True Romance: Clarence’s Rockabilly Road Trip Style
Christian Slater as Clarence Worley, newlywed rockabilly enthusiast and former comic store clerk
Mojave Desert, Spring 1992
Film: True Romance
Release Date: September 10, 1993
Director: Tony Scott
Costume Designer: Susan Becker
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
The Friday before Memorial Day has been designated National Road Trip Day, celebrating the open road and the start of the summer travel season. As this year is also the 30th anniversary of the Quentin Tarantino-penned, Tony Scott-directed genre-blender True Romance, let’s follow the felonious newlyweds Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) and Alabama Whitman (Patricia Arquette) as they make their way west from Detroit in the Elvis-obsessed Clarence’s pink Cadillac convertible.
This isn’t your typical honeymoon, as the couple left a trail of blood and cocaine in their wake after Clarence secured Alabama’s freedom from a sleazy drug-dealing pimp named Drexl Spivey (Gary Oldman) by killing him and his henchman, spiriting away with Alabama’s belongings and a hefty amount of stolen nose candy… which sics the Mafia on the lovers’ trail.
Of course, Clarence and Alabama are oblivious to anything but their passion for each other and the prospect of financing a lifelong getaway by getting Clarence’s pitiful actor pal Dick Ritchie (Michael Rapaport) to help them sell the coke in L.A. The couple makes a brief stop in the desert, where Alabama admires her Vegas shopping haul while Clarence tries to call Dick, until Alabama sashays into the phone booth to suggest she’s interested in a different kind of dick at the moment, all to the tune of the Big Bopper’s 1958 hit “Chantilly Lace”.
What’d He Wear?
The Detroit winter had demanded layered jackets and hoodies, but the stretch of desert between Las Vegas and Los Angeles is no place for stifling layers, so Clarence Worley keeps it simpler while retaining his rockabilly-informed style by way of a secondhand bowling shirt, Elvis-style sunglasses, and bucks.
The bowling shirt is made of an aqua-blue rayon, decorated with three diamonds—white, black, and red—over the right breast, each with a thin stripe of the same color that extends down from each respective diamonds to the straight hem. The short-sleeved shirt follows the camp shirt design typical of bowling apparel, with a loop collar so named for the short extended loop on the left side of the collar that corresponds to a button under the right collar leaf. The shirt also has a breast pocket, set-in short sleeves with cuffed ends, and a plain front with six aqua-colored plastic buttons that match the shirt.
Clarence wears the top two buttons (top three, if you count the under-collar button at the neck) undone, showing the chest of his white cotton crew-neck undershirt. Though much of Clarence’s clothing may be vintage to the mid-20th century, his undershirt is more contemporary to the ’90s with its longer “short sleeves” that stick out beyond the sleeves of his bowling shirt. ’50s-style undershirts—as worn by Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause had much shorter sleeves that would never threaten to extend lower than the sleeves of the wearer’s main shirt.
The back of Clarence’s bowling shirt is embroidered in white with “Mt. Rainer Club of the Deaf” with the name “Buckley” similarly embroidered on the the left shoulder, just above the straight yoke that extends across the back.
Clarence’s medium-blue denim jeans look like Levi’s, characterized by the “arcuate stitch” along both back patch-style pockets as well as the signature red tab sewn along the seam of the back-right pocket. The jeans are self-cuffed and worn sans belt, though he would begin wearing a belt in L.A. for additional support when carrying a revolver in his waistband.
Clarence doesn’t limit his rockabilly influences to the King alone, as his white bucks recall Elvis Presley’s cleaner-cut competition Pat Boone, who became so associated with his footwear of choice that he was known as “The Kid in the White Buck Shoes.”
Characterized by their white or off-white nubuck leather and often brick-red rubber soles, bucks arrived in the United States early in the 20th century, though it wasn’t until they found a foothold (so to speak) among college students in the 1950s that they grew popular as the clean-cut Ivy alternative to casual sneakers. “Though a certain percentage of the younger generation did indeed fit this mold, it was not representative of the all teenagers, and thus—fittingly, one might say—intentionally keeping your bucks scuffed and dingy during the 1950s was in fact seen a sign of rebellion in some circles,” describes the blogger Chronically Vintage in her excellent history of bucks.
“Bucks have enjoyed continual renaissances, mainly because they make ideal partners for dark jeans and khakis,” advises Esquire’s The Handbook of Style. As long as they meet the criteria of their napped leather uppers and low profiles, bucks can vary in style, including between closed (oxford) or open (derby) lacing systems. Clarence wears derby-laced plain-toe bucks with pure white laces that illustrate the contrast against the sandier beige uppers. He also wears plain white ribbed cotton-blend crew socks.
If the bucks owed some provenance to Pat Boone, Clarence’s sunglasses are pure Elvis. Through his last decade of fame in the 1970s, Elvis Presley began wearing the gold “Nautic 2” oversized pilot sunglasses from German eyewear company Neostyle, personalized with his initials “EP” at the bridge and each temple inscribed with “TCB” for the singer’s personal motto—”Takin’ care of business.”
In the decades since Elvis’ death, scores of inexpensive imitations of the iconic Nautic 2 have appeared on the market. Clarence sports a set of these reproduction shades, with the plastic frames painted a metallic gold. The lenses are amber, and each arm has five holes that regress in size as the arm tapers toward the black plastic-covered ear rests. (A pair of Christian Slater’s screen-worn sunglasses sold at auction ten years ago, with the listing and photos viewable here.)
Clarence always wears a chunky tarnished curb chain-link ID bracelet on his left wrist, with the name bar personalized with “Clarence” in a scripted font. He and Alabama symbolized their marriage with a set of matching diamond-studded gold horseshoe rings that each of them appropriately wear on the third fingers of their respective left hands.
As Clarence pushes out of his jeans during his phone booth tryst with Alabama, we glimpse—for the sake of comprehensiveness—his red cotton boxer shorts, patterned with white polka dots.
When the couple gets to L.A., he swaps out the bowling shirt for a brightly patterned red Hawaiian shirt that will be the subject of a future post.
As Elvis had idealized the pink Cadillac in the 1950s before cycling through a number of his own, Clarence Worley sought out his own until getting his hands on a deep pink 1974 Cadillac Eldorado convertible, which looks better suited to the atmosphere of the Mojave Desert than the snowy streets of Detroit that Clarence and Alabama left behind them.
Cadillac had introduced the Eldorado name in 1953, its aureate name selected to commemorate the marque’s golden anniversary. After two decades of increased association with automotive luxury, Cadillac introduced the ninth generation of the Eldorado in 1971, available in two-door coupes or convertibles at a staggering 223 inches long and powered by the massive 500 cubic-inch (8.2-liter) V8 engine that Cadillac reserved exclusively for the Eldorado, mated to GM’s venerated three-speed Turbo Hydramatic automatic transmission.
Emissions restrictions would de-tune the engine down to 210 horsepower by the 1974 model year, pushing the two-and-a-half-ton convertible to a top speed estimated around 114 mph, though these cars were built for comfort, not performance, as it reportedly took 11 seconds for the ’74 Eldorado convertible to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph.
There were reportedly two 1974 Cadillacs used during the making of True Romance, though only one is known to still survive, located in Wilmington, North Carolina and available for premium rentals. You can read more about this particular car at TrueRomanceCadillac.com.
Quentin Tarantino’s original screenplay had stipulated that Clarence drove a red Mustang, but Tony Scott determined that a pink—or perhaps it’s more accurate to call it purple—Cadillac would better fit the character. He spied one driving through Hollywood shortly before production began and had the studio purchase it from the owner, then purchased a second backup Cadillac that would be repainted to match the purple convertible and used as a stunt car.
An IMCDB user explained in a comment that the primary Cadillac was originally painted Pharaoh Gold with a gold interior when it was manufactured and sold in 1974. At some point in the next eighteen years, the car was repainted an aftermarket shade of purple and reupholstered with a leopard-print cloth and dashboard wrap as seen on screen. Tony Scott gifted the car to Patricia Arquette after production wrapped, but she found that it attracted too much attention and it was eventually sold away from the Arquette family until the current owner found it in December 2017 and fixed it up.
How to Get the Look
Clarence Worley pulls together a ragtag road outfit influenced by ’50s rockabilly culture as he and his new bride speed through the desert to L.A.
- Aqua-blue (with tri-color diamond breast print) rayon bowling shirt with loop collar, breast pocket, plain front, and straight hem
- White cotton crew-neck short-sleeve undershirt
- Medium-blue denim Levi’s jeans
- Beige nubuck derby-laced shoes with white laces and brick-red rubber soles
- White ribbed cotton-blend crew socks
- Red polka-dot cotton boxer shorts
- Gold plastic Nautic 2-style oversized pilot sunglasses
- Silver necklace
- Gold chain-link ID bracelet
- Gold diamond-horseshoe ring
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
I’d say her red western shirt is pure ‘’60s-70s vintage H BAR C. Thickish polyester and they had cool names like “El Dorado” and “Royal Flush.”
I just recently scored a pair of Giorgio Brutini white bucks for five bucks at a local thrift store. I was so thrilled to find them and I’ve been wearing them often – thinking of Clarence all the while.