Walk the Line: Johnny Cash in Black for an On-Stage Engagement
Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash, country rock star
London, Ontario, February 1968
Film: Walk the Line
Release Date: November 18, 2005
Director: James Mangold
Costume Designer: Arianne Phillips
Tailor: Pam Lisenby
Fifty-five years ago on February 22, 1968, Johnny Cash surprised both the audience and perhaps also his frequent performing partner, June Carter, by proposing to her in the middle of a performance in London, Ontario. The pair had been friends—and eventually lovers—for nearly a decade, as depicted in the 2005 biopic Walk the Line, which culminated with Cash’s on-stage proposal following their performance of “Ring of Fire”, the song June had composed with Merle Kilgore four years earlier to meditate on her own emotions about their relationship.
“June acted all flustered—and maybe she was caught off guard by the timing, but the two had been talking for weeks about getting married, even discussing specific dates,” wrote Robert Hilburn in his biography, Johnny Cash: The Life. “Excited to be part of such a special moment, the crowd showered the couple with affection when June accepted his proposal.”
It had been just over a month since Cash’s landmark concert at Folsom Prison and four days before his 36th birthday when the Man in Black popped the question in front of an audience of 7,000 at London’s Gardens hockey arena. Walk the Line presents the moment as a surprise—and not a wholly welcome one—for June, who had been joining Johnny in a duet of their popular “Jackson” when he interrupted it to ask the question.
In real life, their recording of “Jackson” received a Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Performance Duet, Trio, or Group just one week later on February 29. “What a nice wedding gift this is!” June announced to a reporter that evening. The following day, Johnny and June were married at the First Methodist Church in Franklin, Kentucky, and they would remain married for 35 years until their deaths months apart in 2003.
What’d He Wear?
By the late 1960s, Johnny Cash had established his habit of dressing in black as he would immortalize himself in the 1971 song “Man in Black”. For the ’68 on-stage proposal, Cash wears his usual black layers, though each has a unique texture or design that adds some visual interest beyond just an all-black shirt, waistcoat, and trousers.
The shirt is all black with a tonal mini-diamond weave, designed with a spread collar worn open at the neck. Consistent with the increasingly fashionable trends that would even reach James Bond’s closet, the front pleats and French cuffs are frilled with ruffles, finished with pale-gray edges. He fastens the double cuffs with a set of gold rectangular cuff links, detailed with a black line across the center and a raised black semi-spherical stone in a round setting.
Cash’s black silk waistcoat (vest) is patterned all over in a tonal basket-woven print and styled like a formal waistcoat with its smooth-finished shawl collar and low-fastening front. The long shots and his guitar placement conceal how many buttons are on the front, but I would suspect two or three above the notched bottom. There are two welted pockets on each side.
Cash wears black flat-front trousers with a silky finish that shines under the bright stage lights. Though this material makes them flashier than you’d find on a ranch, the trousers incorporate elements of Western styling—consistent with Cash’s country genre—such as the wide, pointed belt loops, slanted full-top front pockets, and back pockets with pointed flaps. The trousers are cut straight through the legs down to plain-hemmed bottoms that break over Cash’s black leather boots, which coordinate to his black belt leather.
How to Get the Look
Johnny Cash was famous for frequently dressing in black, a sartorial habit dating back to his salad days at Sun Records in the ’50s, with Walk the Line establishing his mastered completion of the “Man in Black” image by this pivotal moment in his life, taking the stage in a black shirt, waistcoat, and trousers.
- Black tonal mini-diamond weave long-sleeved shirt with spread collar, ruffled front, and ruffled double/French cuffs
- Gold rectangular cuff links with black line and raised black stone
- Black basket-woven printed silk formal waistcoat with smooth shawl collar, four welted pockets, and notched bottom
- Black silky flat-front straight-leg trousers with wide Western-pointed belt loops, slanted full-top front pockets, pointed-flap back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black leather belt
- Black leather boots
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, and pick up some Johnny Cash records.
In the spirit of Johnny and June’s professional (and personal) partnership, I recommend their great 1967 album Carryin’ On, which my wife kindly gave me for a birthday gift two years ago. The album includes “Jackson” as well as covers of Bob Dylan (“It Ain’t Me, Babe”) and Ray Charles (“I Got a Woman” and “What’d I Say”) as well as a pair of Cash/Carter-penned songs, including my favorite “Oh, What a Good Thing We Had”.
In case none of y’all heard, she said yes!