The Costume Designer for “Indiana Jones” Explains How to Recreate the Iconic Character’s Look

You can channel your inner Indy thanks to a new collaboration between Joanna Johnston and Swaine London

September 16, 2023 1:23 pm
Harrison Ford in "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny"
Harrison Ford in "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny"

Few characters are as iconic as Indiana Jones, and few outfits are as immediately recognizable as his safari jacket, boots and, most importantly, the Indiana Jones hat. This summer, the final installment of the franchise with leading man Harrison Ford was released. And along with it fans can enjoy a very special collaboration with Swaine London and Joanna Johnston, the film’s costume designer — they can purchase their very own Indiana Jones hat, from the very brand that crafted it for Harrison Ford. 

Speaking about the collaboration exclusively to InsideHook, Johnston gave us a behind-the-scenes look at how they developed the hat so customers around the world could buy it, and even teased that for Indiana Jones fans looking to wear more authentic gear, this might just be the beginning. 

Johnston is the franchise’s third costume designer. “There are two pioneers before me,” she says. Deborah Nadoolman worked closely with George Lucas and commissioned the first hat from Herbert Johnson, an historic British hat-making company, founded in the late 1800s. Then came Anthony Powell, with whom Johnston worked closely. Powell was the costume designer for Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade; he was also Johnston’s boss. Again, Powell and his team called on Johnston to craft the iconic piece of headwear. “He was a perfectionist, I owe him so much gratitude,” says Johnston of the late Powell, who passed away in 2021. 

And now, Johnston carries the torch — no pun intended. 

But Ford isn’t the only one who will be able to enjoy the spoils of this decades-long labor of love to create the perfect hat — together with Herbert Johnson and Swaine London, Johnston has worked to create a match for the hat worn in the film by the very hatmakers who have made crafted it for some 40 years. That authenticity means this is much, much more than your average merch or swag. Too often, products inspired by outfits and accessories on TV and film lack refinement; they feel costume-y, suited for cosplay, maybe, but certainly not carrying the finesse that drives their onscreen originals. But what sets Swaine and Herbert Johnson apart, Johnston says, is its dedication to craftsmanship. (The Swaine Group serves as a parent company to a select number of labels with storied histories making everything from umbrellas to military headgear and of course, the classic Herbert Johnson Indiana Jones hat.) 

“I really love Swaine because they have such a foothold in tradition,” says Johnston. “They’ve actually got a workshop in their shop in London, which I love!” She says fans have been coming from all over the world to have the hat personally fitted and to have the full Indiana Jones experience. It’s a powerful illustration of the impact of costuming. People are not only endeavoring to travel simply to buy a hat, but in the process will be educated on techniques and craftsmanship that all too often feel like a disappearing art. 

Eight Simple Ways You Can (And Should) Copy Harrison Ford’s Style
In celebration of the actor’s 80th birthday, we take a look back at his greatest style lessons, from strong summer statements to technically perfect tailoring

“It’s a beautiful felt, and a durable hat,” she says — naturally, of course, since it has to withstand so many adventures on screen. 

The team at Swaine said Johnston’s input was instrumental in creating this special collaboration. “It has been an honor to work with Joanna Johnston again on Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny to ensure that the authenticity of the Poet Hat’s journey has been kept intact with her vision for the hero’s final adventure,” says Sandra Duke, communications and marketing director for house of Swaine. “Joanna’s attention to detail is what we thrive on at Herbert Johnson.”

Still, Johnston is incredibly humble; she stresses over and over that the original design and development of the hat and Indiana Jones’ aesthetic is to the credit of Nadoolman and Powell, but I think she undersells her impact. Taking a well-loved character and developing it for a new film requires a precarious balance of continuity and evolution, creating costumes that illustrate character development while maintaining an aesthetic that viewers still recognize in an instant. Every iteration of the Indiana Jones hat has its small tweaks — nuanced adjustments that viewers might not even catch, says Johnston, like the height of the crown and the width of the brim changing mere centimeters to flatter Ford over the years. A hat lover himself, Ford gave the most recent version of the hat, the final one he’ll wear, his seal of approval. “Harrison gave it his blessing,” she says. “Which is crucial.” 

She says his insight was of the utmost importance. “He is the man, he’s done it for all these years,” she says. “When there are things he wants shifted, we know there’s no better person to drive those changes than him, because he is the one with all the history.” There’s also no denying how magnetic Ford is — he truly is a larger-than-life leading man, she says. “He looks fantastic and he’s got this extraordinary range. He’s sexy, he’s naughty, he’s cool, he’s clever — he’s even got an absolutely brilliant walk.” 

Now, not everyone can be Harrison Ford — or Indiana Jones — but that doesn’t mean men (and women!) don’t have what it takes to pull off this enduring style. “The silhouette of the hat is brilliant,” she says. “And everyone looks good in a hat!” When it comes to styling the hat itself, the best way to wear it is how you feel best, she says. But it can’t hurt to take notes from the allure of Indiana Jones. “I love the eyes coming out from below the brim,” she says of the way that it’s styled in the film — sitting flat on the top head with the brim parallel to the ground. “It reminds me of the film noir of the ’40s and ’50s.” 

And while this might be the last time we see Ford in the role, Johnston hints that this won’t be the last time fans will be able to own a little bit of Indiana Jones’ style. “Diehard fans will be excited,” she says. “I think we can say there’s more to come.”

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.