Willie Nelson as Wendell Hickson, trusty talent manager and cowboy singer
Las Vegas, Fall 1978
Film: The Electric Horseman
Release Date: December 21, 1979
Director: Sydney Pollack
Costume Designer: Bernie Pollack
Happy 90th birthday, Willie Nelson! Best known as a country singer/songwriter and prolific stoner, Nelson made his screen acting debut in The Electric Horseman as Wendell Hickson, the laidback and loyal yet understandably weary manager to Sonny Steele (Robert Redford), an increasingly erratic ex-rodeo star who has been reduced to PR appearances promoting cereal for his corporate overlords.
Naturally, Willie also contributed three songs for the film’s soundtrack, including the outlaw standards “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”, “Midnight Rider”, and “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”.
What’d He Wear?
Like Willie Nelson and his real-life country contemporaries, Wendell Hickson maintains a country-and-western image, built from pieces inspired by cowboy and Native American tradition.
Wendell anchors his look with a fringe jacket made of cognac-brown suede. Fringe jackets have long been associated with Native American culture, when tribes would make outerwear from animal hides that were detailed with long strands that served both function and form: as a means of weather insulation and shedding water while also providing a canvas for decoration like embroidery or beads. Like many Native American styles, fringed outerwear became popular in mainstream fashion through the later 20th century, thanks in part to its appearance in movies like Midnight Cowboy (1969), as modeled by Jon Voight.
Wendell’s three-button fringe jacket is cut like a thigh-length chore coat—with a long flat camp-style collar and hip pockets—detailed by the long fringe hanging from the yokes and sleeve seams. The jacket has pointed chest yokes and a straight back yoke, though the fringes are longer in the center of his back. The sleeves are set-in, with fringes hanging from the back seams along nearly the entire length of each arm. Each hip pocket also has its own yoke, detailed with respective fringe.
Wendell cycles through a series of shirts, most of them Western-styled with the traditional snap-front placket and pair of chest pockets that each close with a single snap on a pointed flap, in addition to the long point collar that was a 1970s requisite.
His shirts include solid and faintly striped tan shirts (both worn over a white cotton crew-neck undershirt), a light-blue shirt with a white graph check (worn over a black T-shirt), and an ecru shirt with a purple floral print.
Finally, for an afternoon drinking poolside in Las Vegas after Sonny’s horseback retreat into the desert, Wendell foregoes his usual Western shirt for a boldly printed indigo polyester shirt with white all-over floral etching overlaid with more detailed purple, sage, and orange flowers. Unlike the other shirts, this has a plain button-up placket and an extra-long collar, characteristic of the disco decade.
For someone who sings about how his heroes had always been cowboys, Wendell appoints himself appropriately in a tall-crowned cattleman’s-style cowboy hat made of dark taupe-brown felt, including the narrow self-band detailed with a golden feather tucked in along the left side.
Wendell typically wears light blue jeans, traditionally styled with the five-pocket configuration, rivets, and belt loops, though we don’t see the back of the jeans to determine if they’re the Wrangler jeans that Willie Nelson would endorse through the ’80s or the singer’s own “Willie”-branded jeans. The latter were signified by a metal tag etched with Willie’s autograph along the top seam of the back-right pocket, while the pocket itself was boldly embroidered with “Willie” in scripted yellow font above the state of Texas, embroidered in white and filled in with a pair of spur-bedecked sneakers.
To allow for Wendell’s signature footwear, the jeans have traditional boot-cut bottoms with fortunately none of the exaggerated flare seen throughout trendier pants of the ’70s.
Wendell holds up his jeans with a black leather belt, covered in large round silver studs. He further embraces his cowboy image with a set of tan soft leather cowboy boots.
Willie Nelson wore both of his own rings in The Electric Horseman, including a silver-toned wedding band on his left hand and a large gold signet-style ring on the ring finger of his right hand, detailed with five diamonds set against the round surface.
“That’s an interesting watchband,” Hallie (Jane Fonda) comments of the timepiece dressing Wendell’s left wrist. “Thank you, it’s Indian,” he responds, slipping it off for her review. The turquoise, white, and red-tiled cuff flanking his watch is affixed to a silver expanding band for easier removal. The digital watch itself consists of a plain round stainless steel case with a green rectangular LCD display. This style was popular through the late ’70s following the “quartz revolution”, as illustrated by the Casio 94QR-26, Timex LCD Digital, and Timex SSQ models.During the initial scene as Wendell helps Sonny prepare for one of his many public appearances, we see a second watch on the same wrist. This simple gold-toned watch has a round champagne-colored dial with gold non-numeric hour indices, worn on a dark brown leather strap.
How to Get the Look
Willie Nelson contributed much of his own persona into the character of Wendell Hickson, including his country-and-western garb that takes sartorial queues from cowboy culture and Native American tradition.
- Cognac-brown suede three-button fringe jacket with long camp-style collar, fringed chest and back yokes, and fringed hip pockets
- Light-colored printed Western-styled shirt with long point collar, snap-front placket, two chest pockets with snap-down flaps, and snap cuffs
- Light blue denim jeans
- Black large-studded leather belt
- Tan soft leather cowboy boots
- Gold five-diamond ring
- Silver-toned wedding band
- Stainless steel digital watch with rectangular green LCD display on turquoise, white, and red-tiled cuff with expanding band
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
I don’t know what you’re gonna do… I’m gonna get me a bottle of tequila, one of those little keno girls that can suck the chrome off a trailer hitch, and kinda kick back.