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
To commemorate the day that The Big Lebowski was released in 1998, March 6 is considered the high holy day of Dudeism, an “ancient” religious philosophy that touts itself as “the slowest-growing religion in the world” and inspired by the easygoing, non-judgmental attitude of The Dude himself.
We meet The Dude during a late-night Ralph’s run to pick up some much-needed half-and-half for his beloved White Russians, dressed in a soft robe, plaid shorts, sandals and sunglasses, a laidback loungewear ensemble emblematic of the unofficial wardrobe of Dudeists.
At the check-out counter, he dates a 69-cent check for September 11, 1991, though his stolen glance at then-President George H.W. Bush making his famous declaration that “this aggression will not stand” which was part of a speech delivered more than a year earlier on August 5, 1990.
Either way, we can assume he’s post-dating the check to some degree as, just a few days later, The Dude’s mild-mannered landlord reminds him that it’s almost the tenth of the month to which The Dude calmly responds “far out” before realizing this is a gentle reminder that his rent is in arrears.
What’d He Wear?
We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of when many countries around the world began implementing lockdowns and stay-at-home orders in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and more time at home with nowhere to go had yours truly sartorially shifting from suits, ties, and sport jackets to sweatpants, track suits, and—yes—the most comfortable bathrobes I own. (One year and zero haircuts later, it’s hard not to look in the mirror and see The Dude staring back from my reflection.)
The Big Lebowski recognizes the power of costumes as communication when we first meet The Dude, trudging up the dairy aisle at Ralph’s in a bathrobe and sunglasses. The image may evoke Jerry Seinfeld’s admonishment that “You know the message you’re sending out to the world with these sweatpants? You’re telling the world, ‘I give up. I can’t compete in normal society. I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.”
However, The Dude is hardly miserable, nor has he given up. I propose that, instead, we see a man choosing to live life completely on his own terms. He may not share our typical motivations, but when he cares about something—obtaining a decent rug, saving a woman who may be missing her toe, and shopping for White Russian ingredients—you can’t argue that The Dude doesn’t give it his all.
The Dude’s iconic rosy beige bathrobe is made from a soft ribbed cotton. Oversized as the set-in sleeves falling off his shoulders suggests, the robe extends down to his knees and can be tied around the waist with a self-belt sash. A large patch pocket is positioned on each hip just below the belt.
A few officially licensed replica robes have been made available over the years (via Amazon and Walmart). The actual screen-worn robe has been auctioned several times in the decades since The Big Lebowski‘s release, occasionally with the T-shirt and shorts as well (see Julien’s Live, Invaluable, and iCollector) before finding its current home—as of October 2019—at the Los Angeles County Museum on Fire.
That white cotton V-neck undershirt has seen better days, but that doesn’t stop The Dude from cycling through it (or others like it) with other outfits like his faded green hoodie or that famous Cowichan cardigan.
The Dude’s knee-length flat front shorts are patterned in a navy and green plaid, a variation of the classic Black Watch tartan. These same shorts later reappear toward the end when he, Walter (John Goodman), and Donny (Steve Buscemi) encounter the trio of nihilists in the bowling alley parking lot.
While they don’t get any screen time here, it’s probably safe to assume (and hope) that The Dude is wearing his usual white cotton Munsingwear briefs under his plaid shorts.
The priciest part of The Dude’s attire would likely be his sunglasses, which have been identified across the internet as the Vuarnet VL1307 model with matte tortoise plastic square frames and brown polarized lenses. Given their value, it’s no surprise that The Dude fishes them out of his toilet after he’s been ignominiously dunked by Lebowski’s henchmen.
Recognizing the significance of The Dude sporting their frames, Vuarnet reintroduced them as the Legend 03, proudly touted as “The Dude’s sunglasses”. If you’re not looking to drop $260 on a pair of new Vuarnets, you can occasionally find similar pairs on Amazon or eBay. If the brand matters less than the retro-inspired frame, alternatives include Electric California’s “Dude” model (for $160) or the JIM HALO polarized aviator (for under $20!)
This opening scene marks the sole appearance of The Dude wearing dark brown leather sandals, as his preferred open-toed footwear through the rest of The Big Lebowski would be the clear PVC jellies pulled from Jeff Bridges’ own closet. These slide sandals have double straps over the instep, connected in the center like these modern sandals from Dockers and Jerusalem Sandals.
Particularly apropos the latter recommendation above, these resemble the colloquial “Jesus sandals”, perhaps chosen here to present The Dude as a Christ-like figure, the kind of messiah who would be “takin’ it easy for all us sinners.”
A few scenes and a new rug later, The Dude’s back in his cotton robe, pulled tight so we don’t know what—if anything—he’s wearing under it, save for his white Otomix martial arts training shoes that he appropriately wears for practicing his tai chi. Detailed with black side trim (three short stripes bristling out perpendicularly from the end of a longer stripe, almost resembling a toothbrush), these trainers have just a single set of eyelets to tie the white laces at the top of each tongue.
Otomix was established in 1988, so The Dude’s shoes would have still been relatively new “in the early nineties, just about the time of our conflict with Sad’m and the Eye-rackies,” and have evolved to the current Original Lite kicking shoes still available in spring 2021, via Amazon and Otomix.
The robe appears next worn not by The Dude but by Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore), who dramatically drops it at her feet to reveal herself to—and ultimately, uh, “seduce”—The Dude.
Go Big or Go Home
The Dude seems to have stopped actively “updating” hiss life around the early-to-mid 1970s. Consider that almost all of the music he listens to was recorded during the half-dozen year span between 1966 and ’72, his much-abused Ford Gran Torino sedan was manufactured in 1973, and his beloved White Russian was a revolutionary cocktail in the mid-’60s before cocktail culture faded away the following decade. Even Walter Sobchak, a gun-toting paranoiac in the John Milius mold, is the one to correct The Dude’s outdated racial terminology.
Loosely inspired by the Coens’ friend and colleague Jeff Dowd, The Dude shares Dowd’s history of participation in the Seattle Liberation Front—or Seattle Seven, with “six other guys”—which had disbanded by late 1971. Given the indictments and dissolution of the group, this could have been a precipitous factor in The Dude withdrawing from active participation in society.
We can also consider The Dude’s likely age. Jeff Bridges was born in November 1949 and thus would have been 47 when The Big Lebowski was produced over the early months of 1997. Assigning his same age to his character and shifting the timeline back six or seven years, The Dude would have turned 30 around 1974, an age when adults are expected to truly own their lives, or in the parlance of our times, be Adulting.
However, this was never the life for The Dude to follow. His philosophy more rooted in the free-loving, laidback hippie culture of the late ’60s, The Dude was likely disillusioned by the corruption and paranoia of the Watergate era, and he’d hardly find any value in the rat race of competitive capitalism celebrated in Reagan’s America throughout the ’80s. Assuming he had a steady—if not exactly vast—income as the unspoken heir to the Rubik’s cube, The Dude may have made a conscious, subconscious, or unconscious decision to simply “abide” from the mid-’70s onward, avoiding provocation by spending his days at leisure with the help of bowling, Creedence tapes, and the occasional intoxicating substance.
Of course, all of this is thrown into disarray when someone pees on his rug.
The Dude’s Venice, California pad is an exercise in messy minimalism, the exact opposite of The Big Lebowski in his opulent manor with the only overlap being both Lebowskis’ laudable taste in Persian rugs. The Dude doesn’t mind the modesty of his dwellings, keeping a humble home of few but proud possessions, including a fading rug that, as his friends are quick to note, really ties the room together.
For The Rug Seller, Adina Campbell explored the rugs of The Big Lebowski in depth. Though the Dude’s peed-upon rug is only fleetingly seen at the start of the movie, she suggests this ivory-colored rug may be a traditional Tabriz, named for the storied rug-weaving center in the capital city of Iran’s East Azarbaijan Province.
Learning that his rug was collateral damage in a case of mistaken identification, The Dude seeks satisfaction from millionaire Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleston), taking it upon himself to annex a fresh rug from The Big Lebowski’s Pasadena mansion. Campbell identifies this more clearly seen second rug as a lower-grade variation of a classic Kasbah rug, “characterized by their red fields, blue borders, stylized flowers (known as palmettes) and medallions.”
Continuing the home decorating tips from The Dude, we see that—either by design, or informed by budget limitations—he keeps his furniture minimal and function-oriented, with a formica table here, an unused desk there, and a bamboo-framed couch in the corner, all with scattered takeout containers, bowling books, and Creedence tapes illustrated a laidback, leisurely existence.
While Captain Beefheart’s bluesy “Her Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles” percolates from a tucked-away turntable, The Dude stations himself at the living room’s focal point, a bamboo-built bar overseen by an oversized poster of Nixon rolling in the basement bowling alley he had installed in the White House, overseeing The Dude’s domain like a corrupt T.J. Eckleburg. (Curiously, F. Scott Fitzgerald detailed the self-promoting oculist’s eyes as “blue and gigantic” with retinas a yard high, a more literal measurement of a subject’s blue eyes than the “blue million miles” of Don Van Vliet’s unnamed muse.)
The tiki-themed bar cabinet may seem compact for a notorious imbiber like The Dude, but he keeps it well-stocked with his favorites and doesn’t bother with frivolities. No sticky old bottles of blue curaçao or prized eighteen-year single malts, just the Smirnoff and Kahlúa he needs for his signature drink. Which leads us to…
What to Imbibe
Even those who haven’t seen The Big Lebowski are aware of The Dude’s penchant for White Russians, the chilly concoctions born of Cold War-era cocktail culture. The Dude mixes his prized “Caucasians” with Smirnoff “Red Label” 80-proof vodka, Kahlúa coffee liqueur, and—when he can afford the 69-cent check—half-and-half creamer from Ralph’s.
The origins of the drink date back to 1949, that murky era after World War II but before Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt, when the simple combination of vodka darkened by coffee liqueur was declared a Black Russian. An enterprising drinker (or, as The Sopranos may suggest, an alcoholic who wouldn’t allow digestive distress to interrupt their drinking) added cream somewhere along the way and the White Russian appeared in the November 21, 1965 issue of the Oakland Tribune that stipulated single ounces of vodka, cream, and Coffee Southern liqueur.
More than 30 years and nine on-screen White Russians later, the Coens brought the drink back into public consciousness as The Dude’s cocktail of choice, enjoyed to the degree that he doesn’t even seem to bother stocking his home bar with ingredients that wouldn’t make his beloved Caucasians.
How to Get the Look
This year, the “high holy day” of Dudeism falls on a Saturday, providing all the excuse you need to spend the day sporting laidback loungewear.
- Rosy beige ribbed cotton knee-length bathrobe with hip pockets and sash
- White cotton V-neck short-sleeve undershirt
- Navy-and-green tartan plaid flat front shorts
- Dark brown leather cross-strap slide sandals
- Vuarnet VL1307 sunglasses with matte tortoise plastic square frames, “saddle nose” bridge with molded plastic pads, and brown polarized 58mm lenses
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, which is one of my all-time favorites. Sit back in your comfiest robe, smoke ’em if you got ’em, and enjoy a White Russian.
At least I’m housebroken!