Today’s post about an iconic screen badass was written by the curator of the popular Instagram account @jamesbondswardrobe. Enjoy!
Arnold Schwarzenegger as the T-800, an “unassuming” cyborg sent back in time to assassinate an unassuming waitress
Los Angeles, May 1984
Film: The Terminator
Release Date: October 26, 1984
Director: James Cameron
Costume Designer: Hilary Wright
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
The same year that he was filming Conan the Destroyer, rising film star and retired bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger—along with his agent—was sent a script penned by James Cameron that was simply titled The Terminator. His interest piqued, the eight-time Mr. Olympia later met the aspiring director, ostensibly to be cast as Kyle Reese. However, Arnie’s own musings on how the titular villain ought to be played stirred Cameron’s imagination, who began to sketch his likeness on a notepad, coming to the conclusion that, instead of Reese, “he’d make a hell of a Terminator.”
The eponymous cyborg arrives from the future on the roof of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, at 1:52 AM. Taking in the magnificent cityscape (while butt-ass naked), the hulking machine makes its way down to Griffith Park, where its path crosses with three unfortunate thugs… including Bill Paxton in a cameo role!
After seamlessly killing the thugs (terminating them, haha!) and taking one’s clothes (whose, by the way, were way-oversized for him if they fit Arnold nicely), the cyborg does what any hitman-from-2029-stuck-in-1984-without-any-photo-reference-of-their-frickin’-target would do; go through a local phone book, and begin “visiting” each (very unfortunate) woman whose name happens to be Sarah Connor… but not before nonchalantly stealing a large amount of deadly weaponry from the nearby Alamo Sport Shop.
Unfortunately (yes, this word will be used a lot) for our villainous robot, its actual target won’t be as easy a hit as the other victims were; for at her protection is the weaselly—but very resourceful—Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a human resistance fighter also sent back in time, specifically to curtail the Terminator’s efforts. He also proves to be more than a nuisance for the cyborg, mildly damaging the Terminator’s left eye during a nightclub skirmish and forcing it to retreat so it can perform some cosmetic “surgery” on its human shell.
Having ripped out its entire left eye (and gotten a surprisingly good “haircut”), the Terminator’s red cybernetic eye focuses, letting its presence be known. Unfortunately (wahaha) for our cybernetic assassin, this wound is perhaps a little too obvious for infiltration purposes, so it improvises with some tasteful eyewear and a new outfit that’s hashed-up from its previous one.
What’d He (It?) Wear?
“The 600 series had rubber skin. We spotted them easy, but these are new. They look human… sweat, bad breath, everything. Very hard to spot. I had to wait ’till he moved on you before I could zero him,” Reese explains to a scatterbrained Sarah (Linda Hamilton), while they hide from the cyborg in a stolen car.
Being forced to come up with a new outfit because your previous field jacket and cutoff shirt got ruined by a few shotgun blasts and some fire can be frustrating, but the Terminator makes no fuss (except when telling off a suspecting citizen), and dons a black leather zip-moto jacket and a stone-gray cutoff.
This jacket, heavily inspired by designs crafted in 1928 by Irving Schott, co-founder of the New York City-based outerwear company The Schott Bros., had already become a symbol of outlaws and bikers around the world, along with general badasses. It helps if you happen to be a towering, unfeeling cyborg too, I guess.
The rest of its outfit sustaining, the automaton also dons a pair of black sunglasses, which are just large enough to hide its gaping eye wound. Casually strolling up to the local police station (and past a criminal psychologist who had just concluded that the detained Reese was but “a loon”), the Terminator asks the desk sergeant if it could see Sarah, insisting that they’re friends.
The black zip moto jacket pictured above features a cropped, comfortable fit, with the famous D-pocket, zipper pockets and wide lapels designed to snap down, or fold over each other and zip all the way up. Worn over a speckled stone-gray cutoff with olive-green combat pants and bejeweled black leather boots, the Terminator looks every bit the mid-80s badass.
The “Perfecto”, the original zip moto jacket that was apparently named after its creator’s favorite cigar, remains a registered trademark of Schott NYC. Interestingly, brown was the most popular color in the garment’s early years; the black variation only really took off in the 1950s during the rise of the greaser movement. Speaking of greasers, the jacket has Marlon Brando to thank for sealing its iconic “bad boy” status with the 1953 film The Wild One, in which he donned a skull-and-bones-stamped Perfecto for the role of Johnny Strabler, leader of the “Black Rebels Motorcycle Club” (BRMC).
Maintaining its popularity well throughout the fifties and on up, the zip moto quickly found its way onto the torsos of other fellow cinematic badasses, such as Mel Gibson’s Max Rockatansky, of Mad Max fame and, of course, the Terminator.
The aforementioned stone-gray cotton cutoff with its black “specked” design serves purely as a layering garment for this (mildly successful) Terminator, having swapped out the previous black abstract-patterned cutoff for this police station shootout. Well, police station massacre.
The black sunglasses previously mentioned that the cyborg wears may look familiar to loyal BAMF Style readers, as they had been previously seen in both Sudden Impact and The Dead Pool, two mid-’80s Dirty Harry thrillers starring our real-life BAMF, Clint Eastwood. In fact, those sunglasses worn by Inspector Callahan proved so popular, it’s (indirectly) the reason why Arnie is wearing them in this movie!
The Gargoyle “ANSI Classics” also began the (admittedly tiring) trend of a sunglasses-laden Terminator strutting around, doing its thing, day or night. These Gargoyles sunglasses have been sold as the “85” model, though Gargoyle has recently ceased production of all of its products, so you may be better off scrounging for a pair on eBay.
On an unrelated note, near the end of the police station massacre, detective Hal Vukovich shoots the Terminator in the back with an automatic rifle before being quickly blown away. Vukovich, whose earlier repeated attempts to tell likely interesting stories were cut off by his boss, Traxler, was played by Lance Henriksen. Intriguingly, Henriksen was Cameron’s original choice to play the titular villain, even going as far to have the actor dress up in similar garb— fake cuts and all—for the chairman of Hemdale Film Corporation and his staff. This choice would’ve arguably been far more believable; for an infiltration unit, anyways. There’s even artwork out there done by Cameron, depicting Henriksen as the character.
Unfortunately for Henriksen, history didn’t play out like he had hoped. Cameron found a role for him in the film anyhow, considering he had been essential in finding finances for the film. He also probably felt a lot better about it when he ended up playing a dubious cyborg anyways, in James Cameron’s Aliens (1986).
There’s more to the casting of the Terminator that proves to be equally enthralling. Initially offered to already-iconic tough guys like Sly Stallone and Mel Gibson, the studio suggested to Cameron that he cast O.J. Simpson, who was at the peak of fame at the time. It answered Cameron’s supposed desire to cast someone more famous in the title role, but instead he shrugged the suggestion off, unironically believing that Simpson just didn’t seem believable as a cold and heartless killer.
While it may be easy to imagine all three of those other guys in the rather simple “bad boy” outfit that Arnie wears here, let’s not forget that his casting worked out in more ways than one, with Cameron musing on how the Austrian Oak’s accent, “had a strange synthesized quality, like they [Skynet] hadn’t gotten the voice thing quite worked out.”
Getting back on track, the Terminator manages a tiny bit of outfit continuity by re-wearing a pair of olive-green combat pants, detailed with a rather high rise with two button-closed back pockets, two patch pockets in the front (with the seam lining up perfectly with the belt loops), and two flapped cargo pockets on the sides. They are held up by a wide black leather belt with a square silver single-prong buckle.
The cyborg tucks its olive-green combat pants into a pair of black leather triple-strap calf-high “harness”-style boots. While looking undeniably 80s, the boots could easily hold up today, provided your look is leather-heavy, of course. Rumored to be made by Durango, the main identifying feature of these 11-inch boots is the uniquely-stitched panel that goes up the front center of the boot.
As said earlier, our humble Terminator makes its way to downtown Los Angeles to begin its hunt for whoever may be named “Sarah Connor”. While it doesn’t technically need any sort of long-range weaponry, it would certainly make its job easier. Heading on over to the Alamo Sport Shop, it stocks up on what could be seen as “ideal for home defense”, or militia defense… or a whole resistance?
There, after examining an Armalite AR-18 with the stock removed, the android first selects a Franchi SPAS-12 shotgun, which the unsuspecting clerk mentions is Italian (which is actually accurate), and could go “pump or auto” (also accurate). Then it chooses a brand-new AMT Hardballer Longslide pistol, with a seven-inch barrel and a laser-lock sight (which was a one-off made a company that would later become SureFire).
Next, after being subtly denied “a phased plasma rifle in a 40-watt range”, it finishes up ‘shopping’ with a full-size and fully-automatic open-bolt 9mm Uzi. Interestingly, the Uzi presented would be an unrealistic purchase, given that civilian Uzis were semi-automatic carbines with 16-inch barrels. Of course, the whole gun shop scene is unrealistic, as it is. If the story is to be believed, Cameron insists that sometime during the course of the film, the Terminator may have converted the Uzi and the AR-18 into full auto weapons while “recovering” in its hotel room.
Prior to the police station massacre, the Terminator had stashed its weaponry in the car that it plowed into said police station. Getting out of the car, unharmed of course, it arms itself with the remaining AR-18 and the SPAS-12, having lost the other weaponry over the course of the film. Unfortunately (thought I was finished with that one, did you?) for the innocent police officers, those two weapons are all this seemingly unstoppable cyborg needs to breach the perimeter and make its way to its intended target.
How to Get the Look
After ditching some clothes that were admittedly more suitable for infiltration, the T-800 goes all out and further solidifies the zip moto as a symbol of the outlaw; ironically, too, given the situation.
- Black leather Perfecto-style motorcycle jacket with wide notched lapels (with collar snaps), an asymmetrical zip-up “lancer” front, snap-on epaulettes/shoulder straps, zip-up slanted hand pockets, zip-up slanted left chest pocket, left-side D-pocket (with a pointed single-snap flap), half-belt (with mitred-corner steel single-prong buckle), zip-up sleeves, and a bi-swing pleated “action back”
- Light stone-gray cotton cutoff shirt with a small black speckled pattern
- Olive-green combat pants with a high rise, two patch-style front pockets, two button-closed back pockets, and two flapped cargo pockets on the side
- Black wide leather belt with squared silver-toned buckle
- Black leather triple-strap calf-high harness boots
- Black Gargoyle “ANSI Classics” sunglasses
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
I’ll be back.