The Big Chill: Tom Berenger’s Convertible Down Jacket

Tom Berenger in The Big Chill (1983)


Tom Berenger as Sam Weber, jaded TV star

Beaufort, South Carolina, Fall 1983

Film: The Big Chill
Release Date: September 28, 1983
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Costume Designer: April Ferry


As I prepare to gather with friends today for our annual Friendsgiving celebration, there’s a cinematic choice that perfectly captures the essence of fall, friendship, and the shared warmth of communal meals.

Despite not being centered around the holiday itself, The Big Chill has earned a place among many as a quintessential “Thanksgiving movie” with its autumnal setting, the camaraderie of old friends reuniting, and the soul-stirring soundtrack creating a nostalgic backdrop reminiscent of the season’s familial gatherings.

Beyond this thematic resonance, the film also offers a visual feast served by costume designer April Ferry’s array of early ’80s threads worn by its ensemble cast. Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, and JoBeth Williams star as college friends who reunite more than a decade after their graduation to mourn one of their group lost to suicide—portrayed by Kevin Costner, who was almost entirely cut from the film. Almost.

I recently had a request to explore Berenger’s style as Sam Weber, who was become arguably the most famous of his college pals, gracing magazine covers as the star of the Magnum, P.I.-like series, J.T. Lancer.

Tom Berenger in The Big Chill (1983)

Like any good friend group forcing their famous friend to watch the corny credits to his hit TV show, they respond back to the screen with their own exaggerated thumbs up.

Despite his own cynicism regarding his career’s artistic merit, Sam emerges as perhaps the most sincere of the men—especially compared to deadpan snarker Harold (Kline), horny yuppie Michael (Goldblum), and super-cynic drug dealer Nick (Hurt). The weekend also provides an opportunity for Sam to rekindle nearly 20 years of unconsummated flirtation with the unhappily married Karen (Williams), with whom he quickly re-establishes a rapport as they reconnect at Alex’s wake.

Sam: So how’s your life?
Karen: Oh, great. How’s yours?
Sam: Not so great.
Karen: Oh! We’re telling the truth.

Berenger grew so taken with Beaufort during the film’s production that he moved to the coastal South Carolina city after filming was completed.

What’d He Wear?

Over his rotation of denim snap-front shirts and neckband shirts, Sam cycles between a black leather jacket that fits his “bad boy” screen image and a more down-to-earth puffer jacket.

Puffer jackets are characterized by their quilted design, created by the air pockets filled with down feathers—resulting in these also being known as “down jackets”, though the phrase has become shorthand for puffers even when synthetic feathers are used rather than true duck or goose feathers. The feather-filled air pockets retain warmth through the jacket while keeping it light-wearing.

Tom Berenger in The Big Chill (1983)

Sam’s down jacket is actually a convertible model, which allows the sleeves to be zipped off to create a vest. With its pointed yokes and snap-front, the garment follows a Western-inspired design, a style that has had a recent resurgence due to shows like Yellowstone where Kevin Costner (mentioned for the second time in this post!) sported a Western-yoked ski jacket throughout the first two seasons.

Aside from the sky-blue Western-yoked shoulders and collar, the body and removable sleeves of Sam’s down jacket are a light stone color. Using a synthetic shell material like nylon or polyester would retain warmth while also being easier to repel water and protect against other extreme weather.

The jacket/vest closes with nine silver-toned snaps up the front, including one at the top of the standing collar. The jacket is lined in a bright blue lining that shows when the collar lays flat. The bottom half of each front side consists of a large pocket with a slanted flap that closes with a single snap.

JoBeth Williams and Tom Berenger in The Big Chill (1983)

Worn over his denim shirts, Sam’s burgundy wool crew-neck raglan-sleeved sweater adds an autumnal texture and an intermediate layer of warmth that allows him to comfortably wear the down jacket sleeveeless.

Tom Berenger in The Big Chill (1983)

Sam’s Western-styled blue denim shirts are his sartorial signature, based on how he’s dressed for the Us Weekly cover and the stack of freshly laundered shirts that he unpacks with his hairdryer and the latest J.T. Lancer script.

Tom Berenger in The Big Chill (1983)

Left: A flight attendant recognizes Sam by his appearance on the cover of Us Weekly.
Right: Sam unpacks his stack of identical blue denim snap-front shirts in Harold and Sarah’s guest room.

Under his sweater, he wears a light-blue denim cotton shirt with the requisite Western-pointed yokes as well as a snap-front placket, twin chest pockets with pointed flaps, and double-snap cuffs—all with white-finished snaps to close.

JoBeth Williams and Tom Berenger in The Big Chill (1983)

For the guys’ football game with Alex’s young girlfriend Chloe (Meg Tilly), everyone wears matching beige T-shirts branded with the logo from Harold’s athletic store, Running Dog. Rather than totally changing clothes for the game, Sam merely rolls up his multi-layered long sleeves and layers the T-shirt over his sweater.

Tom Berenger in The Big Chill (1983)

Another good-luck thumbs-up from J.T. Lancer before Sam tries his TV-tested move of leaping into Nick’s Porsche.

Continuing the theme of his blue denim shirts, Sam almost exclusively wears jeans through the weekend. Made from a dark indigo-blue denim, these jeans are slim through the thighs with a flared boot-cut that would accommodate his usual cowboy boots to complete his Western-inspired image. However, he spends the day wearing the blue-and-white Nike sneakers from among the mass of running shoes that Harold had delivered from Running Dog that morning.

Meg Tilly, Tom Berenger, JoBeth Williams, and Kevin Kline in The Big Chill (1983)

Sam joins his friends in unpacking his new sneakers while a proud Harold looks on.

There’s a great moment from the previous night when Meg (Place) tries to talk Sam into impregnating her and comments “you got good genes!”, to which he responds by looking down at his jeans—either out of humility or mishearing her last word as its denim-associated homonym.

Sam’s jeans follow the typical five-pocket configuration, with two curved front pockets, a watch/coin pocket inset on the right, and two back pockets—both stitched with two curved lines creating an “X” shape in addition to a tightly sewn triangle wedged in the upper left corner of the back-right pocket like an arrowhead. Back-pocket stitchwork is often used as identifiable shorthand—think the Levi’s arcuate stitch, the Lee “lazy S”, and Wrangler’s sharp-pointed “W”—though the only contemporary manufacturer that I could think as a possibility for Sam’s jeans would be Jordache, the New York-based brand that specialized in tight-fitting designer jeans.

Through the ’80s, Jordache regularly rotated through a variety of back-pocket stitch patterns and often included sewn triangles as part of the design, though Sam’s jeans lack the telltale red horizontal label that often signified Jordache jeans.

Tom Berenger in The Big Chill (1983)

Sam workshops J.T. Lancer’s signature car entry method after injuring his wrist earlier.

Sam holds up his jeans with his usual black basket-woven leather belt, though the hefty silver carved oval rodeo-style belt buckle goes unseen under the untucked hem of his sweater.

Tom Berenger as Sam Weber in The Big Chill (1983)

The previous night, Sam’s turquoise-studded watchband and belt buckle can be clearly seen during dinner prep.

The large belt buckle reflects Sam’s Western-influenced style that extends to his jewelry, including the turquoise-studded silver cuff he wears as a watchband on his left wrist, and a large silver ring with a flat, carved surface on his right hand.

Tom Berenger in The Big Chill (1983)

The unique carving on Sam’s ring can be seen as he reaches for his Tsingtao. On that note…

What to Imbibe

After downing a Nick Charles-esque lineup of Smirnoff mini-bottles on the flight to South Carolina, Sam takes it a little easier once he’s among friends and generally sticks to beer:

  • During the Wolverines game (for which he has appropriately donned a Michigan cap festooned with roses, signifying their Rose Bowl appearances), he drinks a Löwenbräu, a Bavarian beer brewed in Munich, allegedly dating back to the 14th century, though it wasn’t until the 19th century when it was formally incorporated after becoming the largest brewery in Germany. In the 1970s, Miller acquired the North American rights to Löwenbräu and began brewing it domestically, though these changes added artificial ingredients that violated the German Reinheitsgebot (“purity order”) that had regulated Bavarian beer for more than 400 years.
  • Sam and his friends appropriately pair their Chinese takeout dinner with Tsingtao, a pale lager from China. The Tsingtao Brewery was founded in 1903 by German settlers in the Chinese coastal city of Qingdao. The brewery’s ownership was tumultuous through the first half of the 20th century, under Japanese control from World War I through World War II before it resumed operations as a Chinese brewery… and then a state-owned enterprise following the Chinese Communist revolution in 1949. Ever since Tsingtao was introduced to the American market in 1972, it has remained the most popular Chinese beer in the United States.

Tom Berenger in The Big Chill (1983)

How to Get the Look

JoBeth Williams and Tom Berenger in The Big Chill (1983)

Feeling a Big Chill in the air as we get deeper into autumn? Tom Berenger’s comfortable and casual layers in The Big Chill follow a timeless sensibility and versatility, anchored by a subdued Western-influenced style that he neatly adapts into a more everyday aesthetic that avoids cowboy cosplay.

  • Beige (with blue Western-pointed yoke) nylon convertible puffer jacket with standing collar, nine-snap front, slanted-entry hand pockets (with single-snap closure), and zip-removable sleeves
  • Light-blue denim cotton Western shirt with pointed yokes, snap-up front placket, two chest pockets (with single-snap pointed flaps), and double-snap cuffs
  • Burgundy wool crew-neck raglan-sleeved sweater
  • Dark indigo-blue denim designer jeans with belt loops, five-pocket layout, and boot-cut bottoms
  • Black basket-woven belt with large silver oval curved rodeo-style buckle
  • Blue-and-white Nike sneakers
  • White tube socks
  • Silver carved-surface ring
  • Stainless steel watch with round white dial on turquoise-studded silver cuff

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie.

The Quote

I’ve been getting some pretty weird propositions… I don’t think I could live down here all the time.

One comment

  1. Pingback: BAMF Style's 2023 Holiday Gift Guide » BAMF Style

Leave a Reply