James Stewart as John “Chip” Hardesty, earnest FBI agent
Oklahoma, June 1930
Film: The FBI Story
Release Date: October 1959
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Costume Designer: Adele Palmer
One of the greatest stars of the 20th century, James Stewart—known to friends and fans as “Jimmy”—was born on this day in 1908 in Indiana, Pennsylvania, just about an hour west of Pittsburgh.
Among the less celebrated titles in the actor’s extensive filmography is The FBI Story, a J. Edgar Hoover-influenced epic exploring the early successes of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Jimmy plays our fictional all-American agent John “Chip” Hardesty, whose Forrest Gump-like decades-long career with the Bureau includes a role in nearly every major investigation from tracking down the bank-robbing “Public Enemies” of the Depression and World War II spies to the bombing of United Flight 629 in 1955.
An interesting chapter of The FBI Story sends Chip to Oklahoma in the summer of 1930 to investigate the “Reign of Terror” in Osage County, Oklahoma, represented on screen as the obsoletely named “Wade County”. These murders of dozens of Osage Native Americans throughout the ’20s were recently explored by David Grann in his fascinating book, Killers of the Flower Moon, which provided the basis for a Martin Scorsese film of the same name currently in production starring Jesse Plemons, Robert De Niro, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Last month, production began in Oklahoma with cities like Pawhuska, the seat of Osage County, transformed to look as they did a century ago, and an official production photo has already been publicized featuring Lily Gladstone and DiCaprio as Mollie and Ernest Burkhart, two of the central figures in the real-life case.
What’d He Wear?
Posing as a cattle dealer, Chip keeps his seersucker and serge suits hung up as he ambles through the town clad in hard-wearing denim and khaki as he smokes his Cubanola cigars.
Chip’s undercover denim jacket shares some style details with the then-contemporary Levi’s 506XX, particularly the single breast pocket with its button-down flap and the double forward-facing “knife”-pleated front, though the rest of the jacket differs from the Levi design now known as the “Type I” trucker jacket.
The body of the jacket is constructed from a rich indigo blue denim, though the collar is a lighter slate-shaded blue. When Stewart cuffs back the end of each sleeve, this too reveals a similar lighter blue on the reverse side.
Rather than the metal rivet buttons associated with this style of jacket, Stewart’s screen-worn coat has dark blue 4-hole plastic buttons. The front and back are detailed with horizontal yokes, and there’s no additional waist fastening—neither cinch-back nor side-tabs—at the hem.
Chip wears a khaki gabardine work shirt, a quasi-military style with two chest pockets, each closing with a single-button flap detailed with mitred corners. The shirt also has a wide front placket, single-button barrel cuffs, and a point collar that Stewart wears in an open-neck style.
Chip’s beige trousers also suit his cover, styled with pointed belt loops, Western-style slanted front pockets, and back pockets covered with Western-pointed single-button flaps. Likely made from the same “chino” cotton popularized in the U.S. following the warm-weather uniforms appropriated for the Spanish-American War, these lightweight yet durable trousers would help establish Chip as an expert as his investigation stretched from the spring into summer.
Through the wide, pointed loops, Chip wears a tan tooled leather belt in the Western tradition, rigged to a large engraved silver belt buckle with a gold-inlaid center.
The straight legs of Chip’s beige trousers are finished with plain-hemmed bottoms that nearly cover the decoratively stitched shafts of his light brown cowboy boots.
Chip wisely appoints his “cattle dealer” look with the appropriate cowboy hat, in this case made from a light stone-gray felt with a narrow stone-colored band, echoed by the same fabric edging the brim. Rather than the classic cattleman’s shape with three parallel creases across the top of the crown, Chip wears a pinch-front style that shares its shape with the more urban-friendly fedora.
How to Get the Look
Agent Hardesty’s dressed-down undercover outfit of a denim trucker jacket, work shirt, and chinos takes a generally timeless approach, contemporary to both the ’20s setting and the ’50s production as well as something that could be translated to a modern wardrobe, with or without his Western touches of hat, belt buckle, and boots.
- Indigo blue denim Type I-style trucker jacket with light-colored collar, dark blue plastic buttons, flapped breast pocket, and double “knife”-pleated front
- Khaki gabardine work shirt with point collar, front placket, two flapped chest pockets, and single-button cuffs
- Beige chino cotton flat front trousers with pointed belt loops, slanted Western-style front pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Light brown leather cowboy boots with tan-stitched shafts
- Light stone-gray felt pinch-front cowboy hat with narrow stone-colored band and edges
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, though it’s a heavily sanitized dramatization that perpetuates widely disproven mythologies of American history, such as the rationalization of Japanese-American internment camps and “Ma” Barker supposedly being a criminal mastermind.
To really learn more about the story that inspired this chapter of The FBI Story, I highly recommend David Grann’s 2017 book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. Osage writer John Joseph Matthews also fictionalized the story for his novel Sundown, published in 1934, just a few years after the sentencing of many of the ruthless figures behind the murders.
Oh, by the way, Mr. McCutcheon, you owe me a dollar on that bet we made… the FBI did come to Wade County.