Pulp Fiction: Tim Roth’s Surfer Shirt

Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction (1994)

Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction (1994)

Vitals

Tim Roth as “Pumpkin”, aka “Ringo”, an otherwise unnamed small-time crook

Los Angeles, Summer 1992

Film: Pulp Fiction
Release Date: October 14, 1994
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Costume Designer: Betsy Heimann

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Now that it’s summer—and already a hot one!—I’ve started rotating my favorite aloha shirts and tropical prints into my wardrobe. Luckily for me, bright Hawaiian-style resort shirts have been undergoing a wave of revival each summer, perhaps encouraged by Brad Pitt’s now-famous yellow aloha shirt in Quentin Tarantino’s latest, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Style in QT’s early movies typically conjures the well-armed professional criminals in their uniforms of black suits, white shirts, and black ties, but outside of this lethal look, characters in the Tarantino-verse often pulled from the Hawaiian shirts in their closet. The first example would be Harvey Keitel’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it palm-print shirt before taking Tim Roth’s Mr. Orange for tacos in Reservoir Dogs. Two years later, it was Roth himself that would be tropically attired for the next of Tarantino’s defining cinematic works.

Pulp Fiction begins and ends at the Hawthorne Grill, a nondescript L.A. diner where we catch up with a scrappy young couple in the middle of their conversation. The man—a self-described “sensible fuckin’ man” at that—thinks a little too much of himself, though the woman eagerly hangs onto every word, taking it to heart. They call each other “Pumpkin” and “Honey Bunny”, but we eventually learn that the latter’s name is Yolanda. Over refilled coffee and Red Apple cigarettes, the pair’s discussion deviates from what most couples discuss in diners… specifically how they can rob it.

“Nobody ever robs restaurants!” Pumpkin suggests. “Why not? Bars, liquor stores, gas stations… you get your head blown off stickin’ up one of ’em. Restaurants, on the other hand, you catch with their pants down. They’re not expectin’ to get robbed. Not as expectin’, anyway.”

“I bet you could cut down on the hero factor in a place like this,” Yolanda responds, providing a hypothesis that would prove correct minutes later when Pumpkin thrusts his revolver into the beefy neck of the manager who desperately cried out, “I am not a hero, I’m just a coffee shop—”

With their loose plan determined and their coffees refilled thanks to the garçon waitress, the two kiss, declare their mutual love, and leap onto their booths, wielding revolvers to take the restaurant hostage:

Yolanda: I love you, Pumpkin.
Pumpkin: I love you, Honey Bunny. (rising with his gun) Alright, everybody be cool, this is a robbery!
Yolanda: Any of you fucking pricks move, and I’ll execute every motherfucking last one of ya!

Amanda Plummer and Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction (1994)

If this doesn’t automatically trigger the surf-infused first few notes of “Misirlou”, then I can’t help you.

First-time viewers may have even forgotten about the wannabe Bonnie and Clyde after two hours with Jules Winnfield, Vincent Vega, Mia Wallace, Marsellus Wallace, Butch Coolidge, and the debonair fixer Mr. Wolf, before our final moments with Jules and Vincent back in the Hawthorne Grill.

A few tables away, we hear a familiar British accent call out “garçon!” and realize we’re right back where Dick Dale and the Del-Tones had left us, but with the knowledge that poor Pumpkin and Honey Bunny wouldn’t have been anticipating the two well-armed flies in the ointment in the form of Jules and Vincent, each packing serious heat under those tacky T-shirts.

What’d He Wear?

In a 2019 interview with Vogue for the 25th anniversary of Pulp Fiction, costume designer Betsy Heimann explained that she intentionally chose Yolanda’s costume to look like she purchased her muted mauve dress at a thrift store. It’s likely that she followed the same guidance when dressing Yolanda’s partner in crime in his worn-in Hawaiian shirt over a faded T-shirt and jeans.

Tim Roth’s screen-worn aloha shirt, as it appeared in a 2022 auction. (Source: Prop Store)

I’m grateful to my friend Pete Brooker (who hosts the From Tailors With Love podcast and website) for alerting me to the June 2022 Prop Store auction that includes Tim Roth’s screen-worn tropical shirt.

The Prop Store auction listing describes “this polyester blend, short-sleeve button-up seafoam green shirt features a breast pocket and is affixed throughout with images of waves and surfers. It exhibits minor signs of wear, such as fraying on some threading.”

The base print of Pumpkin’s shirt consists of seafoam and indigo illustrations of the breaking surf, depicted paler where the water foams as groups of surfers take to the waves. The surfers are all wearing patterned pink and purple board shirts, typically shirtless though one surf rider takes to the sea in a white sleeveless undershirt.

The shirt is significantly shorter than the traditional aloha shirt, with a finished straight hem suggesting it was intentionally made this way. The shirt’s camp collar is of moderate width, with a self-loop on the left side that would connect to a button under the right collar leaf. The rest of the shirt’s six white plastic buttons are sewn up the plain front (no placket), and there’s a non-matching pocket over the left breast. The short sleeves are widely cut with wide armholes for an additionally insouciant presentation.

Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction (1994)

For those not dishing out the funds to buy the screen-worn shirt at auction, there are a few budget-friendly modern alternatives in similar colorways and motifs, if not exactly the same:
  • ASOS DESIGN Relaxed Revere Shirt in Surfer Hawaiian Reverse Technique Print (ASOS, $37)
  • Avanti Hula Teal Retro Hawaiian Shirt (Aloha FunWear, currently sold out)
  • HAPPY BAY Holiday Camp Surf Shirt (Walmart, $23.49)
  • Lavahut Teal Ocean Life Hawaiian Rayon Shirt (Lavahut, $49)
  • Scotch & Soda Hawaiian Fit Surfer Camp Shirt (Nordstrom Rack, $41.22)
  • TP Surfing Wave and Ukulele Fun Print Aloha Shirt-Coral (Muumuu Outlet, $65)
All prices and availability current as of June 2022.

Pumpkin wears the shirt totally open over a pilling cotton crew-neck T-shirt that may have once been black but appears washed or sun-faded to a charcoal.

Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction (1994)

The point of no return: Pumpkin takes his impromptu robbery scheme a little too far with the recently enlightened Jules Winnfield.

  • Hanes Tagless Pocket Tee in charcoal heather cotton/poly (Amazon, $7.19)
  • J. Crew Broken-in short-sleeve pocket T-shirt in black cotton (J. Crew, $36.50)
  • J. Crew Washed jersey pocket tee in "Bedford coal" cotton (J. Crew Factory, $14.95)
  • L.L. Bean Men's Carefree Unshrinkable Tee with Pocket in charcoal heather cotton (L.L. Bean, $22.95)
  • Lands' End Super-T Pocket Tee in dark charcoal heather cotton (Kohl's, $27.95)
  • Raleigh Modal Pocket Tee in black cotton/modal (Raleigh Denim Workshop, $58)
All prices and availability current as of June 2022.

As Pumpkin leaps from the booth with his gat drawn, we see more details of his light stonewashed denim jeans, which have the familiar red tab and arcuate back stitching indicative of Levi’s. The cut and era suggest that they may be the classic Levi’s 501 Original Fit.

Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction (1994)

Availability and pricing current as of June 22, 2022.

In keeping with Pulp Fiction‘s retro-informed sense of style, Pumpkin wears a pair of black leather engineer boots that add a dash of ’50s defiance, evoking the footwear famously worn by James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.

Characterized by their buckled straps across the instep and the top of each long shaft, these boots were pioneered during the 1930s for railroad firemen to protect these engineers’ legs from the intense heat and other hazards of their condition. These protective qualities—as well as the laceless design—led to motorcyclists embracing engineer boots as practical footwear following the World War II. The increasing “outlaw” reputation of bikers aligned engineer boots with greaser culture, beginning their decades-long association with the evolving counterculture from hustlers and punks to hipsters.

Amanda Plummer and Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction (1994)

Yolanda and her man discuss the final details of their robbery plan.

  • Chippewa Men's 11" Steel Toe 27863 Engineer Boot (Amazon, price varies by size)
  • ClimaTex Men's Engineer Boots Motorcycle 12" Leather Biker (Walmart, $91.99)
  • Clinch Engineer Boots 11" CN Last Black Latigo (Clutch Cafe, $1,600)
  • Frye Engineer 12R (Frye, $378, currently out of stock)
  • Frye Smith Engineer (Frye, $328)
  • John Lofgren Bootmaker Wabash Engineer Boots Shinki Hikaku Horsebutt Black (Lost & Found, $1,200)
All prices and availability current as of June 22, 2022.

Pumpkin and Honey Bunny never expressly define the nature of their relationship, but their gold wedding bands suggest that the two are married.

The Gun

One minute they’re havin’ a Denver omelette. The next minute, someone’s stickin’ a gun in their face.

Both Pumpkin and Honey Bunny carry compact revolvers, trading power and capacity for something that can be easily concealed. Yolanda arms herself with the hammerless Smith & Wesson Model 40 Centennial in .38 Special with a snub-nosed barrel, five-round cylinder, and an old-fashioned “lemon squeezer” grip safety.

Pumpkin carries a Smith & Wesson Model 30 revolver with a slightly longer three-inch barrel and a six-round cylinder, though it fires the less powerful .32 S&W Long ammunition.

Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction (1994)

Jules wouldn’t have been eating a Denver omelette (he doesn’t “dig on swine” and diced ham is typically included in these omelettes), and he was arguably quite prepared for when Pumpkin stuck a gun in his face.

The Model 30 was an evolution of the early Smith & Wesson .32 Hand Ejector, developed around the turn of the century. The 1st Model .32 Hand Ejector, introduced in 1896, was Smith & Wesson’s first revolver to boast a swing-out cylinder. After seven years of production, the .32 Hand Ejector was modernized with the Model of 1903, which went through several series of subtle changes and more than half a million produced before production ended in 1942 during the early months of American entry in World War II.

Smith & Wesson modernized the .32 Hand Ejector when it was reintroduced to the market in the late 1940s, a decade before it was renamed the Model 30 after Smith & Wesson instituted numeric nomenclatures. For its first dozen years in production, the Model 30 was primarily built on Smith & Wesson’s small “I-frame” before it was replaced solely with the Model 30-1 on the slightly longer 3-screw “J-frame” through the end of production in 1976.

Barrel lengths for the Model 30 varied through 2″, 3″, 4″, and 6″, though the design was otherwise universally standard with either blued or nickel finish and rounded grips of checkered walnut. (The square-gripped model was designated the Model 31, having evolved from the earlier .32 Regulation Police.)

Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction (1994)

Pumpkin indicates his readiness to Yolanda by placing his Smith & Wesson on the table, though she doesn’t show any distress that he has the muzzle pointed directly at her.

How to Get the Look

Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction (1994)

Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction (1994)

Anyone can pull together a surf-printed Hawaiian shirt, black pocket T, and Levi’s, but the key to Pumpkin’s wardrobe is the appearance that these clothes have been through the wringer—either with him or before they made their way to the thrift store where he bought them—and are thus perfectly suitable for the kind of desperado who would hold up a suburban coffee shop with a six-shooter.

  • Seafoam-and-indigo tropical surfer-print short-sleeved camp shirt with loop collar, breast pocket, and plain front
  • Charcoal cotton crew-neck short-sleeve T-shirt with breast pocket
  • Light stonewash denim Levi’s 501 Original Fit jeans
  • Black leather engineer boots with silver-buckled straps
  • Gold wedding ring

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie.

The Quote

Yeah, well, the days of me forgetting are over, and the days of me remembering have just begun.

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