To begin with, I must acknowledge a base fact: this list is entirely subjective and arguably sexist. Of course, I could have titled it: “The Best Men’s Jackets in Movie History: A Cinematic Retrospective,” but that would have thrown off the delicate title balance and ensnared far fewer readers.
Here are the requirements:
1) As a subjective list, I must have watched the film in its entirety. Context is key.
2) These are jackets that I personally would want to wear. Is Brad Pitt’s jacket in Fight Club iconic? Absolutely. But it’s so insufferably 90s with its red leather and wide collar and associated spiked hair that I have no desire to be associated with it. So it’s off the list.
3) Each movie series gets only one award—otherwise this list would just be a piece about how great all the jackets in Star Wars are (which has already been done, and done well).
And without further ado, let us begin.
Luke Skywalker, Star Wars: A New Hope
Yellow Flight Jacket, Medal Ceremony on Yavin 4
You might think that between Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, Luke would place a maximum third in the Star Wars universe. I think the costume designers must have known this—so they pulled out all the stops on Luke’s jackets throughout the series. There are many to choose from, but truly, Luke’s transformation throughout the series can accurately be tacked through the relative lameness of his clothing. When we begin the saga, Luke is a whiny farm brat stuck on Tatooine who spends the first half of the movie talking about power converters. During all this he’s dressed as a sand peasant with a homespun frock composed of what has to be a series of ace bandages of varying sizes wrapping him from head to toe. Notably this is nearly the same costume that the Jedi wear, but they’re badass warrior monks with laser swords who voluntarily have taken of vow of poverty and celibacy—no doubt reinforced by their ridiculous uniforms. Luke is the nephew of a moisture farmer.
Once Luke begins to accept some agency in his own story, his clothing subtly shifts (with the exception of that dumb space poncho). The farmer rags look way better with a Stormtrooper utility belt, then the full orange jumpsuit of the rebel pilot, and it all culminates in the medal ceremony after the victorious Death Star attack run. This jacket is the epitome of sartorial rebel style. Yellow leather with a bomber jacket fit, cut short and worn with a medal. The jacket is so good that it covers a litany of other sins in this scene: obvious mannequins, creepy incest vibes, and the alliance not awarding Chewy a medal for his services rendered—obviously pointing to a form of human-biased galactic institutional hierarchy, or at the very least light species racism.
Jim Craig, The Man from Snowy River
Waxed Canvas Overcoat
I searched for about two hours and I couldn’t find a good picture of it, but here’s the collar at least. So, the first thing you need to do is watch Man from the Snowy River in its entirety—and thank me later. My wife first introduced me to the saga of young Jim Craig’s journey into manhood and back into the high country of the Australian bush—a rough country where the land belongs to community until you’ve earned a right to stake your claim. Jim Craig navigates Kirk-Douglas-laced ranch politics and family feuds to get the girl and the horse, and he does it all in the most stylish overcoat in movie history. Extra points for the red neck kerchief and the girlfriend with the matching threads. Extra extra points because Tom Burlison, who played Jim Craig, insisted on doing all his own stunts, every dangerous horseback ride included. Triple extra points since the whole thing is based off a poem written by an Australian bush poet named Banjo Paterson. Seriously.
Indiana Jones, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
Brown Leather Bomber and Fedora Combo
Harrison Ford didn’t quite make the cut for Star Wars, but there’s no way the broodingly handsome, go-to leading man of the 80s and early 90s was going to be stiffed in a jacket competition. Indiana’s transformation from scholarly archeology professor to archeological artifact recovery specialist (read: professional tomb robber) starts with his jacket. I’m sure there will be argument here. There are certainly more iconic pieces in his ensemble—whip, pistol, and hat—but all of these are baseless without the jacket. The transition from the tweed jacket and tortoiseshell frames of a scholar to the dusty brown leather and five o’clock shadow of a bonafide adventurer is what sells the rest of the package. Can you imagine how ridiculous a whip and fedora would look paired with elbow patches? The jacket lays the foundation of the transformation, and the credence for Indiana’s Nazi fightin’ credentials.
Ryan Gosling, Drive
White Satin Bomber with Gold Scorpion Graphic
This is arguably the best jacket in movie history. Also, though I’m sure that Ryan Gosling’s character has a name, Ryan Gosling is always just Ryan Gosling and will always be referred to as such. As the stoic, mostly silent hero of Drive, Gosling stands out for three reasons: 1) The aforementioned scorpion jacket 2) A badass pair of driving gloves 3) Smashing a man’s skull inside out with his foot repeatedly in an elevator next to his love interest. That’s all that needs to be said.
Maverick, Top Gun
Shearling-lined Brown Bomber Jacket with Patches
The more I re-watch this movie, the weirder everything seems. Tom Cruise’s transparent unstable craziness, the mostly homoerotic blue jean clad beach volleyball sequence, a sex scene that confused generations of adolescent boys about appropriate tongue use, and Val Kilmer’s mirrored aviator obsession. However, one thing stands the test of time: Maverick’s shearling lined bomber jacket. From the military patches to its motorcycle practicality, this is a jacket that makes the movie. After all you needs something to distract you from Maverick’s terrible piloting, oversized ego, and the weird relational moors that only count as “romance” in 80s movies.
Clint Eastwood, The Good the Bad and the Ugly
Poncho and Shearling-lined Vest
Here’s another where character names needs not apply. Eastwood is Eastwood. I love old Westerns in theory, but in reality they are just too slow to watch enjoyably. The build up to the action is painful, wandering, and the cinematography is often subpar at best. Really, what you need is something to look at as the plot limps onward. Enter Clint Eastwood. Now, while a poncho is not technically a jacket, it is an outer layer worn over the clothes to fend off the elements—tell me that doesn’t count. Take an old Mexican blanket and cut a hole for the head, layer it over a shearling-lined vest, and pair it with Eastwood’s signature cigarillo laced scowl and start feeling some good old fashioned poncho envy.
Matt Medendorp (’14) graduated with a writing degree held together by duct tape and a few trips abroad. Currently he lives in Grand Rapids, works for Chaco, and claims to be producing a book of writing and photography from his time in Alaska.