blue two-piece uniform she wears as a flight attendant for the fictional Cabo Air, which Detective Mark Dargus describes as “the shittiest little shuttle-fuckin’ piece-of-shit Mexican airline there is.”
The uniform consists of an above-the-knee tube skirt and a matching hip-length collarless suit jacket with padded shoulders, cinched with four sets of forward-facing pleats at the waist where it fastens right-over-left through a hidden closure rather than a visible button. She wears her gold “JACKIE BROWN” name badge on the right and the gold Cabo Air wings badge pinned to the left side. The upper arm of the left sleeve is decorated with another Cabo Air badge, a coral red sunburst with a yellow border and a white “C.A.” embroidered in the center.
In addition to her usual white shirt and black pumps, the outfit is completed with a striped orange neckerchief knotted on the left side of her neck.
Jackie’s earrings are small gold mini-hoops with a single silver pearl dangling from each, worn in her lobes.
Jackie wears a black PVD-coated steel wristwatch with gold hands and gold crown on a slim black calfskin leather strap with matching top-stitching. The small gold dot at the 12:00 position on the watch’s minimalist black dial otherwise absent of hour markers suggests Movado, whose iconic “museum dial” was pioneered by Nathan George Horwitt in 1947 to symbolize the sun at high noon.
While no current model in the Movado women’s lineup matches Jackie’s timepiece, the brand does offer a gold-coated Museum Classic with a similar dial and strap (via Amazon and Movado). There are a few black-finished men’s watches, including this 40mm Museum Classic on a black mesh bracelet (via Movado).
Jackie Brown waits for an angry Ordell’s arrival in Max Cherry’s office, armed with Max’s Colt Detective Special that she had previously purloined from the bail bondsman’s glove compartment. In this instance, Max actively gives it to Jackie to defend herself during the sting she had arranged for Ordell’s capture.
Colt introduced the Detective Special in 1927 alongside its new generation of reliable revolvers marketed toward law enforcement including the Official Police. With a full six-round cylinder of hearty .38 Special ammunition and a “snub-nosed” two-inch barrel, the Colt Detective Special lived up to its name as a “belly gun” preferred by plainclothes policemen, private detectives, and bodyguards as well as becoming an underworld favorite for its balance of easily concealed power. The Detective Special set a new standard for this particular firearm niche, though Smith & Wesson was slow to respond, not offering its own six-shot .38 Special in a snub-nosed frame until nearly a decade later… though S&W would take the competition to the next level with its introduction of the compact, five-shot “Chiefs Special” in 1950.
Colt updated the Detective Special over the course of the 20th century, though the revolver in Max Cherry’s desk and holster appears to be an earlier “Second Series” issue produced between 1947 and 1972. For the most part, these were cosmetically similar to the First Series but with distinguishing features like a serrated ramp on the back of the front sight and a longer ejector rid with a groove around the knurled tip. Finished in Colt’s famous “royal blue” steel, Max’s Detective Special has the traditional wooden grips with the silver-toned Colt medallions as opposed to the plastic grips used on the revolvers produced in the decade following World War II.
Future issues of the Detective Special are markedly different, with shrouded ejector rods and lower, fully ramped front sights on the Third and Fourth Series. Production finally ended in 1995, two years before Jackie Brown was released.
The decision to arm Grier with a snub-nosed .38 was likely selected to reflect the “.38 Airweight” Smith & Wesson carried by Max Cherry—and eventually by Jackie Burke—in the source novel Rum Punch. However, it could have also been Tarantino’s homage to the 2″-barreled Smith & Wesson Model 36 that Grier used, albeit with a superfluous “silencer”, in Coffy.
The Jackie Brown screen-used Detective Special has been auctioned several times, and photos of it with Max Cherry’s holster can be found at Julien’s Live and YourProps.
How to Get the Look
After low-key manipulating most of her network to net a major payday that ties up all loose ends, Jackie Brown dresses to suit her power play in a new black suit and white shirt, the de facto uniform of the badasses in QT’s L.A.
- Black business suit:
- Single-breasted single-button jacket with notch lapels, wide-welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, functional 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Flat front trousers with flared bottoms
- White slubbed cotton blouse with long-pointed collar, plain front, front darts
- Black leather pumps
- Gold hoop earrings with single silver pearl dangles
- Black PVD-coated steel Movado wristwatch with black “Museum dial” (with gold 12:00 dot and gold hands) and gold crown on black top-stitched calfskin leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie as well as Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch!
You got something for me?
Would love to see more posts on women’s style in the movies.
Thanks for your enthusiasm! I’ve had a few requests along those lines, but I felt like this particular look was menswear-adjacent enough that I’d be able to write about it without sounding too uninformed!
If you ever need another entry of badass women’s fashion, check out Sigourney Weaver’s leather flight jacket in Aliens.
You know, it never occurred to me that she is basically wearing the Reservoir Dogs suit. Really cool breakdown of how that style translates to women.