Jack Nicholson as George Hanson, civil rights attorney
New Mexico to Louisiana, February 1968
Film: Easy Rider
Release Date: July 14, 1969
Director: Dennis Hopper
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today is the 86th birthday of Jack Nicholson, the screen icon who recently [sort of] made headlines—and more than a few memes—after being photographed for the first time in 18 months, proving that not even an octogenarian retiree is spared superficial judgements about appearance.
Nicholson’s prolific career spanned six decades, and his 12 Academy Award nominations establish him as the most nominated male acting nominee in Oscar history. His first nomination recognized his memorable turn in Easy Rider as George Hanson, the easygoing lawyer who joins countercultural bikers Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) on their freewheeling trek across America.
What’d He Wear?
Despite his affability and open mind, George Hanson still comes across as a relative square when compared to the leather-clad Wyatt and fringed Billy. George’s linen suit and bright tie may be more offbeat than the conservative blue or gray business suit, but it’s still a suit and tie—the sartorial symbol of establishment.
That said, our group first meets in a New Mexico jail cell, so even the white shirt and tie inform us that George may have more of a countercultural spirit than his clothing would otherwise suggest. His wrinkled linen suit and loosened tie evokes the classic image of the hardworking, civic-minded Southern lawyer in cool-wearing seersucker as popularized by Atticus Finch and Ben Matlock.
George wears a plain white cotton shirt with a spread collar, plain front, breast pocket, and squared single-button cuffs. His scarlet-red silk tie flares out toward the broad-tipped blade, with two wide white chevrons spaced out below the knot. Each chevron is filled with a scarlet medallion-print design.
George’s cream linen suit would be comfortably cool in the heat of the southwest. The suit’s outmoded details and oversized jacket suggest it was purchased secondhand, with the latter sin particularly evident in how far the shoulders fall off from Nicholson’s frame, the effect exacerbated by extra-long sleeves. The jacket has a single-breasted, three-button front, a ventless back, and two-button cuffs. The breast pocket and hip pockets are sporty patch pockets.
The suit’s matching trousers have a medium-high rise, held up with a set of ivory ribbed cloth suspenders (braces) that have gold-toned adjusters and white leather hooks to connect to buttons along the inside of the trouser waistband.
The trousers have a short reverse pleat on each side, as well as belt loops that go unused, and the bottoms are finished with turn-ups (cuffs). They also have vertical side pockets and button-through back pockets.
Even beyond its excessive fit, the outdated details of George’s suit would have made it considerably unfashionable by the late ’60s. While this could suggest someone yearning for an earlier time, I interpret it to communicate that George may not totally fit into the persona he has chosen for himself, serving as a quiet rebellion to the conformity of his profession. After he abandons his old life to hit the road with Wyatt and Billy, the haphazard way he deconstructs his suit—such as wearing the suspender-rigged trousers with his T-shirt, football helmet, and cowboy boots—creates a sartorial chaos that aligns him with the outcasts he has befriended.
A more decorum-informed lawyer than George may have worn low shoes like oxfords with his suit, but his weathered brown leather cowboy boots neatly transfer to his new life. The tall shafts provide ankle support and protection while riding, while the design also fortuitously lacks any laces that could be caught in the chain, sprocket, or gears of Wyatt’s Harley-Davidson.
“Oh, I’ve got a helmet! I got a beauty,” George responds to Wyatt’s question, which serves as his invitation to join them en route Mardi Gras. To the tune of the Holy Modal Rounders, we catch up with George now riding with the boys, protecting his head in an old-fashioned football helmet, presumably from his undergrad days at the University of Michigan as the colors of his helmet and varsity sweater suggest. The hard plastic helmet is painted gold, with a blue anteroposterior stripe across the center, flanked on top by two ventilation holes. The white leather chin strap is secured with a buckle.
George wears black Shuron Ronsir Zyl glasses. Shuron originated the distinctive “browline” frame when they introduced the Ronsir in the late 1940s, and it grew to iconic status throughout the ’60s thanks to wearers like LBJ, Vince Lombardi, and Malcolm X. To convert them into sunglasses as needed, he clips on a set of sunglass lenses specifically designed to fit the Ronsir-style frame, connected by a narrow gold bar across the top.
George swaps out his tie for a varsity sweater for the first leg of his journey to Mardi Gras with Wyatt and Billy, as well as the memorable marijuana scene around the trio’s campfire. Also known as a “Letterman sweater” (for the large letter embroidered across the front), varsity sweaters originated at Harvard in the late 19th century as students began customizing sweaters to show their enthusiasm for their athletic pursuits. Eventually, the varsity sweaters caught on at high schools and universities across the country to become an established staple of American sports culture.
George’s navy ribbed wool sweater has a large gold boiled wool “M” stitched onto the torso, reinforcing the theory he attended the University of Michigan. The football in the upper right corner informs us of his chosen sport, while the star in the opposing corner suggests that George may have been the captain of his team. The three golden bands over his left bicep tell us that he was on the team for at least three years.
When the trio rides into Louisiana to dine at a small-town restaurant, he’s stripped down to a plain burgundy cotton crew-neck short-sleeved T-shirt with a squared breast pocket.
George wears a gold-toned wristwatch with a round champagne-colored dial, sparsely detailed with non-numeric hour indices, on a gold-toned expanding band.
What to Imbibe
“Here’s the first of the day, fellas,” George announces as he raises his flask-bottle of Jim Beam before taking a long swig of the bourbon and absorbing the effect with an odd extended gesture reportedly ad-libbed by Jack Nicholson.
Now practically a household name, Jim Beam bourbon wasn’t actually known as such until a decade after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Long known as “Old Tub”, the bourbon was rebranded “Jim Beam” in 1943 in tribute to then-president James Beauregard Beam, great-great grandson of German immigrant Johannes “Jacob” Beam, who had started the operation in the late 18th century.
How to Get the Look
George Hanson’s cream linen suit with its oversized patch-pocket jacket and pleated trousers held up with suspenders would have been relatively outdated by the late 1960s setting, signifying his initial alignment with a more conservative establishment. Luckily for our heroes, George is all too happy to deconstruct his suit and tie as he straps his “beauty” of his helmet and hops aboard the back of Captain America’s Harley-Davidson.
- Cream linen suit:
- Single-breasted 3-button jacket with notch lapels, patch breast pocket, patch hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and single vent
- Single reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops, straight/on-seam side pockets, button-through back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- White cotton shirt with spread collar, plain front, breast pocket, and button cuffs
- Scarlet-red silk tie with medallion-printed large white chevrons
- Ivory ribbed cloth suspenders with gold-toned adjusters and white leather hooks
- Brown leather cowboy boots
- Shuron Ronsir Zyl black browline-framed glasses with clip-on sunglasses
- Gold-toned wristwatch with round champagne dial on gold-finished expanded bracelet
Do Yourself a Favor and…
You know, this used to be a hell of a good country.