Kurt Russell as R.J. MacReady, helicopter pilot
Antarctica, Winter 1982
Film: The Thing
Release Date: June 25, 1982
Director: John Carpenter
Costume Supervisors: Ronald I. Caplan, Trish Keating, and Gilbert Loe
We’re not gettin’ out of here alive… but neither is that thing.
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the release of The Thing, which premiered June 25, 1982 and remains the personal favorite of director John Carpenter. Four days ago on June 21, British Antarctic research stations would have observed their Midwinter Day celebration that typically includes watching horror movies about being trapped in the snow such as The Thing and The Shining.
Indeed, the action begins during “first goddamn week of winter” grumbles R.J. MacReady, a grizzled helicopter pilot embedded with an American scientific research crew stationed in Antarctica. The U.S. Outpost 31 crew is baffled by the sudden appearance of a Norwegian gunman shooting at what appears to be a relatively benign wolfdog (Jed). “Maybe we’re at war with Norway,” quips Nauls (T.K. Carter), the cook, who more helpfully offers that “five minutes is enough to put a man over down here” as the team mulls over the gunman’s possible motives.
That night, it’s not the Norwegian who the crew needs to be alarmed about, but instead the curious creature locked up with the dogs. As their canine handler Clark (Richard Masur) warns Mac:
It’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is…
What’d He Wear?
R.J. MacReady layers against the cold in a well-worn leather flight jacket, apropos his profession as a pilot with a military background. The jacket’s leather shell resembles the design of the classic fur-collared jackets authorized to U.S. military pilots, including the World War II-era M-442A and the G-1 later made iconic by Top Gun, though MacReady’s jacket differs from the traditional mil-spec pattern with an insulating shearling-like fleece lining that would be particularly suitable against the bitter Antarctica cold.
I’ve read that the dark brown steerhide jacket featured in The Thing was sourced from Schott NYC, the venerable New York City outfitter that pioneered the Perfecto motorcycle jacket in the 1920s and was later contracted to provide outerwear for the U.S. military during World War II. The details of MacReady’s jacket—especially the off-white pile lining—suggest that the exact model is the Schott 674 (#IS-674-MS), produced from 1971 through 1987 according to the Schott blog.
The waist-length Schott jacket has a synthetic fur collar, as manmade pile had generally superseded authentic mouton fur even on military bomber jackets by this point. The silver Talon zipper that extends up from waist to neck is covered by a narrow fly that can snap closed at each end. Each shoulder is detailed with a military-like epaulette strap that snaps to the body of the jacket at the neck, under the collar. A large patch-style pocket is placed over each side of the zipper on the front, covered with a flap that closes with a single Schott-branded snap and each inset with an additional handwarmer pocket accessed via a slanted welt opening.
The set-in sleeves are finished with dark brown ribbed-knit wool cuffs that echoes the knitting along the waist hem. Unlike the military G-1 with its half-belted back, the back of the Schott is devoid of seams aside from the horizontal shoulder yoke.
Under his jacket, hoodie, and coveralls, MacReady typically layers two crew-neck T-shirts: a heathered gray short-sleeved shirt over a pale beige long-sleeved shirt.
MacReady rarely deviates from these shirts under his jacket and jumpsuit, though he does wear a rust, black, and white printed rayon button-up sports shirt during the scene when the outpost’s senior biologist, Blair (Wilford Brimley), is in distress.
MacReady always wears a military-style flight suit made of olive-green ripstop, the lightweight but resilient cloth developed during World War II as a replacement for parachute silk, though its application eventually expanded to uniforms by the Vietnam War. As its name implies, the reinforced weaving technique incorporated sturdier yarns that made the cloth less likely to rip and resulted in a cross-hatched finish. Given that Mac suspects that the eponymous thing tears through clothes when it takes over a new host, the resilient ripstop of his coveralls may serve as his final line of defense.
MacReady’s one-piece flight suit extends from neck to ankles with a rounded collar, a silver-toned zipper that pulls down from neck to crotch, and reinforced shoulders. The short waist tabs and cuff tabs close with a button, prior to the addition of Velcro. The seven zip-closed patch pockets are arranged with one on each side of the chest (each sharply slanted toward the center), one on each thigh (the right with a vertical opening, left horizontal), one on each shin with a vertical opening, and one the upper left sleeve with two inset pen slots.
Predating the CWU-27/P flight suits made from flame-resistant Nomex, Mac’s ripstop cotton flight suit resembles the Vietnam-era K-2B flight suit, albeit with the thigh pockets’ zip-opening directions reversed.
He frequently unzips the suit down to his waist, pulling down the top and wearing the coveralls essentially as pants. When he does this, it reveals the red-piped elastic waistband of his off-white long underwear, which he appears to tuck his T-shirts into.
MacReady wears sturdy plain-toe combat boots with smooth black leather uppers that extend up his calves, laced through nine derby-style sets of eyelets. The thick gum rubber soles have a repeating chevron-style tread that The RPF user MorbidCharlie used to identify contemporary military contractor Ro-Search as the most likely manufacturer.
Apropos his snowy environment, MacReady protects his eyes with “glacier glasses” that have been identified as the Vuarnet 027 model. Though Vuarnet had swifly expanded to offer non-sports sunglasses, the French eyewear brand originated in the late 1950s with Roger Pouilloux’s invention of the Skilynx lens, who provided these in the goggles worn in the 1960 Winter Olympics by the French ski team, including gold medalist Jean Vuarnet.
Having established its credentials as winter eyewear, Vuarnet introduced its first “Glacier” goggles in 1974. 007 fans may recognize a newer evolution of these Vuarnets as worn by Daniel Craig for a snowy sequence in Spectre, as identified by James Bond Lifestyle.
The distinctive Vuarnet 027 goggles as seen in The Thing have rounded black “bug eye”-shaped frames with cable arms that curve around the back of the wearer’s ears for stronger retention, further detailed with the removable black leather side shields that provide additional protection. While both functionally and contextually appropriate, the unique look of these glasses also add a quasi-futuristic, dystopian cast to MacReady’s look, appropriate for The Thing‘s blend of sci-fi and horror.
MacReady and some of his outpost colleagues protect their hands with black leather snow gloves that were also identified by MorbidCharlie at The RPF, who shared the likely product as Castre snowmobile gauntlets, detailed with three ridges across the back of each hand and wide leather cuffs enveloping the wrists.
After taking command of the station from Garry (Donald Moffat), MacReady also begins wearing Garry’s russet-brown leather gun belt that adds a touch of classic Western gunfighter aesthetic to Mac’s wardrobe. He carries the gun—a Colt Trooper MK III revolver—holstered on the right side, secured with a single snap-retention strap. Cartridge loops around the back and left carry the Trooper’s designated .357 Magnum rounds, and the belt closes through a hefty steel octagonal single-prong buckle.
MacReady often adds the additional layer of a heathered blue cotton hooded sweatshirt under his flight suit, pulling the hood up while outside to protect himself from the cold. This pullover-style hoodie has a matching blue drawstring extending from each side of the hood.
The final piece of the MacReady sartorial puzzle is the large brown felt sombrero-style hat that he often wears, with a wide brim that dramatically curls up on four sides. The tall four-pinched crown recalls early campaign covers that are still worn by drill instructors, Park Rangers, and Mounties, among others. The hat has a wide brown rawhide band, with self-loops on each side that collect the overlaid band that’s been woven in a manner that creates a yellow-shadowed black zig-zag against an orange ground. Two long rawhide straps extend from the insides of the hat, possibly extended from the band, knotted to create a chin-strap.
I recommend that fans of the movie and MacReady’s attire further explore the oft-cited thread which MorbidCharlie began at The RPF, chronicling his research into MacReady’s screen-worn attire and his journey to collect or make it himself.
What to Imbibe
If R.J. MacReady’s heavy layers aren’t enough to keep him warm, he works to insulate himself from the inside out with steady drams of Scotch. Mac’s on-screen introduction may be among the most prominent product placements that a whisky brand could ask for, as the J&B Rare label alone takes up nearly a fourth of the screen as he pours some over a handful of ice in his rocks glass.
Though the history of Justerini & Brooks—as dedicated fan Truman Capote used to exclusively order it—dates back to the mid-18th century, the familiar J&B Rare variety seen in The Thing was developed for American drinkers toward the end of Prohibition, which was repealed in 1933 and launched J&B Rare’s quick success to a market thirsty for legal booze. The 80-proof blended Scotch is demonstrated to be particularly potent when MacReady pours just enough of it onto a victorious Apple II “Chess Wizard” to destroy the machine:
The Thing may also chalk up a record number of unorthodox uses for booze as MacReady fetches himself a Budweiser on the first night, though he never even gets to crack it open, instead using the can to break the glass surrounding the fire alarm when he hears a concerning sound…
Mac finally gets to enjoy a beer when he alternates between a can of Coors Banquet and swigs from his beloved bottle of J&B during a late night spent pondering the team’s predicament. “I’m tired of talkin’, Fuchs. I just want to get up to my shack and get drunk.”
After Blair (Wilford Brimley) understands the true danger that the Thing poses, he steels himself with some 100-proof Smirnoff “Blue Label” and arms himself with a snub-nosed revolver to keep his crew from stopping him from cutting off the world. Once they subdue Blair in the toolshed, they leave him his same pint of vodka, from which Mac takes a pull.
MacReady frequently arms himself with an Ithaca 37 shotgun, first when exploring the abandoned Norwegian base and again when facing off against The Thing. Per its name, the decades-old design for this pump-action shotgun finally went into production in 1937. A favorite of American law enforcement and military forces, the Ithaca 37 distinguishes itself from other pump-action shotguns with its loading/ejection port uniquely located on the bottom of the receiver. Many variations exist, though MacReady uses the classic configuration with a full wooden stock and slide and riot-length barrel.
When Garry (Donald Moffat) relinquishes command of the station to MacReady, he hands over his Colt Trooper MK III, the same service revolver he had used to shoot the Norwegian at the beginning. Colt introduced the first-generation Trooper in the 1950s to target the law enforcement market with a lighter-weight medium-frame revolver that could handle the standard .38 Special and .357 Magnum ammunition.
In 1969, Colt introduced the MK III series that updated many older revolvers, led by a refreshed Trooper MK III. Cosmetic changes to the Trooper MK III included a heavy barrel with a solid top rib and shrouded ejector rod, as well as the same corrosion-resistant steel finish as the rest of the MK III series. Internally, the MK III revolvers incorporated a safer transfer-bar lockwork system and improved internal springs. The MK III series ended in 1983 with the introduction of the refreshed MK V, which added the option of a Python-style ventilated top rib.
The most significant weapon in the station arsenal may be the M2A1-7 flamethrowers that MacReady and the station crew use to combat the thing. The flamethrowers prove to have multiple uses, with Mac also firing it on a very low flame to burn a wire he uses to cauterize each crewman’s blood in an attempt to draw out the thing’s natural defense mechanisms.
The M2 flamethrower was developed during the later years of World War II, when it was most frequently used in the Pacific theater. Weighing 68 pounds when full and still 43 pounds when empty, the M2 underwent a series of evolutions over its nearly forty years of service, resulting in the M2A1-7 model that MacReady would have been familiar used during his service in Vietnam.
How to Get the Look
R.J. MacReady needs more insulating winter clothing than most, given his duties on an Antarctica outpost in the middle of a sub-freezing winter, so he relies on tried-and-true military gear like a fleece-lined bomber jacket, ripstop flight suit, and combat boots, comfortably layered and with context-informed accessories like snow goggles and gloves.
- Dark brown steerhide leather Schott 674 G-1-style flight jacket with synthetic fur collar, snap-down shoulder straps (epaulettes), large patch pockets with snap-down flaps and inset handwarmer pockets, and ribbed-knit wool cuffs and hem
- Blue heathered cotton hooded sweatshirt
- Gray heathered cotton crew-neck short-sleeve T-shirt
- Light-beige cotton crew-neck long-sleeve T-shirt
- Olive-green ripstop cotton military-style flight suit/coveralls with round collar, zip-up front, six zip-closed pockets, zip-closed left-sleeve pocket with pen slots, button-fastened waist tabs, and button-fastened cuff tabs
- Black smooth leather plain-toe 9-eyelet combat boots with chevron-treaded rubber soles
- Off-white long underwear with red-piped waistband
- Black-framed Vuarnet 027 “glacier glasses” with sunglass lenses, curved cable arms, and removable black leather side shields
- Black leather gauntlet gloves
- Russet-brown leather gun-belt with right-side single-snap holster, cartridge loops, and octagonal steel single-prong buckle
- Brown felt sombrero with campaign-style crown, rawhide band, and zigzag-woven top band
- Army Navy Sales Cotton Ripstop Pilots Jumpsuit (Army Navy Sales, $49.99)
- Ro-Search Combat Boots (eBay, $12.90)
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
I know I’m human. And if you were all these things, you’d just attack me right now, so some of you are still human. This thing doesn’t want to show itself, it wants to hide in an imitation. It’ll fight if it has to, but it’s vulnerable out in the open. If it takes us over, then it has no more enemies. Nobody left to kill it… and then it’s won. There’s a storm hitting us in six hours. We’re gonna find out who’s who.