Robert Redford as Dave Chappellet, U.S. Olympic ski team star
Switzerland, Winter 1968
Film: Downhill Racer
Release Date: November 6, 1969
Director: Michael Ritchie
Costume Designer: Edith Head (uncredited!)
Wardrobe Credit: Cynthia May
In the spirit of the 2022 Winter Olympics that opened last night in Beijing, I wanted to revisit one of my favorite movies around the winter games, Downhill Racer.
Released just a month after his breakthrough performance in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Robert Redford stars as the cocky skier Dave Chappellet, whose well-honed talent on the slopes lands him on the U.S. Olympic team. His only internal competition had been the promising talent Johnny Creech (Jim McMullan), whose own hopes for the gold were dashed after he was badly injured just weeks before the games. The resentful team and their passionate coach, Eugene Claire (Gene Hackman), find themselves looking to Chappellet as their best hope fo securing a gold medal.
What’d He Wear?
Chappellet and his American teammates have all been issued dark navy blue ski sweaters, likely woven in acrylic fiber, a strong synthetic material that offers both warmth and a degree of weather-resilience. These jumpers are typically layered over a skin-tight turtleneck—usually white when on the slopes—though some of the teammates wear them over open-neck button-up shirts, and Chappellet wears his over a navy turtleneck when visiting Creech in the hospital and meditating on the “justice of sport”.
Representing the national colors of red, white, and blue, the striping consists of a red band around the chest, bordered by a pale-gray bar stripe directly under it. Each shoulder echoes this with a double-width red stripe extending out from the sides of the ribbed crew-neck to the set-in seams at the top of each sleeve, bordered on each side by a pale-gray bar stripe. An embroidered crest of two gold laurels encircling a red “G” decorates the upper left sleeve.
It’s suitable that we don’t see much of Chappellet wearing his team’s sweater, given the deserved criticism that he isn’t much of a “team player”. Even in scenes featuring most of the team wearing their matching sweaters, he differentiates himself by either sporting different knitwear or avoiding the scene altogether. The most prominent appearance of Chappellet’s team sweater is the early scene where he impresses Claire with his 28.8 second run.
Visiting Creech in the hospital calls for unity, so Chappellet pulls the sweater on over his base layer of a lightweight turtleneck that clings to his frame, adding warmth without adding bulk under the heavier team sweater. This turtleneck is dark navy, unlike the white that he and the team typically wear while skiing.
Chappellet cycles through a rotation of functional winter outerwear through Downhill Racer, including a heavy and stylish shearling coat and this more utilitarian shell jacket, made from a light-wearing dark blue nylon and stuffed with insulating down material. Like the striped sweater, this jacket appears to be authorized for everyone on Team USA, from Chappellet’s fellow skiers to coach Claire.
Worn on and off the slopes, this waist-length jacket has a double closure with both a silver-toned zipper and five squared snap-buttons up the waist to the neck, where an additional snap closes the tab on the standing collar (which is lined in a soft dark navy felt). A straight yoke extends across the shoulders. A low-rigged pocket on each side closes with a double-snapped flap, and each set-in sleeve has a squared cuff that closes with a snap. The “action back” is pleated behind each shoulder to provide more freedom of movement when skiing, while also giving Chappellet some added flexibility when he wears the jacket over two pieces of knitwear.
Chappellet wears his usual indigo-blue denim Wrangler jeans, discerned by the jagged “W” contrast stitching across each of the black pockets in addition to the light brown “Wrangler”-branded patch stitched against the top of the back-right pocket. These zip-fly jeans are styled with belt loops and the traditional five-pocket layout of two straight diagonal front pockets, an additional coin pocket inset on the right side, and the two patch pockets on the back. (Classic Wrangler 13MWZ jeans are still available decades later via outfitters like Amazon, Walmart, and Wrangler.)
As Wrangler jeans were specifically marketed toward rodeo riders upon their introduction in the late 1940s, their 13MWZ model remains characterized by the “Cowboy Cut” of a long rise and straight legs designed to fit over riding boots, suitable for Chappellet’s usual tan napped leather cowboy boots.
Downhill Racer was among the first films where Redford debuted the small silver ring on his right hand, which he explained to The Hollywood Reporter was “given to me by Hopi Indians in 1966” and had appeared in nearly all of his movies to follow. In addition to the ring on his right hand, he also wears a plain stainless steel wristwatch with a round silver dial on a steel expanding bracelet.
How to Get the Look
As the swaggering Olympic skier Dave Chappellet, Robert Redford models comfortable winter sportswear with his trim down jacket layered over knitwear with jeans and boots.
- Dark blue nylon waist-length down jacket with standing collar, zip/snap front, hip pockets (with double-snap flaps), set-in sleeves (with single-snap cuffs), and pleated “action back”
- Dark navy-blue acrylic crew-neck ski sweater with red/pale-gray chest and shoulder striping
- Dark navy-blue turtleneck
- Indigo-blue denim Wrangler 13MWZ “Cowboy Cut” five-pocket jeans
- Tan napped leather cowboy boots
- Silver tribal ring
- Steel wristwatch with round silver dial on steel expanding bracelet
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
I’m here because I ski, and I ski fast, that’s all there is to it.