Jason Schwartzman as Augie Steenbeck, widowed war photojournalist (portrayed in-universe by Jones Hall)
The Mojave Desert, Fall 1955
Film: Asteroid City
Release Date: June 16, 2023
Director: Wes Anderson
Costume Designer: Milena Canonero
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
“Each year, we celebrate Asteroid Day, commemorating September 23, 3007 B.C., when the Arid Plains Meteorite made Earth impact,” General Grif Gibson (Jeffrey Wright) explains to the gathered crowd of Junior Stargazers and Space Cadets and their parents in Asteroid City, the latest from Wes Anderson—a colorful reflection of grief and loneliness in a delightfully surreal “cosmic wilderness”.
Vividly photographed in Anderson’s signature style, Asteroid City centers around a fictional play staged for live television in the 1950s, scored by a great early ’50s guitar soundtrack featuring contemporary hits by Les Paul & Mary Ford and cowboy singers like Slim Whitman and Tennessee Ernie Ford as well as Alexandre Desplat’s evocative original score. The play is set in a fictional town of 87, located approximately “halfway between Parched Gulf and Arid Plains” near a nuclear testing site in the California/Arizona/Nevada region, according to the opening lines of playwright Conrad Earp (Edward Norton).
The ostensible protagonist among our ensemble cast is the Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman), a jaded war photojournalist and—initially unbeknownst to his “brainiac” son Woodrow (Jake Ryan) and three younger daughters that he’s traveling with—a recent widow. “Let’s say she’s in Heaven… which doesn’t exist for me, of course, but you’re Episcopalian,” Augie reassures his children while grasping their mother’s ashes in a teal Tupperware bowl.
Asteroid City was merely meant to be a stop on the way to drop his daughters off with his father-in-law Stanley Zak (Tom Hanks), but their station wagon gives out and strands the Steenbeck family in this unique desert hamlet during Woodrow’s Junior Stargazers convention… an event that proves to be both world-changing and strangely prescient, given the recent headlines that seem to give credence to theories of extraterrestrial life.
“Act 1, Friday morning, 7 a.m.,” begins on September 23, 1955, when the Junior Stargazers and Space Cadets gather in Asteroid City to be recognized for their scientific achievements, only to be unexpectedly joined by an alien (Jeff Goldblum) who cautiously lowers himself into the crater, collects the famed fragment of the meteorite that created it, and poses for Augie to take a single photograph before ascending back into the skies.
“The, uh, alien stole the asteroid,” Augie drolly comments after the dozens of attendees are left speechless by the extraterrestrial intervention.
Led by General Gibson, the government is quick to attempt containing the situation by placing the town under military quarantine and subjecting the visitors to a series of examinations. “One week later, our cast of characters’ already tenuous grasp of reality has further slipped in quarantine,” our playwright informs us… perhaps also recalling a mental state shared by many by the end of March 2020!
Amidst the chaos, the glum Augie strikes up a friendship-turned-romance with the equally cynical film actress Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johanssen), which begins when he snaps her photo in the town diner:
Midge: You took a picture of me.
Augie: Uh huh.
Augie: I’m a photographer.
What’d He Wear?
Thoughtfully designed by the prolific Milena Canonero, Augie’s costume follows his adventurous background as a combat photographer, anchored by his military-inspired safari jacket. The character recalls a fellow bearded creative-type who immersed himself in war zones: Ernest Hemingway, who designed his own bush jacket for Willis & Geiger Outfitters in 1936, a year after the term “safari suit” first appeared in an American newspaper, according to The Oxford English Dictionary.
The style originated in the early 20th century to serve its name-informed purpose as a practical garment to wear on African safari, taking style queues from the light-colored, lightweight uniforms worn by European troops serving in warm climates. Over the decades to follow, safari clothing was embraced by sportsmen and adventurers who appreciated its primary purpose, until it went mainstream during the 1970s thanks to designers like Yves Saint Laurent. However, at the time of Asteroid City‘s 1955 setting, safari jackets were still more than a decade away from their fashionable ubiquity during the disco era; Augie’s decision to regularly wear one would be more informed by his profession and experience than fashion trends.
Augie’s safari jacket follows the example of most contemporary examples, made in a khaki twill cloth that resembles warm-weather military uniforms—likely either cotton, a lightweight worsted wool, or an equivalent weather-appropriate blend. The jacket has short notch lapels that roll to the top of a high-fastening front with four mixed tan horn buttons, all of which Augie wears buttoned.
Less structured than the typical tailored single-breasted jacket, this jacket’s design follows the typical hallmarks of safari style, including the military-style epaulets (shoulder straps), four pockets, belted waist, and pleated “action back”. The full self-belt fastens just below the third button through a brown leather-covered double-prong buckle, and he tucks the rest of the tail behind the belt to keep it out of his way—the belt itself passes through two self-loops on each side and a single self-loop in the center of his back.
There are two box-pleated chest pockets and two larger patch hip pockets, all which close through a respective rectangular flap with a single button. The shoulders are detailed with epaulets, sewn to the top of each set-in sleeve-head and with the pointed end buttoned to the body of the coat closer to the neck. The sleeves end with squared shirt-style barrel cuffs that each close through a single button matching those on the front, pockets, and epaulets. A horizontal yoke spans the width of Augie’s back from armhole to armhole, and an inverted box pleat down the center of his back (aligned with the vent below his belt) adds a greater degree of arm movement.
Augie’s tendency to wear his jacket fully buttoned (even in his motel room) means we see little of his white sport shirt. The little we can discern is that it’s likely short-sleeved and has some fraying around the edges of the camp collar, suggesting that it’s seen plenty of action in his photojournalistic adventures. The collar is of the “loop collar” style, so named for the small loop that extends out from the left side to hook around a button positioned under the right collar leaf. When unbuttoned, this typically wears flat like a traditional camp collar (think of aloha or bowling shirts), but Augie always keeps his shirt buttoned to the neck.
Augie tonally coordinates his outfit with a pair of beige flat-front trousers that are just a shade lighter (and a shade warmer) than his khaki safari jacket, though we can see little of these other than the straight-leg cut down to the short-break bottoms, finished with turn-ups (cuffs).
Though now an ubiquitous menswear staple, khaki slacks were only recently popular in the mid-’50s, having gained traction thanks to returning servicemen wearing their tan G.I.-issued slacks as workwear at home. Having worked alongside khaki-wearing troops in World War II, Augie was likely an early adopter.
Worn with light tan ribbed socks that continue the leg-line of his trousers, Augie’s footwear are almost certainly the Alden 405 boots made famous by Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, an adventurous association that resulted in their enduring moniker of “Indy Boots”.
These iconic ankle-high work boots are characterized by the contrasting apron-toe stitching against the brown calfskin uppers and derby-laced arrangement of five sets of eyelets and four sets of speed hooks—all finished in black. The boots feature Goodyear welting and neoprene cork outsoles with Thomas heels.
Strapped to a worn-in khaki NATO-style strap with a wide keeper, Augie’s stainless steel wristwatch resembles an elevated alternative to the field watches he would have seen while embedded in combat zones. The black dial features silver-toned hour indices, including Arabic numerals for 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock.
I’ve seen similar contemporary watches by major watchmakers like Longines, Omega, Rolex, Tudor, and Universal, but I don’t believe it’s any of those… though something like the Omega Constellation (CK 2852) would be a similar vibe and, like Augie’s car, have a name appropriate for the themes of Asteroid City.
Augie the recent widow still wears his gold wedding band on the ring finger of his left hand.
1952 was the first year for the Mercury Monterey, though the “woodie” estate wagon wasn’t offered until the 1953 model year, at odds with the mechanic (Matt Dillon) commenting on the “’52 estate model” that Augie drives into Asteroid City with his family. Regardless of this reasonable in-universe slip-up (which makes even more sense when considering that the “mechanic” is merely a creation by Conrad Earp, who wouldn’t have had access to modern resources to pinpoint his mechanic’s dialogue), Mercury is an appropriate marque for a character to be driving given its planetary associations and the overall cosmic vibe of Asteroid City.
I suspect Augie’s vehicle is the 1953 Mercury Monterey estate wagon, one of 7,719 built for that model year. The exterior paint is “Tahiti tan”, aside from the two-toned wood paneling across the doors, rear quarter panels, and tailgate.
The only available engine for the Monterey in 1952 and ’53 would have been the 255 cubic-inch Ford flathead V8, generating 125 horsepower and mated to either the standard three-speed manual transmission or three-speed “Ford-O-Matic” automatic, though we never get a sense of Augie’s transmission since we never actually see the wagon operating under its own power.
How to Get the Look
Decades before safari style would enter the fashion mainstream, Augie Steenbeck wears his adventurous belted jacket with the authenticity-informed purpose expected of a world-weary combat photographer—effectively complemented by his subdued fraying sport shirt, G.I.-style khakis, and Indy boots.
- Khaki worsted twill single-breasted 4-button safari jacket with notch lapels, full-belted waist (with leather-covered two-prong buckle), epaulets, two box-pleated chest pockets (with button-down flaps), two patch-style hip pockets (with button-down flaps), and set-in sleeves with single-button squared barrel cuffs, and inverted box-pleated “action back” with single vent
- White cotton short-sleeved camp shirt with loop collar
- Beige flat-front trousers with straight-leg and turn-ups/cuffs
- Brown calfskin leather Alden 405 derby-laced apron-toe work boots
- Tan ribbed socks
- Gold wedding band
- Stainless steel watch with round black dial on worn khaki NATO strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie. The colorful cinematography, surreal Margot Robbie cameo, existential themes, and small atomic-adjacent town in the desert have resulted in some calling it the halfway point between Barbie and Oppenheimer.
You can also read more about the men’s costumes in Asteroid City at A Little Bit of Rest.
The other thing she said, which is incorrect, is that time heals all wounds. No. Maybe it can be a Band-aid.