William Hurt as Nick Carlton, former radio psychologist and war veteran
Beaufort, South Carolina, Fall 1983
Film: The Big Chill
Release Date: September 28, 1983
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Costume Designer: April Ferry
Today is the 40th anniversary of the release of The Big Chill, Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 comedy-drama centered around seven friends from college (played by Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, and JoBeth Williams) who reunite after more than a decade for the funeral of a fellow UMich alum who committed suicide.
Scored by the rock and R&B hits from their late ’60s college heyday, the movie focuses on the ennui of adulthood as this handful of baby boomers are forced to reconcile their current realities with the idealistic visions they had for their future when they were young, energetic, and relatively free of responsibility.
It was easy back then, no one ever had a cushier berth than we did… it’s only out here in the world that it gets tough.
The last to arrive at the late Alex’s funeral is Nick Carlton, who sweeps through the crowd like a conquering hero—a kiss here, a welcoming smile there, and a knowing smirk with an old friend as an organist’s rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” scores the memorial ceremony. Nick’s reception even in such a somber moment illustrates his enduring popularity among his friends… and likely makes it more crushing for him to witness how far he’s fallen in the 15 years since they were last together, with PTSD from serving in Vietnam having left him impotent and cynical.
While the seven stay at the coastal home shared by Harold (Kevin Kline) and Sarah (Glenn Close)—and Alex’s cloud cuckoolander girlfriend Chloe (Meg Tilly), Nick punctuates this cynicism with pitch-black humor, such as deadpanning “That’s probably why he killed himself,” in response to Meg (Mary Kay Place) sharing that the last time she talked to Alex they had a fight… about how he was wasting his life. Nick probably doesn’t want to think too hard about how Meg’s criticism could also apply to himself, a one-time radio shrink now aimlessly eking out an existence addicted to drugs and almost certainly also peddling them. Will a long weekend reuniting with friends help Nick find some renewed purpose?
What’d He Wear?
Nick arrives at the funeral wearing a tan corduroy sport jacket that proves to be very versatile over the long weekend to follow, worn not just with his khakis and tie for the funeral but also to dress up his plaid flannel shirts and jeans.
Developed in 18th century Europe (some say France, others England), durable corduroy fabric has been a favorite among outdoorsmen for generations. Its tufted velveteen surface arranged into wales creates a distinctive texture that has made it a fashionable choice for centuries, especially in warm, earthy tones like brown and olive that align with its sporting heritage.
Nick’s single-breasted sport jacket is made from a tan medium-wale corduroy cotton, classically proportioned with its straight shoulders and notch lapels (finished with sporty welted edges) that roll to the top of two brown woven leather buttons on the front that match the four smaller buttons at the end of each cuff. The single-vented jacket also has a welted breast pocket and flapped patch pockets over the hips.
Nick’s pale-pink cotton shirt is patterned with white pencil stripes, designed with a semi-spread collar that he wears unbuttoned even with his tie. The shirt has a front placket, breast pocket, rounded barrel cuffs, and a box-pleated back. His dark brown knit tie is appropriately sober for the occasion (unlike some of the guests), and the knitted texture harmonizes with the ridged texture of his jacket.
Nick favors khaki slacks, which had risen from G.I. workwear during World War II to be a staple of every man’s wardrobe by the early ’80s. These flat-front trousers with a then-fashionable medium rise, belt loops, side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms. He holds them up with a mid-brown leather belt that closes through a rounded gold-toned single-prong buckle.
Nick maintains the soft brown tones of his outfit through his shoes, a set of mid-brown leather apron-toe tasseled loafers worn with dark chocolate-brown cotton lisle socks. Tassel loafers were developed through the 1950s, first as a bespoke request for actor Paul Lukas before the style went mainstream through a ’57 collaboration between Brooks Brothers and Massachusetts-based shoemaker Alden (of “Indy Boots” fame.)
Many loafers of this style feature substantial fringed loafers that add significant ornamentation while other “tassels” are more subdued, such as the lace-like strands detailing the vamps of Nick’s loafers which present a somewhat contradictory “laced loafer” effect.
The first night that the friends spend at Harold and Sarah’s house, Nick wears a simple light heather gray cotton or cotton/poly short-sleeved T-shirt with a crew-neck and breast pocket. As he’s still wearing his khakis, he may have been wearing this as an undershirt under his pink striped button-up shirt, or he may have simply changed into it to match the evening’s more casual vibe.
For the excursions out to the old house that Alex and Chloe were in the process of refurbishing, Nick layers his tan corduroy jacket over dressed-down casual shirts. The first of these is a long-sleeved cotton flannel shirt, patterned in an autumnal brown, orange, and beige plaid. The shirt has a semi-spread collar, front placket, two chest pockets, and button cuffs. He accompanies it with the same mid-blue denim jeans and white laced boat shoes that he incongruously wears for his morning jobs with Harold.
When Nick goes back out to the house by himself, he wears a blue-and-white railroad-striped work shirt. This long-sleeved shirt also has a long point collar, two chest pockets that each close through a single-button flap, and dark blue plastic buttons down the front placket.
“You can’t run in those shoes,” Harold had earlier commented as Nick struggled to keep up with his morning jog while dressed in his off-white deck shoes. “I’ll get you some real shoes.”
Harold makes good on his offer, pulling from the stock of his athletic footwear store Running Dog to equip each of his friends with a new pair of sneakers—presumably hand-selected to fit their personalities as well as their feet.
The friends wake up the next morning to an assortment of sneakers: Nikes, New Balances, and a sole (so to speak) pair of Adidas for Nick. “These feel great,” Nick drolly comments of his new Adidas TRX trainers. “I’m never taking these off. I’m going to sleep in them.” Indeed, we never see Nick wearing any other shoes over the course of The Big Chill, always with white ribbed athletic crew socks.
Adidas developed the TRX in 1976, intended for serious runners and marathons. Nick’s TRX trainers have scarlet-red suede-over-textile uppers, detailed with white laces, raised heel tabs, and Adidas’ signature triple side stripes, as well as the white cushioned midsole. The gum rubber soles are studded with small suction discs that add bounce to the wearer’s step.
Nick’s sunglasses are the same style of gold-framed Ray-Ban Shooter Aviator sunglasses preferred by Hunter S. Thompson, distinguished by both the reinforced acetate brow bar (originally designed to keep sweat from clouding a pilot’s vision) and the “vanity bullet hole” just below it—between the top corners of the lenses and perched above the bridge. (We actually see a tan Ray-Ban case as Nick unpacks his belongings outside the house on the first evening.)
Ray-Ban pioneered this style in 1938 as the Shooter Aviator, an extension of its then-new Aviator frame but featuring the vanity hole also referred to as a “cigarette hole” for the perhaps apocryphal purpose of a sportsman perching his smoldering cigarette between his eyes while using both hands to shoot. (The following year, Ray-Ban would develop the Outdoorsman, which kept the Aviator frame and brow bar but lacked the hole.)
When Ray-Ban began numbering its models in the 1990s, the Shooter Aviator was designated the RB3138 and remains in production (via Amazon or Ray-Ban) in gold frames with polarized green lenses and either beige or black brow bars.
Nick has a fondness for yellow-gold accessories, as the small hoop earring in his left earlobe is also gold. His two-toned wristwatch appears to be a Japanese-made Seiko 7006-8007, with a silver-toned stainless steel 36mm “batwing”-shaped case, yellow-gold fixed bezel, and a light gold dial protected by thick crystal. Powered by a 17-jewel automatic movement, this Seiko also features a day-date function, displayed in a white window at the 3 o’clock position. The 18mm-wide mixed-metal bracelet consists of a gold five-piece “beads of rice” inner bracelet, framed by brushed steel outer links.
Like its driver, Nick’s black 1969 Porsche 911T Targa has seen better days but it can still run… even with his mini pharmacy stashed under the front-left tire-well. I wonder if the 1969 model year was intentionally chosen to represent the last time he felt good about himself; indeed, it’s very possible that Nick and his pals are all class of ’69 graduates.
Three years after the introduction of its venerable 911 series, Porsche launched the “Targa” variant for the 1967 model year, defined by a roof panel that could be removed and stored in the trunk, leaving a steel roll bar across the top of the car that provided both a distinguished appearance and a greater degree of safety in the event of a rollover—developed by Porsche in response to fears that the NHTSA would outlaw fully open-roofed convertibles in the United States. It wouldn’t be until the early 1980s that Porsche introduced true convertibles to its 911 lineup.
Nick’s Porsche is an entry-level 911T, powered by Porsche’s famous rear-mounted 2.0-liter flat-6 “boxer” engine, generating up to 123 horsepower as opposed to the more powerful mid-range 911E (closer to 155 hp) and performance-oriented 911S (up to 190 hp). All models were mated to either a four-speed or five-speed manual transmission, with the semi-automatic (clutch-less manual) four-speed “Sportomatic” transmission also added as an option for ’69.
An IMCDB contributor narrowed down the model year of Nick’s Porsche by the push-button door opening handle visible as Meg enters the passenger side of the car!
How to Get the Look
Nick illustrates the powerful versatility of a smart, timeless sports coat like the fall-friendly tan corduroy jacket he wears throughout The Big Chill, suitably dressed up with tie, khakis, and loafers or dressed down with plaid flannel shirt, jeans, and sneakers.
- Tan corduroy single-breasted 2-button sport jacket with “swelled-edge” notch lapels, welted breast pocket, flapped patch hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and single vent
- Pale-pink and white-striped cotton shirt with semi-spread collar, front placket, breast pocket, rounded button cuffs, and box-pleated back
- Dark-brown knitted tie
- Khaki flat-front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Brown leather belt with rounded gold-toned single-prong buckle
- Brown leather apron-toe tasseled loafers
- Dark chocolate-brown socks
- Ray-Ban Shooter Aviator gold-framed sunglasses with beige sweat bar, vanity “bullet hole”, and brown-tinted lenses
- Gold mini-hoop earring (if you’re so inclined)
- Seiko 7006-8007 automatic wristwatch with stainless steel 36mm case, gold bezel, gold dial (with white 3:00 day-date windows), and two-toned bracelet with steel outer links framing a 5-piece gold rice-grain center
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
While The Big Chill may mean something different for viewers depending on their age and when they watched it, I’m now in my mid-30s, closing in on the same age as the characters. I may have once been disgusted by how cynically the friends take refuge in their privilege, but I now find comfort in the argument that Michael (Jeff Goldblum) makes for selling out: “Don’t knock rationalization, where we would we be without it?”
Wise up, folks. We’re all alone out there, and tomorrow we’re goin’ out there again.