The Indiana Jones Jacket: Raiders of the Lost Ark




The Raiders Jacket
This jacket has one of the more complicated – and controversial – histories of any item of gear. It is one of the unique identifiers of “Indiana Jones.” The jacket was central to the concept Steven Spielberg and George Lucas formulated for their protagonist, and it is the one significant item of wardrobe that is wholly unique to Indy, i.e. it is not based on any existing pattern. As production moved forward, it became clear that the jacket needed specific design features.

RotLA IndyEnter Deborah Nadoolman. Deborah Nadoolman was chosen as the wardrobe designer for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” because of her work on "1941" with Steven Spielberg. Prior to "1941," Spielberg had never used a costume designer. Nadoolman was his first, and he enjoyed the ideas she brought to the production process and the dimension this function could add to his characters.

To begin the process of creating the costume, Steven screened two movies for Deborah and her assistant, Kelly Kimball: “Secret of the Incas” (1954) and “China” (1943). The character of Indiana Jones was directly inspired by Charlton Heston’s adventurer Harry Steele in “Secret of the Incas.” Indy is a kinder and gentler version of Steele - an unlikable and unsympathetic plunderer. This and Alan Ladd’s character, David Jones - an unfeeling profiteer who's making money off the Japanese invading China – were the inspirations for Indiana Jones. Based on these screenings, Deborah and Kelly came up with conceptual sketches for the character and the costume requirements. Based upon these concept sketches, “10 military-style plain cuffed and plain hemmed leather jackets” were ordered from Wilson’s Leather in Los Angeles. This was the extent of the original specification, and Wilson’s responded with an altered A2 jacket design that removed the jersey knits from the hems and cuffs.

Test fittings were done at Western Costumes with Tom Selleck and it became clear that there were functional problems with the Wilson’s jackets. Namely, the jacket would hang-up on the gun belt and the whip. Additionally, the leather used for the Wilson’s jackets did not lend itself well to artificial aging as the finish would flake off. Western Costumes stepped in and provided a mock-up jacket in cloth, the design of which included an open action pleat that resolved the pattern issues. It should be noted here that while it has been reported that Western Costumes provided finished leather jackets, this is not quite accurate. The only finished leather jackets presented by Western Costumes were limited to historically accurate A2s, and this design did not meet the requirements for the character. Western Costumes did not provide any finished jackets in leather using anything remotely close to the final design, but only the cloth mock-up in its various iterations. It was at this time that the leading man was changed from Tom Selleck to Harrison Ford, and Nadoolman and Kimball had to leave for London. Along with them went the Wilson’s jackets and the latest cloth mock-up made by Western Costumes. Final jackets for production would have to be obtained through Berman and Nathans in London.

raiders bw

An important point should be emphasized here; Berman and Nathan’s had secured an exclusive contract to supply the entire wardrobe for Ford, his stand-ins and stunt doubles. Under this agreement, any and all work with wardrobe vendors and subcontractors was to be done through Berman and Nathan’s. While apparently this was not unusual for Berman and Nathan's to ask for such a contract, it was not usual across the industry to see such a contract actually in place. Wardrobe departments generally have more latitude under which to operate and Nadoolman was operating accordingly. Under this more restrictive agreement, however, the work done directly with Wilson’s by Nadoolman was in violation of the terms of the contract and resulted in an unfavorable budget variance – the wardrobe budget being based upon the exclusive contract with Berman and Nathans. Apparently this situation came to light when Western Costumes refused to make finished jackets directly for Nadoolman, as they understood that they needed to work through Berman and Nathan's. The work Western Costumes did in providing mock-ups, etc, was still appropriate under the agreement with Berman and Nathans, but under that agreement, the mock-up (as well as all wardrobe items made for or used in the production) became the property of Berman and Nathans, and Berman and Nathan’s would bill the production company for the work done by Western Costumes as their subcontractor. No such exclusive agreement was ever signed for subsequent Indiana Jones productions.

Raven pub shotBerman and Nathan’s
Upon their arrival in the UK, Nadoolman and Kimball visited Berman and Nathan’s. Nadoolman considered the jacket design to still be very much a work-in-progress. Nadoolman delegated to Kimball to meet directly with the Berman’s jacket person. Berman delegated to Noel Howard to provide somebody who could produce the needed jackets, and Peter Botwright was brought in. Peter was presented to Kimball as somebody who worked for Berman, though he was in fact the owner/operator of Leather Concessionaires and had worked on many films through Berman’s before Raiders, having fitted Ford once before for the production of “Hanover Street” with an A2.

There is an important point here: Peter met with Noel and Kimball, and later Ford was brought in for fittings. Peter never actually met with Deborah, but did meet with her assistant, Kelly Kimball. Nobody recollects Kimball being formally introduced and it seems Peter understandably assumed her to be Nadoolman. Peter's assumption would not be a very big leap of faith, as it would generally not happen that the wardrobe designer would delegate something this important. Additionally, Deborah has stated she does not remember ever meeting anybody named Peter Botwright. These subtle points bridge several differences in the storylines provided by Peter and Deborah over the last several years. This also points out certain selective disconnections with the details on the part of Deborah Nadoolman. As will be illustrated with Anthony Powell (“Temple of Doom” and “Last Crusade”) and Bernie Pollack (“Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”) there are degrees of involvement that costume designers will actively take in the processes, and over time Steven Spielberg has gravitated towards designers who take more of an active role as opposed to those that will delegate.

Peter brought several jackets to the session, and it was determined that he would use his existing James Dean pattern with the addition of A2 pockets and an action pleat based upon the design from the Western Costumes mock-up. From all reports, Peter was never actually given or even presented the mock-up because it appeared that the changes to the James Dean design were fairly straight forward for him. In support of this, Peter was able to deliver what was to become the hero jacket the very next day. This jacket was much lighter than the Wilson’s jackets – a "plus" in Deborah’s mind given the locations they were to shoot. The Wilson’s jackets had been made from cowhide, while the Leather Concessionaires jacket was lambskin. The pattern was correct, therefore the final test was in how well the jacket aged. Deborah did this personally using Harrison’s Swiss Army knife and a wire brush while sitting by the pool at her hotel on the night before shooting was to begin at the Nazi U-Boat pier in La Rochelle. The aging test was a success and this jacket became the hero jacket.

raiders colorA total of 14 jackets were provided by Leather Concessionaires for “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Some modifications were made to these jackets by the wardrobe staff during production, but it has been confirmed that no further jackets were ever requested or provided for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” by Leather Concessionaires beyond three separate orders placed prior to the commencement of shooting, as follows:

Modifications performed by the wardrobe staff on all jackets were as follows:


The Wilson’s Jackets
During shooting, a Wilson’s jacket was used to outfit Terry Leonard for the truck dragging stunt. The Wilson’s jackets were heavier and had been made from “pre-distressed” leather. An added benefit to the Wilson jacket design for this scene was that there was no detailing to the back, i.e. no action pleat. Because of this it was thought that the jacket would fare better with Leonard being dragged on his back while under the truck. Also, because the Wilson jackets were fitted to Tom Selleck they were a bit trimmer than the Leather Concessionaires jackets and provided a tighter fit to hold body padding and armor in place for Leonard’s extended time under the truck.


Monty Berman, Owner/Operator of Berman and Nathans
Peter Botwright, Owner/Operator Leather Concessionaires/Wested Leather
Noel Howard, Bookkeeper/Vendor Management for Berman and Nathans
Kelly Kimball, Assistant Wardrobe Designer
Deborah Landis (Nadoolman), Wardrobe Designer
Terry Leonard, Stunt Double
Glenn Randall, Stunt Coordinator
Steven Spielberg, Director
Sue Wain, Wardrobe Assistant