Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy, affable leader of the Hole-in-the-Wall bandit gang
Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah, Fall 1898
Film: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Release Date: September 23, 1969
Director: George Roy Hill
Costume Designer: Edith Head
“He speaks well and quickly, and has been all his life a leader of men; but if you asked him, he would be damned if he could tell you why,” William Goldman introduced Robert Leroy Parker in his Academy Award-winning screenplay, inspired by the true story of Parker and his partner-in-crime Harry Longabaugh… aka Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, respectively.
Goldman based his tale on the essence of truth: the two were indeed turn-of-the-century bandits who robbed trains and banks, their gang headquartered at the Hole-in-the-Wall hideout in Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains. Known as the Wild Bunch in real life (not to steal valor from Sam Peckinpah), the gang starts getting killed or arrested as “modern” technology begins catching up with the old-fashioned outlaws, so Butch and Sundance high-tail it to South America with Sundance’s wife Etta Place, eventually ending up in Bolivia where the two men were believed to have been cornered and killed by police in November 1908.
Did the two ever consider evading capture by enlisting to fight in the Spanish-American War? Good idea, but doubtful. Did Butch ever show off on a bicycle in the hopes of swaying Etta’s favors? Who’s to say! All we know is that George Roy Hill’s masterful direction, Conrad Hall’s glorious cinematography, Burt Bacharach’s memorable score, Goldman’s witty screenplay, and the winning chemistry between Paul Newman and Robert Redford established Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as a new kind of Western when it premiered on this day in 1969, transcending the genre as it ranges from bitingly funny to bleakly tragic, all in the blink of a fast-fired .45.
Butch: What’s the matter with you?
Sundance: I can’t swim!
Butch: (following a hearty laugh) Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill ya.
One can only imagine how surprised these two rough robbers would have been to discover how, nearly 70 years later, they would be immortalized by two of the most charismatic and handsome actors of their generation, trading barbs more than bullets as they debate the futility of diving off a cliff to evade Mr. E.H. Harriman’s relentless posse, all the time wondering: “Who are those guys?”
What’d He Wear?
Butch consistently wears a lighter-colored wardrobe than his pal Sundance, the proverbial “man in black” who wears a black shirt and pants in the States and a black suit in Bolivia. Even if their personalities weren’t so clearly defined in dialogue and mannerisms, this costume contrast differentiates Butch as the easygoing yin to Sundance’s more bitter, violent yang.
Thom Hatch’s book The Last Outlaws: The Lives and Legends of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid provides some sense of how the real Butch dressed, outside of his natty suits when famously posing with the rest of the Wild Bunch. For example, Butch was reported wearing a brown coat and denim overalls for a railroad station robbery in Castle Gate, Utah. A decade later during his and Sundance’s ostensible last stand in Bolivia, there are reports of Butch wearing a narrow soft-brimmed hat and dark red thin-waled corduroy suit, attire echoed by the corduroy jacket and straw hat Paul Newman wore throughout the trio’s South American adventures.
Prolific costume designer Edith Head developed consistent styles for Butch and Sundance that pay homage to Western tradition but with a contemporary twist, reflecting the more evolved fashions by the turn of the 20th century as well as allowing its protagonists to look relevant to “modern” audiences. There’s nary a bib shirt to be seen; instead, our heroes ride onto the screen dressed as though they could have been riding the range in 1969, without looking too anachronistic. (Indeed, ditching the hats—and gun-belts—would create a universal fall wardrobe even for non-equestrians.)
My friend John, who writes and researches the excellent Iconic Alternatives page, was recently inspired by Newman’s wardrobe as Butch Cassidy to find alternatives to the rugged work jacket that Butch wears for most of the film’s first half, set in the western United States.
Newman’s screen-worn jacket—which can be screen-matched with a stain on the lower left pocket—was sold in November 2020 by Heritage Auctions, describing it in the listing as:
Vintage original tan cotton jacket with leather trim on collar and pockets, 2-chest flap pockets and 2-hip pockets, rolled leather barrel toggles and leather loop front closure. No labeling present. Handwritten and faded, “Brooks” on the interior back. Expertly studio distressed. In vintage fine condition.
Whether you’re considering the style more than 50 years after the movie was made or more than a century since Butch and Sundance even lived, this style of work jacket—whether you call it a barn jacket, chore coat, or even a variation of the “stockade jacket” that John Wayne famously wore in his later Westerns—remains a undeniably utilitarian piece whether you’re riding the range or just looking to infuse your style with practical workwear.
Constructed of tan cotton flannel that appears prone to pilling through the hardships of life on the lam, the jacket’s short length enables Butch to easily hop from horseback to train car with easy access to his smoke-wagon, rigged on his right hip well-clear of the hem.
The jacket’s three leather “barrel” toggles close the front through coordinated leather loops on the left. There are straight horizontal yokes across the chest and back, and the four patch pockets on the front. The two chest pockets have flaps with brown leather trim that matches the facings of the revere-style collar, while the two hip pockets are open with matching leather trim across the top openings.
Butch wears a beige long-sleeved shirt made from a rugged cotton flannel that could withstand the hard-wearing rigors of his dangerous and rustic profession. While it’s true that work shirts of the era had started incorporating attached collars several decades before mass-produced dress shirts would, the tan buttons on the plain “French placket” front extend all the way down to the hem rather than being a “popover shirt” as would have been considerably more common through the 1890s.
The shirt has horizontal yokes across the chest and back, with an open pocket on the left side of the chest positioned just a few inches below it. Each squared barrel cuff closes with a single button.
Butch maintains his coordinated earth tones with brown flat front trousers made from a lightweight fabric with a propensity toward wrinkling, likely cotton rather than the warmer-wearing wool. The straight-leg trousers have western-style front pockets, no back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms that he wears outside of his boots. Through the somewhat anachronistic belt loops, he holds up the trousers with a brown leather belt that has a brass or gold-finished single-prong square buckle.
Though there are reports of the real Butch occasionally wearing his six-shooter in a shoulder rig, Newman’s Butch wears a classic Western gun-belt in brown leather, encircled around the back and left sides with cartridge loops that remain full of jacketed .45 Long Colt rounds for the Single Action Army holstered lower on his right hip.
The configuration appears to be a “Buscadero” rig, particularly common in early Westerns but gently anachronistic as it wouldn’t be developed or standardized to the ubiquity seen in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid until the 1920s when, according to Cochise Leather Company, the style would be widely adopted by both Hollywood cowboys and Texas lawmen. Butch’s Buscadero gun-belt flares out on the right side, where his holster is looped into an elongated slot, a short “belted” strap with a single-prong buckle holding the revolver in place. The gun-belt fastens with a thick Ranger-style single-prong buckle in silver or stainless steel.
Despite Sundance admitting to Etta that he believes his partner to be a “rotten gambler”, that doesn’t keep Butch from wearing a gambler-style cowboy hat, characterized by its round, telescopic crown. Made from a light tan felt, the wide-brimmed hat has a darker band so weathered by dirt and sweat that it had faded to a permanently dusty shade of taupe.
Both Butch and Sundance lose their hats when tumbling down to the rocky cliff from where they eventually jump to make their escape. Butch also leaves his jacket behind but slips off his gun-belt, which he and Sundance each grip when making their ill-advised but ultimately successful dive.
While Sundance wears black stitched cowboy boots to echo his gun-belt as well as his black collar, shirt, and trousers, Butch wears sandy brown sueded boots with no decoration or stitching up the shafts. The toes of Butch’s boots are also more squared than the pointed toes of his colleague’s boots.
As the hunt for Butch and Sundance heats up, they seek refuge at their favorite brothel… and for Butch, in the arms of his favorite soiled dove, Agnes (Cloris Leachman). He begins stripping down for the assignation, pulling off his boots to reveal off-white cotton socks. The posse’s arrival prevents him from stripping down further and giving Agnes “the concentration she deserves,” and he’s still clad in his stockinged feet when he and Sundance take to the bordello’s roof to make their escape.
Butch’s costume in the United States generally reflected what Head had sketched as her initial vision (as auctioned by Christie’s), albeit with a warmer-toned shirt and sans waistcoat.
Despite its nickname as the “Peacemaker”, the Colt Single Action Army lined the holsters of the old west’s bandits and badmen with as much ubiquity as it was issued to soldiers and sheriffs. The powerful and reliable Single Action Army revolutionized revolvers when it was introduced to the market in 1873, eventually available in a variety of barrel lengths and nearly three dozen calibers over its production timeline.
Though more technologically advanced revolvers had emerged over the previous quarter-century, the reliable Single Action Army was still the sidearm of choice for many westerners by the close of the 19th century. Butch and Sundance led their gang decades after the wildest days of the west, but they still opted for the single-action Colt revolvers that had been the choice revolvers for legends on all sides of the law like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Dalton brothers.
This real-life preference was reflected on screen with Newman’s Butch and Redford’s Sundance wreaking havoc across two continents with their own Single Action Army revolvers, specifically the 4¾”-barreled variant known alternately as the “Civilian”, “Gunfighter”, or “Quickdraw” model. Sundance particularly excels with his sidearm, while the easygoing Butch seems to carry his only because that’s what bandits do; after all, we typically Butch wrangling out of sticky situations using his wits rather than any powder-loaded ammunition.
Harvey: Guns or knives?
Butch: I don’t wanna shoot with you, Harvey!
Harvey: (drawing a Bowie knife) Anything you say, Butch…
In fact, I don’t think we even see Butch with his gun drawn until he and Sundance arrive in South America. When the time actually comes for Butch to need to fire, you almost expect him to pull a bullet from his pocket like Barney Fife to actually load it for, as he admits his inexperience when the two find themselves cornered by rival bandits in Bolivia:
Kid, there’s something I think I ought to tell you. I never shot anybody before.
Thom Hatch’s earlier referenced volume The Last Outlaws makes frequent mention of the real Butch Cassidy’s “wicked-looking” .45-caliber Colt single-action “six-shooter” over more than a decade of crimes across two continents.
A Colt Single Action Army that had actually been carried by Butch—and turned over to Utah authorities in 1899—was put up for auction in 2012, as reported by The Huffington Post and NBC News. The listing at Morphy Auctions extensively proves the provenance of Butch’s “Amnesty Colt”, which is nickel-plated with black hard rubber grips but otherwise has the same 4¾”-long “Quickdraw” barrel configuration as the screen-used Single Action Army revolvers.
The serial number of the auctioned weapon, #158402, traces the date of manufacture to late 1894, while Butch was serving time for cattle rustling in the Wyoming Territorial Prison. Colt shipped the new revolver to J.F. Schmelzer & Sons in Leavenworth, Kansas, on January 30, 1895.
At some point over the next year, the Ashley Hardware Store in Vernal, Utah, acquired the weapon, and it was likely here that Butch picked up the nickel-plated Colt following his pardon in January 1896. Indeed, Vernal would have been directly on the southwest-by-south path between the Laramie prison and Robbers Roost Canyon, where Cassidy formed the Wild Bunch that year with fellow thieves Elzy Lay, Will “News” Carver, George “Flat-Nose” Curry, Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan, and—of course—the Sundance Kid.
How to Get the Look
The grounded, light-hearted Butch Cassidy—or at least Paul Newman’s interpretation of the real outlaw—dresses apropos his screen persona, clad in light earth tones that visually differentiate him from the darkly dressed gunslinger who accompanies him across the West… and far south.
The timeless look may be the only part of Butch’s lifestyle and occupation that isn’t out of date by the dawn of the 20th century, as a chore coat, plain flannel shirt, and napped boots still comprise a rugged, practical, and comfortable work outfit in the 21st century, particularly for those planning to be out and about this first weekend of fall.
- Tan cotton work jacket with tan leather-faced camp collar, three leather toggles, two chest pockets (with leather-piped flaps), two patch hip pockets (with leather-piped openings), and plain cuffs
- Beige flannel shirt with horizontal yokes, left chest pocket, plain “French placket” front, and squared single-button cuffs
- Brown cotton flat front trousers with belt loops, Western-style front pockets, and straight plain-hemmed bottoms
- Brown leather belt with squared gold-toned single-prong buckle
- Brown leather Buscadero-style gun-belt with cartridge loops and right-side belted-strap holster, for 4¾”-barreled Single Action Army revolver
- Tan sueded leather plain-toe cowboy boots
- Off-white cotton boot socks
- Off-white cotton full-length union suit
- Tan felt round-crowned “gambler’s hat” with faded taupe band
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.