Everyone has a story about the origin of the red jacket, with [Nick] Ray often claiming that he was the one that found it. According to Ray, after he was told about the switch to color, “the first thing I did was pull a red jacket off the Red Cross man, dip it in black paint to take of the sheen and give it to Jimmy.” Others say that the jacket was actually purchased from Mattson’s, a now-defunct clothing store on Hollywood Boulevard. Frank Mazzola accompanied Dean on a shopping trip to Mattson’s - where, as Jack Grinnage remembers, the cast was taken to buy some of the wardrobe they wore in the black-and-white footage. “The red jacket was really an Athenian jacket that we bought cheaply at Mattson’s,” says Mazzola. “They were blue, so the guy at Warner Brothers dyed it red.” After Rebel was released, Warners referred fans who wanted the jacket to Mattson’s, which sold red jackets for $22.95.
Moss Mabry tells a completely different story about the origins of the red jacket. Mabry says that he, in his role as costume designer, fashioned the red jacket, three of them in fact. According to Mabry, Ray had originally told him the jacket should be khaki. So Mabry cut some khaki-colored swatches from fabric he had found in the Warners wardrobe department. He went to get Ray’s approval but, while waiting outside the director’s office, Mabry says, “This guy walked in with a red jacket just trying to get a part. And I was fascinated. How good he looked in that red jacket. So I went back to the wardrobe department and cut off a swatch of red.” Ray approved. So Mabry began to develop a pattern for the jacket using a bolt of red nylon. “Even though the jacket looked simple,” Mabry says, “it wasn’t. The pockets were in just the right place; the collar was just the right size.” Mabry worked through the details, and James Dean’s legendary look was born.
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