Sneakers: Redford’s Varsity Jacket and Karmann Ghia
Robert Redford as Martin Bishop (formerly Martin Brice), digital security consultant and fugitive hacker
San Francisco, Fall 1991
Release Date: September 11, 1992
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Costume Designer: Bernie Pollack
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Robert Redford looks like he’s having a great time in Sneakers, Phil Alden Robinson’s 1992 crime comedy about a gang of professional computer hackers. Redford stars as Martin Brice, a digital “sneaker” who has spent more than 20 years on the lam legitimizing his talent to become a security consultant, re-christened Martin Bishop. His background leads to recruitment by two men claiming to work for the NSA, forcing Martin and his team to take on a dubiously legitimate job.
Despite its subject matter, Sneakers never feels excessively dated as it focuses less on the technical aspects of digital hacking and more on the camaraderie among Redford’s motley band, consisting of Sidney Poitier, Dan Aykroyd, David Strathairn, River Phoenix, and Mary McDonnell. Redford’s character zips through the City by the Bay in a classic Karmann Ghia convertible, weathered but reliable like the then-56-year-old actor himself.
The movie had long been on my radar, thanks to my long-time Redford fandom and requests by BAMF Style readers like Luca and Ryan. I’d even picked up a bargain-bin DVD, but I hesitated to hit the play button; as much as I like Redford, I’d been less than impressed by his ’90s-era movies like Havana, a stylish but swollen Casablanca wannabe, and Indecent Proposal, which was less indecent than it was unentertaining. (These are just my opinions, of course!)
Despite its production smack dab between these two, Sneakers impressed me as a fun way to spend two hours. My first thought was that Sneakers was essentially the Steely Dan of movies: despite being technically proficient and packed with talent, it may not always come to the top of mind as a favorite movie… but your dad probably likes it.
What’d He Wear?
One of the most frequently seen pieces from Redford’s utilitarian screen wardrobe in Sneakers is a varsity jacket, appropriately introduced when we meet the young Martin Brice (Gary Hershberger) in December 1969 as a young “sneaker” at Union College, coincidentally the same institution used in The Way We Were to again portray a younger Redford receiving his higher education.
Varsity jackets are alternately known as “letter jackets”, as illustrated by when we first see Martin’s jacket, emblazoned with an embroidered “U” over the left breast and a “74” over the right forearm, the former indicating the name of the college and the latter likely suggesting his intended year of graduation. These jackets had been pioneered at Harvard after the Civil War, developed to reward skilled baseball players before they became widely adopted across many universities and athletic programs.
The college-aged Martin youthfully appoints his jacket by layering it over a gray hoodie and a gray horizontally block-striped polo shirt. (Though cosmetically similar to the jacket he would later wear, there are subtle differences like the tan leather welts over the slanted pocket openings and the beige striping on the waist hem.)
More than 20 years later, the varsity jacket is still Martin Brice’s go-to outerwear, though he’s understandably abandoned the Union College jacket which could potentially belie his true identity.
The latter-seen jacket follows traditional varsity jacket styling, with its two-color/two-material construction of a dark navy blue boiled wool body and light brown leather sleeves, echoing the colorway of the button-up baseball jacket Redford had worn nearly a decade earlier as Roy Hobbs, a 1930s power hitter for the fictional New York Knights in The Natural. (An IMDB trivia entry states that Redford wears the same jacket in Sneakers, though the many style differences between the two clarify that this is not true.)
The jacket has seven nickel snaps up the front, with the surfaces finished in a dark blue to match the boiled wool body, and the bottom two snaps closely spaced on the waistband while the remaining five are equally spaced up to the neck. Many varsity jackets, including the one Martin wears in 1969, have leather-detailed hand pockets, though the pockets on Martin’s “present day” jacket are welted with the same boiled wool as the jacket body.
While some sartorial terms are illogical shorthand, the “boiled wool” used to create the navy blue jacket body is exactly that; the wool is agitated in hot water, cleansing and shrinking it to a dense and durable felt in a millennia-old process known as “fulling”. The jacket is often lined in a quilted satin through the body and sleeves.
The light brown leather sleeves are set-in at the shoulders, finished at the cuff with elasticized knitting banded in navy and brown, echoing the waist hem and collar.
Martin typically wears his varsity jacket with light blue denim Levi’s jeans, likely the classic 501® Original Fit with a button fly, straight leg, and five-pocket layout with the brand’s signature copper rivets and arcuate back-pocket stitch.
Consistent with the jacket’s casual nature, Martin almost always wears it dressed down with comfortable cotton crew-neck T-shirts and sweatshirts. The first is a dark navy blue sweatshirt we see as Martin’s out on a “bank job” with his team, the first we see of him in the present day.
We see another crew-neck sweatshirt several scenes later, this time in a lighter teal-green cotton. Somewhat oversized with the set-in sleeves falling off Martin’s shoulders, he wears it tucked in and with the sleeves pushed up his forearms.
Martin and his partner Donald Crease (Poitier) drive to meet their contacts and turn over the “black box” recovered from Dr. Janek (Donal Logue). Under the varsity jacket he wears to the meeting, Martin wears a baggy heather gray cotton crew-neck shirt, though the lighter weight suggests a long-sleeved T-shirt rather than a sweatshirt like his others.
Once Martin and his team realize that their client wasn’t actually the NSA, he dresses for his rainy night on the lam by pulling on a trench coat rather than his characteristic varsity jacket.
The knee-length’s coat shell is the classic water-treated cotton gabardine in a light taupe, detailed with a gun flap over the right shoulder and a storm flap across the back as well as shoulder straps (epaulettes) fastened over the crest of each raglan sleeve. The coat’s double-breasted configuration consists of five rows of two buttons each (10×5), with a full belt around the waist that Martin wears undone throughout the sequence. The sleeves are tightened around each cuff with a belt that fastens through a leather-covered single-prong buckle. The coat also has slanted-entry side pockets, deep enough for Martin to store his .38 in the tradition of the traditional trench-wearing noir hero.
The movie’s title be damned, Martin’s go-to kicks aren’t sneakers but instead a pair of brown suede penny loafers, which he wears almost exclusively throughout Sneakers. (The significant exception would be the climactic sequence, when he wears lace-up brogues with his tweed sports coat, chambray work shirt, and pleated khakis… but we’ll look at that jacket another time!)
Worn with off-white socks, Martin’s slip-on loafers incorporate the styling points that have characterized them since G.H. Bass first introduced the “Weejun” in the 1930s, from the moc-toe stitching to the flat strap across the saddle with the “penny” slot.
When Martin returns from being briefly kidnapped, his team helps him to retrace his steps to find Cosmo after an attempt to deal with the real NSA proves… unlikely. He changes into an olive green cotton long-sleeved shirt that, with its seven white buttons up the front placket, is the dressiest shirt he wears with the varsity jacket. The shirt has a breast pocket as well as barrel cuffs and gauntlets that each close through a button.
Redford had been wearing dive watches on screen since the early ’70s, when a Rolex Submariner could be spotted on his wrist in The Candidate, All the President’s Men, and The Electric Horseman, all bookending his Doxa in Three Days of the Condor. Following a break for period flicks and movies that called for different timepieces, Redford strapped on another diver for Sneakers.
Martin wears a stainless steel SEIKO 7A28-7049, a quartz chronograph introduced by SEIKO for their “Sports 100” line in 1983. Powered by a 15-jewel movement, this attractive watch has a black rotating bezel that flanks the matte black dial that boasts an outer tachymeter and three sub-registers at the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions. The 38.5mm-diameter case is fastened to a tapered bar link bracelet.
As in his previous movie, Havana, Sneakers would be one of the few movies of Redford’s post-1966 filmography where he doesn’t wear the etched silver ring he received as a gift from a Hopi group. (The ring would be back on his right hand in time for Indecent Proposal the following year.)
After learning that his team has likely been compromised, Martin arms himself with a Smith & Wesson Model 60 revolver with black Pachmayr grips, likely the same that his ex-CIA team member Donald Crease (Sidney Poitier) carries in a shoulder holster.
When Smith & Wesson introduced the Model 60 in 1965, it was the first mass-produced revolver to be made of stainless steel. The five-shot Model 60 evolved as a variant of the Model 36 “Chiefs Special”, also built on Smith & Wesson’s compact J-frame, and was available only in .38 Special and with a “snub-nose” barrel of just under two inches.
After its first thirty years in production, the Model 60 was retooled in 1996 on the strengthened J-Magnum frame with a lengthened cylinder that could support .357 Magnum ammunition. Now available in both .357 Magnum and .38 Special, the reconfigured Model 60 models also included a 3″-barreled version in addition to the standard 2″ barrel, though the latter now technically measured just over two inches. Yet another barrel length would be made available when the 5″-barreled Model 60 was introduced in 2005.
Martin Bishop drives an orange 1967 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia convertible, its production dating back to his pre-fugitive days. While it’s never explicitly stated, it’s possible that the idealistic Martin had dreamed of owning one during his early days as a “sneaker” and finally obtained one after channeling his abilities to find success as a legitimate consultant.
A Karmann Ghia had previously been the subject of a BAMF Style Car Week blog post, specifically looking at the blue convertible driven by a denim-clad Brad Pitt in an early scene in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. As I explored in that post, the Karmann Ghia story began in the early 1950s as Volkswagen sought a sleek and stylish halo model to capitalize on the growing success of their rear-engine Type 1, or “Beetle”.
The eventual result, revealed to the world in 1955 at the Paris and Frankfurt auto shows, was an international conglomeration of German engineering and Italian design with a dash of American sensibility via elements from Virgil Exner’s Chrysler d’Elegance “dream car” concept. Named the Karmann Ghia for the joint efforts of German coachbuilder Karmann and Italian automaker Carrozzeria Ghia, the Volkswagen Type 14 exceeded expectations as sales and popularity remained steady across nearly twenty years of production, resulting in the introduction of a convertible for the 1957 model year.
Through its timeline, the Type 14 remained essentially unchanged, aside from a few cosmetic changes and the growing power and displacement of the engine it shared with VW’s iconic Beetle. Given that the factory four-cylinder engine kept horsepower to the double digits, Volkswagen wisely chose to market the Karmann Ghia not as a performance-oriented sports car but rather a stylish tourer.
For 1967, engine displacement increased to 1493 cubic centimeters, offering 53 horsepower and a potential top speed around 80 mph.
1967 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia (Type 14)
Body Style: 2+2 convertible
Layout: rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RR)
Engine: 1493 cc (1.5 L) Volkswagen OHV flat-4 with Solex 1-barrel carburetor
Power: 53 hp (39 kW; 53 PS) @ 4200 RPM
Torque: 78 lb·ft (105.8 N·m) @ 2000 RPM
Transmission: 4-speed manual
Wheelbase: 94.5 inches (2400 mm)
Length: 163 inches (4140 mm)
Width: 64.4 inches (1636 mm)
Height: 52.4 inches (1331 mm)
The “1500” engine would be offered from 1967 through 1969, after which Volkswagen again increased its flat-four size to the “1600”, which could launch the Karmann Ghia nearly to 100 mph.
Production ended in summer 1974 to allow for manufacturing Volkswagen’s new Sirocco, but the Karmann Ghia remained a favorite. As recalled by Andrew Roberts for The Independent, “Karmann workers decorated the last example with a sign that read: ‘Du liefst so gut, Du warst so schö*, Doch leider musst du von uns gehn.’ (You ran so well, you were so beautiful, but alas, you must leave us now.)”
How to Get the Look
Whether you call it a baseball jacket, letter jacket, or varsity jacket, you don’t need to be a college athlete to wear this classic boiled wool-and-leather blouson, which can offer a youthful yet sophisticated outer layer to any casual look.
- Navy boiled wool varsity-style baseball jacket with light brown leather set-in sleeves, seven-snap front, slanted welt hand pockets, navy-and-brown banded knit collar, cuffs, and hem
- Solid cotton crew-neck long-sleeve sweatshirt
- Light blue denim Levi’s 501® Original Fit button-fly jeans
- Brown suede moc-toe penny loafers
- Off-white socks
- SEIKO 7A28-7049 “Sports 100” quartz chronograph watch with stainless steel 38.5mm case, black rotating bezel, round black dial with three black sub-registers, and steel bar link bracelet
When I shared this outfit on Instagram, a commenter pointed out that the jacket instantly reminded him of older models released by Brooks Brothers; indeed, when I Googled “Brooks Brothers varsity jacket”, the first results were mostly baseball jackets almost identical to what Redford wears in Sneakers. Thanks for the tip, Darren!
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
We all have our little secrets, don’t we?