How Indiana Jones’ Iconic Look Was Created

The design for Indiana Jones came from Charlton Heston in Secret of the Incas.

By Jessica Goudreault | Published

indiana jones series

Indiana Jones has always worn a distinct costume that people instantly recognize and associate with his character: his leather jacket and trademark fedora. This look was created by costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis, who recently spoke with Deadline about how the iconic look was created back in 1981. She shared that the look was mainly inspired by Charlton Heston’s character from the 1954 film Secret of the Incas.

After her impressive costume design work on her husband John Landis’s 1978 film National Lampoon’s Animal House, director Stephen Spielberg approached Deborah to work on his new movie 1941. The comedy musical ended up being a total flop, but that didn’t prevent the two of them from working together again. As soon as Spielberg got the script for Raiders of the Lost Ark, he sent it over to Deborah so that she could start thinking about the costume design.

Both Spielberg and Deborah put their heads together to figure out what Indiana Jones should wear as he journeys through jungles and fights Nazis. Together, they watched lots of classic 1950s movies for inspiration, including Secret of the Incas and The Greatest Show on Earth.

In Secret of the Incas, Harry Steele (played by Charlton Heston) is an adventurous man looking for a secret treasure, all while wearing a fedora and leather jacket. When Deborah and Spielberg saw this outfit, they knew it was the perfect archetype for an adventurous character, hence why they used the same outfit for Indiana Jones. If you look at the two characters side by side, they are nearly identical, although Indy is known for carrying his whip with him as well.

Charlton Heston in Secret of the Incas (1954)

Once Spielberg and Deborah agreed on the costume design for Indiana Jones, Deborah went to work on finding the right leather jacket and fedora. While in London’s Camden Town, she picked up the items from Berman, Nathans Costumiers, and Herbert Johnson. She tailored the costume to fit Harrison Ford perfectly; the rest is history.

Originally, the character of Indiana Jones was written for Tom Selleck, but he had to drop out so that he could star in Magnum P.I. Harrison Ford came on board instead, teaming up with his pal George Lucas shortly after they collaborated on the first two Star Wars movies. Fans have loved his portrayal of the adventurous archeologist who has starred in all five of the Indiana Jones films from 1981 all the way up to 2023’s Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.

In addition to her wonderful work on the Indiana Jones costume, Deborah Nadoolman Landis has designed costumes for many films, including several of her husband’s classic films like The Blues Brothers, Coming to America, and An American Werewolf in London. She is also known for designing Michael Jackson’s legendary bright red jacket that he wore during his Thriller music video.

As we say goodbye to Indiana Jones in his fifth franchise film, fans will always remember his trademark leather jacket and fedora, a costume that will surely go down in cinematic history.