Jeff Bridges as Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, laidback stoner and bowler
Los Angeles, Fall 1991
Film: The Big Lebowski
Release Date: March 6, 1998
Director: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Costume Designer: Mary Zophres
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today would have been the 100th birthday of Japanese baseball star Kaoru Betto who, despite his talents as one of the league’s earliest power hitters, may be most recognizable to many as his likeness graces the front of Jeff Bridges’ T-shirts in Cold Feet (1989), The Fisher King (1991), and most famously in The Big Lebowski (1998).
Born in Nishinomiya on August 23, 1920, Kaoru Betto made his Nippon Professional Baseball debut as an outfielder for the Ōsaka Tigers (now the Hanshin Tigers) in 1948. After two years with the Tigers, Betto moved to play for the Mainichi Orions (now the Chiba Lotte Marines) for the team’s inaugural season in 1950. Having attained a .335 batting average and 43 home runs during that first season with the Orions and leading them to victory in the first Japan Series, Betto was awarded the Pacific League’s first NPB Most Valuable Player. Betto finished playing after the 1957 season, focusing solely on managing. “The Gentleman of Baseball” died on April 16, 1999, a year after The Big Lebowski was released.
Though the shirt has become memorable and iconic in its own right, its actual appearance in The Big Lebowski is relatively brief. The Dude is summoned back to the Lebowski mansion, where Jeffrey “the Big” Lebowski (David Huddleston) dramatically informs him that his wife has been kidnapped and he requests the Dude’s help in finding her, further briefed by Lebowski’s devoted aide Brandt (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
What’d He Wear?
While it may not be as influential as the plain white tees worn by the likes of Marlon Brando or James Dean in the ’50s, The Dude’s raglan-sleeved baseball shirt certainly has a place among the pantheon of famous movie T-shirts. Stenciled with the cartoon likeness of the bespectacled Kaoru Betto at bat, the Dude’s shirt has become as much a cult favorite as the movie itself, with dozens of replicas available online in a variety of colorways.
Raglan T-shirts with ¾-length sleeves have long been the preferred undershirt of MLB players, likely chosen for the same reason Aquascutum had developed the sleeve for Lord Raglan a century earlier: extending the sleeve to the collar provides greater arm movement to the wearer, particularly essential for a sport involving plenty of throwing, catching, and sliding. For the sword-wielding 1st Baron Raglan, a British Army field marshal, this meant a newly commissioned coat. For our sandlot lords, the simpler T-shirt suffices.
The Dude’s shirt, like most baseball tees, is two-toned with a tan body and darker raglan sleeves and ribbed neckband. I had assumed these latter parts to be a tonally coordinated brown, though they take on a purplish cast under the brighter light of the Lebowski mansion hallway as seen here. Betto is stenciled in black on the front of the shirt, wearing his Ōsaka Tigers uniform and heralded by three Japanese characters that I’m unable to translate; I’ve seen claims that this roughly translates to “strongly influential” but I can’t back that up for myself.
In a 2014 Reddit AMA, Bridges confirmed that the shirt was one of many pieces that Mary Zophres picked out from the Bridges family collection, clarifying that “the baseball shirt with the famous Japanese baseball player on it I stole from my brother Beau, that is in the movie.”
In what could be argued a harmoniously athletic-oriented coordination, the Dude wears the same garish weightlifter pants with his Betto shirt that he would later wear with his Cowichan cardigan. These elastic-banded cotton pants are patterned in light blue, purple, salmon, and blue stripes with a light blue stripe of stick figures alternating with a more abstract pattern. Like other items from the Dude’s eclectic wardrobe, they’ve been reproduced with varying authenticity by brands like Costume Agent (as seen on Amazon).
The Dude’s signature “jelly” sandals, constructed of transparent PVC, have been suggested to be another Bridges-influenced costume choice as the actor brought his own jellies to play the Dude when not wearing his white Otomix trainers. If you’re interested in a pair of jellies yourself, you can check out the dwindling stocks of Sarraizienne T-bar sandals from LaMeduse.com. (As the site explains, “Meduse in French means jellyfish because of the similarity between jellyfish tentacles and Medusa’s hair.”)”
More Bridges in Betto
Jeff Bridges had first debuted a Kaoru Betto baseball shirt on the big screen about a decade earlier in the little-seen crime comedy Cold Feet (1989) co-starring Keith Carradine, Sally Kirkland, Bill Pullman, Rip Torn, and Tom Waits. Bridges appears midway through the proceedings as an easygoing bartender whose dress and demeanor could suggest that this was the Dude himself in a past life, though the movie itself may not be worth enduring.
Bridges brought Betto back two years later for his far more prominent role in The Fisher King, wearing it under a black linen shawl-collar jacket and tucked into his pleated trousers when sharing an elevator ride with Michael Jeter, whose drag outfit was reportedly inspired by Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again. (I’ve also heard that Bridges wore a Kaoru Betto shirt in TRON: Legacy, though I haven’t seen it nor do I have easy access to it to confirm.)
These two older films clearly feature a different T-shirt, not only recognizably different for its black-sleeved, white-bodied colorway but also the narrower neckband and a lower placement of the Betto graphic. This nullified my initial thought that perhaps the Dude had just mixed this with other colorful shirts in his laundry one too many times as Zophres herself described the Dude to Another Man for the film’s 20th anniversary: “he does laundry every two months and never separates his whites, so it’s a mish mash of muddied color.”
One question that remains: did Jeff also grab this shirt from his brother Beau’s closet?
How to Get the Look
Trying to pull it all off at the same time would look too much like cribbing The Dude’s own effortless style (unless you’re in the market for a very comfortable Halloween costume…), but you could always pay tribute to El Duderino by subtly rotating some of his pieces through your wardrobe, whether that means pairing a Kaoru Betto T-shirt in your chosen color scheme with a pair of jeans or lounging around the house in the boldly patterned weightlifter pants that you wouldn’t dream of wearing in public.
- Tan (with brown ¾-length raglan sleeves) baseball T-shirt with Kaoru Betto graphic
- Blue/purple/salmon vibrantly crazy-striped “weightlifter” pants with drawstring waist and on-seam side pockets
- Transparent PVC “jelly” T-bar sandals
- Vuarnet VL1307 sunglasses with matte black plastic square frames, “saddle nose” bridge with molded plastic pads, and green polarized 58mm lenses
In the years since The Big Lebowski gained its cult following, Kaoru Betto T-shirts have become widely available as a staple of Dudeism fandom. I picked up my all-gray Betto shirt from The Dude’s Threads, which includes baseball tees among other Betto-printed gear from coffee mugs to COVID-influenced facemasks.
Other Betto shirts that will really tie your wardrobe together can be found on Amazon, Cult Classic Shirts, Found Item Clothing, or TV Store Online. Alternately, you could just pick up a brown-and-tan raglan T (like this from Merchology) and screen print your own image onto it… or you could go a different route and pick one up that features the Dude himself at bat.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, one of my all-time favorites.
You mind if I do a J?