Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party
Chicago, Fall 1968
Film: Judas and the Black Messiah
Release Date: February 12, 2021
Director: Shaka King
Costume Designer: Charlese Antoinette Jones
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
This year, Daniel Kaluuya won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his charismatic portrayal of Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, born 73 years ago today on August 30, 1948. Kaluuya’s Oscar marked one of many accolades for Judas and the Black Messiah, which was also nominated for Best Picture and won Kaluuya himself at least 15 additional acting awards.
Judas and the Black Messiah follows Hampton over the last year of his life, from the time that the titular “Judas”, federal informant Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), infiltrated the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers. We meet Hampton in the midst of his ongoing campaign to fundraise and recruit for the Black Panthers, driving interest in his program to feed Chicago’s hungry children, and building his “Rainbow Coalition” that would unite diverse groups like the Young Lords and the Young Patriots in the fight for social change.
What’d He Wear?
Nominated for Excellence in Period Film by the Costume Designers Guild, Charlese Antoinette Jones had been researching material for more than a year before production of Judas and the Black Messiah was even greenlit, according to Crystal Ro for Buzzfeed. In addition to the photographs, footage, and documentaries chronicling Fred Hampton’s public work at the end of the end of the 1960s, Jones also consulted many contemporary catalogs and magazines like Ebony and GQ to source how those in his orbit—from fellow Panthers to FBI agents—would have dressed.
The depth of Jones’ extensive research translates from reality to screen, depicting not only the Black Panthers’ famous berets and field jackets but also the real Hampton’s no-frills, utilitarian sense of dress, anchored by plain pullover shirts and rugged, practical coats that provided an insular layer during his work in the Windy City.
Kaluuya’s Hampton is introduced during a demonstration at Wilbur Wright College, where his electrifying revolutionary speech attracts the attention of student Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback). He’s dressed for the rally in a camo bucket hat, heavy corduroy coat, and simple sweatshirt, all of which reflect items worn by the real Hampton.
The actual type of hat worn by Hampton is specifically called a “Jones hat”, in reference to the Jones Hat Company in St. Joseph, Missouri that had pioneered this style of hunting headgear in the 1880s. Though it may look like a traditional bucket hat with its soft, bell-shaped crown and downward sloping brim, the front of the brim is actually stiffer than the rest, which can all be turned up for a baseball cap-like effect that leaves only the front of the brim folded down. The crown is comprise of six triangular panels that converge under a button at the top.
Consistent with the Panthers’ incorporation of military styles, Hampton’s heavy cotton canvas hat is patterned in the traditional ERDL camouflage that had been developed for the U.S. Army decades earlier but not widely issued until the Vietnam War, specifically the “highland” pattern in tan, brown, green, and black which would evolve into the currently issued “U.S. Woodland” pattern in the early 1980s.
Hampton’s single-breasted, thigh-length car coat is made from a copper brown medium-waled corduroy with three dark brown woven leather buttons widely spaced up the front. The top part of the revere collar is faced in a smooth suede-like fustian, detailed only with four seams running the around the collar.
While the color was likely informed by the real Hampton’s frequently worn corded coat, it’s also consistent with Jones’ costume design vision, as she explained to Amy Lee for ET Online that “the Panthers’ color palette is more of a warm, earth tones palette.” Jones elaborated to Fawnia Soo Hoo for Fashionista that the vintage screen-worn jacket is “just a little bit more dynamic than the one the actual Chairman Fred wore — the lapels are bigger, the colors a little bit more vibrant.”
The shoulders are offset by heavily swelled yokes, and the pocket configuration mimics some pea jackets with a pair of slanted-entry hand pockets positioned just above the flapped hip pockets.
Consistent with historical documentation, Hampton’s on-screen wardrobe is driven by function and utility, a particular contrast with the flashier-dressing Bill O’Neal.
To that end, Hampton frequently dresses in plain crew-neck T-shirts and sweatshirts, such as the heathered gray cotton raglan-sleeve sweatshirt worn under his corduroy coat for the Wilbur Wright College demonstration and sans coat in a following scene as he shares his philosophy with the latest Panther recruits.
In these earlier scenes, Hampton frequently wears a pair of rich dark blue denim jeans with the bottoms self-cuffed to break over the top of his black leather combat boots. The contrasting arcuate stitching across the back pockets suggests Levi’s.
As the coalition grows stronger, Hampton makes more public appearances wearing the signature black beret that the Black Panthers adopted following co-founder Huey P. Newton describing the soft, round-crowned headgear as a revolutionary symbol across the world.
Jones intentionally followed historical record by not placing Hampton in a black beret for many scenes; alternately, we see Bill O’Neal wearing his beret almost constantly, part of his overcompensation to look the part of the role he’s playing on behalf of the feds. In addition to the Panthers in their black berets, the rest of the Rainbow Coalition adopt their own colored berets, with the Crowns in green, the Young Patriots in brown, and the Young Lords in purple. According to Nikara Jones of Footwear News, Jones sourced the berets from military outfitter Rothco.
For these scenes, Hampton has swapped his sweatshirt for a loose-fitting white T-shirt with a narrow crew neck, tucked into a pair of olive drab flat front trousers that present a militant appearance similar to the then-issued OG-107 fatigue pants (though these trousers have more conventional side pockets rather than the patch-style pockets on G.I. OG-107s.)
You can read more about the costumes of Judas and the Black Messiah from these interviews with Jones:
- “23 Interesting Things To Know About The Costumes In ‘Judas And The Black Messiah'” by Crystal Ro for Buzzfeed
- “‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ Costume Designer on Recreating Iconic Black Panther Party Outfits” by Amy Lee for Entertainment Tonight
- “The Costumes in ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ Offer a History Lesson in Social Justice” by Fawnia Soo Hoo for Fashionista
- “How ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ Costume Designer Recreated Iconic Black Panther Party Uniforms” by Nikara Jones for Footwear News
- “The Costumes Of Judas & The Black Messiah” by Charles McFarlane for Put This On
- “A Look at the Costume Design of ‘Judas and the Black Messiah'” by Jazz Tangcay for Variety
- “The Politics of Fashion in Judas and the Black Messiah” by Jasmine Fox-Suliaman for Who What Wear
How to Get the Look
In addition to the Black Panthers’ trademark black berets and field jackets, Judas and the Black Messiah presents equally functional alternatives inspired by the actual Fred Hampton’s approach to dressing, such as this versatile corded coat.
- Copper brown corduroy car coat with revere collar, three woven leather buttons, hand pockets, and flapped hip pockets
- Heathered light gray cotton crew-neck raglan-sleeve sweatshirt
- Dark blue Levi’s jeans or olive drab flat front trousers
- Black leather lace-up combat boots
- Camouflage canvas Jones-style hunting hat
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
America is on fire right now, and until that fire is extinguished, don’t nothin’ else mean a goddamn thing.