Keith David as Childs, skeptical research facility chief mechanic
Antarctica, Winter 1982
Film: The Thing
Release Date: June 25, 1982
Director: John Carpenter
Costume Supervisors: Ronald I. Caplan, Trish Keating, and Gilbert Loe
One of my favorite movies to watch in the middle of winter is The Thing, a personal favorite of its director John Carpenter, who celebrates his 75th birthday tomorrow. For The Thing‘s 40th anniversary last year, I wrote about its lead protagonist—helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell)—though there’s plenty of unique wintry wardrobe choices among the research crew of U.S. Outpost 31.
Keith David made his major film debut as chief mechanic Childs, launching his prolific career in a versatile range of movies from the serious likes of Platoon (1986) and Requiem for a Dream (2000) to comedies like There’s Something About Mary (1998) and The Nice Guys (2016), most recently appearing in Nope (2022).
The Thing begins during the “first goddamn week of winter,” with the arrival of a seemingly benign wolfdog targeted by a Norwegian gunman. Without knowing much about the animal, the American research team locks it up among the dogs despite canine handler Clark (Richard Masur) warning that “it’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is.”
What’d He Wear?
Ever since Daniel Craig pulled on a British Army-inspired navy N.Peal drawstring-neck jumper for his finale as James Bond in No Time to Die, there has been a noted renaissance for commando sweaters.
Woolen sweaters and jumpers had long been worn by fighting forces around the world, but this distinctive military style likely originated during World War II as the United Kingdom sought to outfit its SAS commandos in a rugged layer that could resist cold weather and hard combat conditions. To meet these goals, sweaters were constructed from a heavy wool, ribbed to fit the wearer’s physique (which was typically athletic, given their occupation) and thus avoid flapping fabric that could snag and become a hindrance or liability. For additional resilience, the shoulders and elbows are reinforced with tightly woven canvas patches that prevent both tears and friction burns when carrying equipment or shouldering rifles.
Nicknamed the “woolly pully” for obvious reasons (they’re made of wool and you pull them on), these hard-wearing commando sweaters ultimately crossed the Atlantic to be adopted by branches of the United States military.
Childs’ sweater appears to be U.S. mil-spec, dyed navy blue rather than the more familiar olive drab (OD) green. The ribbed sweater has a high crew-neck, though we can still occasionally glimpse the neck of his white cotton undershirt, and navy canvas patches over the shoulders and elbows.
- Goodthreads Men's Soft Cotton Military Sweater in navy 100% cotton (Amazon, $19.70)
- L.L. Bean Men's Commando Sweater, Crewneck in bright navy heather 100% merino lambswool (L.L. Bean, $79)
- Rag & Bone Military Mixed Media Wool Crew Classic Fit Sweater in navy 100% wool (Rag & Bone, $395)
- Rothco Acrylic Commando Sweater GI Style Military Sweater in navy 100% acrylic (Amazon, $51.99-$61.99)
For an intermediate layer of warmth and protection, Childs pulls on a blue puffer vest with seven silver-finished snaps up the front from the straight waist hem to the neck for full chest coverage that could classify the garment as a gilet. The large patch-style pockets at hand level on each hip have a slanted entry.
I believe Childs is the only member of the U.S. Outpost 31 crew to wear jeans. The indigo blue denim continues the cyanic color palette established by the rest of his clothing, and—while it can be discerned that they’re styled with the now-standard five-pocket layout—there’s little other indicators of who made his jeans, though the cut doesn’t appear to be Levi’s or Lee, leaving Wrangler as a possibility among the “big three” American denim outfitters.
The only significant non-blue elements of Childs’ wardrobe are his hardy hiking boots, constructed with russet-brown leather uppers and lugged rubber soles. The plain-toe boots are derby-laced with the traditional red laces through five sets of gold-finished eyelets and three sets of speed hooks.
Out in the snowy, below-freezing Antarctic winter air, Childs benefits from the warmth of a blue heavyweight nylon parka with a fur-trimmed hood and filled with polyester down. A storm flap extends out over the silver-toned front zip to keep out the wind and chill, and the fur-trimmed hood has a black woven drawstring that would allow Childs to pull it tighter over his head. Large squared bellows pockets over each hip close with a snap-down flap.
Though there are mil-spec parkas authorized by the U.S. military, Childs’ thigh-length coat lacks the slanted chest pockets and additional button-closure of the contemporary “scrub snorkel” N-3B and is likely just a civilian parka. (If you’re interested in a blue N-3B, Alpha Industries would be the place to look first!)
The term “parka” has been used for centuries, but it didn’t enter its modern form until the mid-20th century following the separate contributions of Australian chemist George Finch, American outdoorsman Eddie Bauer, and English designer George James that resulted in the standard down-filled parka. Light-wearing yet highly effective against the cold, down jackets emerged as a favorite for extreme-weather expeditions.
Childs further protects himself out in the snow with dark blue polyester winter gloves and a dark blue knitted wool hood that extends down the back to cover more than a traditional watch cap, though it lacks the front facial coverage of a balaclava. He also wears a large set of snow goggles with a powder-blue rubberized frame around the one-piece lens.
How to Get the Look
Aside from his conventional brown leather work boots, Childs dresses exclusively in blue, though the contrasting shades and textures of his snow gear, sweater, and jeans are more visually interesting than the typical monochromatic apparel.
- Navy ribbed wool U.S. mil-spec “woolly pully” crew-neck commando sweater with canvas patch-reinforced shoulders and elbows
- Blue puffer gilet with 7-snap front and slanted-entry patch pockets
- Blue nylon thigh-length parka with fur-trimmed hood, zip front with storm flap, and squared bellows hip pockets with snap-down flaps
- Indigo denim jeans
- Russet leather plain-toe hiking boots with 5-eyelet/triple-speed hook derby-laced closure
- Dark blue knitted wool hood
- Snow goggles with powder-blue rubberized frame
- Dark blue polyester winter gloves
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
I just cannot believe any of this voodoo bullshit.