Zodiac: Paul Avery’s Layered Corduroy and Denim

Robert Downey Jr. as Paul Avery in Zodiac (2007)

Robert Downey Jr. as Paul Avery in Zodiac (2007)


Robert Downey Jr. as Paul Avery, San Francisco Chronicle crime reporter

San Francisco, Fall 1969 to Fall 1970

Film: Zodiac
Release Date: March 2, 2007
Director: David Fincher
Costume Designer: Casey Storm

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!


Last week, the volunteer investigative group The Case Breakers released their research suggesting the identity of the infamous Zodiac Killer was Gary Francis Poste, adding a new suspect to a list that includes Arthur Leigh Allen, Rick Marshall, and Ted Cruz. While many experts have been quick to disprove the Poste theory, the current zeitgeist of fascination with true crime and every other podcast inspiring waves of amateur detectives encouraged me to revisit Zodiac, David Fincher’s extensively researched thriller that has been considered one of the best movies of the 21st century… despite being outgrossed by Wild Hogs during its opening weekend.

In addition to its eponymous killer, Zodiac centers around three real-life figures—San Francisco police inspector Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), and Chronicle crime writer Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.)—each driven to obsession by their relentless parallel pursuits to uncover the serial murderer’s identity. In each case, the obsession became mutual as Zodiac responded in kind by finding ways to communicate with and torment his pursuers, mentioning Toschi in one of his famous missives, barraging Graysmith’s home phone with creepy calls, and wishing Avery a happy Halloween via a threatening greeting card “from your secret pal” that includes a bloody scrap of Zodiac victim Paul Stine’s striped shirt.

Zodiac (2007)

“I feel it in my bones, you ache to know my name. And so, I’ll clue you in… but then, why spoil the game? Happy Halloween.”

The Chronicle team calls Inspector Toschi to collect evidence from the card, while a pill-popping Avery tries to steady his nerves before responding to the card by directly addressing the detective:

Dave… I want a gun.

CUT TO: Avery, demonstrating an Imperial stormtrooper’s skill with a Colt Official Police revolver at the shooting range with a button pinned to his chest declaring: “I Am Not Avery”.

What’d He Wear?

Before informality in the American workplace became more commonplace with phenomena like “casual Fridays”, Zodiac depicts Paul Avery as eschewing sartorial norms with offbeat office-wear that grows increasingly chaotic as the investigation into the Zodiac Killer begins to take even more of a personal toll.

One item from Avery’s wardrobe that reappears through the events of Zodiac is a well-worn gray corduroy jacket, its dirt and distress indicating that it has likely joined Avery for many misadventures chasing down leads or closing down the bar.  Constructed from a medium-wale corduroy cotton, the ventless jacket is styled like a single-breasted sports coat with wide shoulders and a looser, boxy fit that’s ideal for the way Avery layers it. The two-button jacket has notch lapels, a slim-welted breast pocket, and patch pockets on the hips. Unlike a traditional suit or sport jacket, the sleeves are left plain at the cuff with no buttons or even a vent where the buttons on a conventional jacket would be placed.

Robert Downey Jr. as Paul Avery in Zodiac (2007)

Avery’s composure will be short-lived once he absorbs the contents of this Halloween card.

For the memorable scene when Avery receives his threatening Halloween card from the Zodiac Killer in October 1970, he layers the jacket over a short-sleeved denim-effect shirt and an Army fatigue shirt with cutoff sleeves.

In the late 1960s, the real-life Avery had briefly left the Chronicle to move his family to Vietnam and launch a freelance photojournalism service, returning stateside in early 1969 in time to be assigned to cover the Zodiac killings. This well-worn Army shirt may have been chosen to reflect a memento from his days covering the war, the sleeves having been removed either by Avery or by its previous wearer. The five olive buttons up the front match those that close through each pocket flap.

Above the left pocket, Avery’s shirt retains the branch-identifying olive drab tape, though it looks like “U.S. Army” has been reinforced in black marker rather than the usual embroidered lettering. The mitred corners of the two chest pocket flaps indicate that the fatigue shirt is specifically from the short-lived “Type II” pattern of the OG-107 cotton sateen work utility uniform issued to the U.S. Army from 1963 to 1964. (The “Type I” predecessor carried over the World War II-era “HBT” uniform’s rectangular pockets while the “Type III”—as seen on M*A*S*H—has single-pointed pockets.)

Avery wears the modified fatigue shirt like a waistcoat, unbuttoned and untucked over a short-sleeved shirt made from a pale-blue denim-like cotton, a lighter wash than the classic chambray work shirt. Detailed with two patch pockets on the chest, the shirt has bone-colored four-hole buttons up the front placket to the long point collar, worn open to show his navy silk neckerchief printed with large crimson squares.

Robert Downey Jr. as Paul Avery in Zodiac (2007)

Avery drapes his corduroy jacket over his shoulders when consulting with his editors and Inspector Toschi about the Halloween card… and the prospect of arming himself.

Avery’s jeans are a very light denim wash, echoing the pale-blue shade of his short-sleeved shirt. Like his jacket and cutoff fatigue shirt, the jeans appear to have withstood considerable wear with sandy shades of distress particularly along the seams. The untucked jacket and shirts cover much of his waistband, preventing any more visible detail than the fashionable touch of flare on the bottoms.

The dark brown leather ankle boots have squared plain toes and a decorative strap over each vamp, with a long black zipper fastening up the inside. These are likely another well-traveled item from the Paul Avery wardrobe, as the uppers are showing signs of separating from the black rubber raised-heel soles. The tops of his black cotton lisle crew socks can be seen just over the top of each boot.

Robert Downey Jr. as Paul Avery in Zodiac (2007)

Avery’s slapdash style looks even more unorthodox when compared to the buttoned-up Boy Scout Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal).

The jacket had first appeared on screen about a year earlier when Avery, amidst sarcastic ridicule from the Chronicle‘s coffee vendor Shorty (James Carraway), watches celebrity lawyer Melvin Belli (Brian Cox) reaching out to Zodiac on a special edition of the morning news.

Avery again wears the corduroy jacket layered over a few hard-worn pieces from his collection, specifically a stone-colored cotton button-up shirt with hints of blue dye washed along the placket seams. He wears the shirt totally unbuttoned over his T-shirt, which is printed in an interlocking blue-on-white geometric pattern and finished with a narrow blue banded crew neck. Both shirts are untucked over the top of his darker blue denim jeans.

Robert Downey Jr. as Paul Avery in Zodiac (2007)

Two of the Chronicle’s least conventional dressers, Avery and Shorty watch Jim Dunbar’s morning news bulletin featuring Melvin Belli.

Avery wears thick gold rectangular-framed glasses with ridged arms. The bracelet on his right wrist is a series of brown nut beads through a dark brown cord.

Robert Downey Jr. as Paul Avery in Zodiac (2007)

Another rough morning summons Shorty’s “drunken reprobate” comment.

How to Get the Look

Robert Downey Jr. as Paul Avery in Zodiac (2007)

Robert Downey Jr. as Paul Avery in Zodiac (2007)

As a world-traveled veteran reporter, Paul Avery affects a slapdash and totally singular look that deviated from accepted attire at the office both at the time Zodiac was set and—in some cases—even now, more than a half-century later.

  • Gray corduroy cotton single-breasted 2-button sport jacket with narrow-welted breast pocket, patch hip pockets, plain cuffs, and ventless back
  • Olive drab cotton sateen OG-107 “Type II” fatigue uniform shirt with cutoff sleeves and two mitred-corner flapped chest pockets
  • Pale-blue chambray-style cotton short-sleeved shirt with long point collar, front placket, and two chest pockets
  • Navy with crimson square-pattern silk neckerchief
  • Light-blue denim jeans
  • Dark brown leather inside-zip ankle boots with decorative vamp-strap and black rubber raised-heel soles
  • Black cotton lisle crew socks
  • Thick gold rectangular-framed glasses
  • Brown nut-beaded bracelet on dark brown cord

As of October 11, 2021, Madewell offers a similar short-sleeved blue shirt.

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie and read the book by Robert Graysmith, portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal on screen and providing the basis for the film.

The Quote

Fuck a duck.

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