New York in the late 1970s was a fairly miserable place. Before Bloomberg and Guiliani, the Big Apple was degrading into a dystopian wasteland (see The Warriors 1979 and Escape from New York 1981). At the same time, many veterans were returning home from Vietnam and with a newly jaded view of the United States.
These two forces come to a head in Martin Scorsese’s bleak 1976 film Taxi Driver. Robert De Niro plays disaffected Marine Corps vet Travis Bickle, who returns to New York and starts driving nights as a cabbie to cure his insomnia. He soon becomes disgusted with the people, the politics, and the culture so he resolves to clean up the city by whatever means necessary.
Bickle’s descent into madness comes through in his clothing as he transforms from country bumpkin to mohawked vigilante. His wardrobe is spartan, with just a few pieces often pulling double duty. His loose and faded Lee 101s, brown cowboy boots, and snap-button western shirt show up in almost every scene. As do his Vietnam roots in an M65, a cotton twill tanker jacket, and a pair of gold-rimmed aviator sunglasses.
On his first date with Betsy, a campaign worker played by Cybill Shepherd, he looks like a preppy college student in a soft shouldered corduroy jacket.
But Bickle is out of place at the start of the film. With his tucked shirts and coiffed locks, he’s too clean cut for the back alleys and porno theaters.
He wears less and less as the city eats away at him–he leaves his shirt unbuttoned and eventually drops it altogether, he loses weight, and his hair gets shorter and shorter.
Eventually we’re left with the grinning maniac in the M65 and painfully ironic campaign button.
Travis Bickle’s look has been copied many times, The Real McCoy’s even reproduced several pieces in 2012 and you could argue Ryan Gosling’s character in Drive (2011) is largely a spiritual successor. Here’s our take on Travis Bickle’s iconic outfit:
Randolph Engineering Aviator Sunglasses
$199 at Randolph Engineering
Buzz Rickson’s Tank Jacket
$528 at Buzz Rickson’s
The Real McCoy’s Check Flannel Shirt Lot.937
$147 at The Real McCoy’s
The Flat Head Tan Leather Belt
$299 at Self Edge
Lee Rider 101S Five Dips
$253 at Cultizm
Lucchese Handcrafted 2000 Lonestar Boots
$350 at Shepler’s
All images courtesy Columbia Pictures