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How to make the perfect John Shaft costume

Updated on May 30, 2015

John Shaft is a complicated man

When Richard Roundtree stepped into the role of John Shaft, a private investigator roaming Harlem and the Italian parts of New York City in search of the missing daughter of a black mobster, he instantly changed American culture. The movie, released in 1971, was the pinnacle of the Blaxploitation genre.

John Shaft had a sense of style that was just perfect for his era. Those drab clothes of the 1960's were all given to Goodwill, the 1970's were all about showing off. I'm going to show you what key items you need to make the perfect Shaft costume.  

Shaft's hair

If you are not able to grow black, nappy hair, you'll have to get yourself a wig. Just search for a black afro wig, there should be plenty available at costume shops or online. Also, Shaft had short muttochops and a black mustache, so you should look for those while you're at it.  

The turtleneck

John Shaft is almost always seen wearing a turtleneck. I know he had a blue one, and he also wore a white one. He probably had a few others as well, such as black. These turtlenecks, like all turtlenecks, should cling to the body. You do not want them to be loose and wrinkly. They should show off your chest and biceps. Steve McQueen also wore a turtleneck in Bullit. Still think turtlenecks are uncool?

The jacket

This is the part a lot of people get wrong when they try to be Shaft for Halloween. He didn't just wear any ol' black leather jacket. It was a leather trench coat, with the collar turned upward and with huge peaks. You probably will have difficulty finding one of these new, since peaks like those went out of style over 30 years ago and haven't come back. I suggest eBay or Salvation Army. Good luck.  

Alternative Shaft jacket - The blazer

Shaft sometimes wore a blazer instead of a leather jacket. This can often be seen when he's indoors. I'm not sure if people will recognize you as Shaft if you just wear the blazer and turtleneck, but you can try it out.

Shaft pants

Just in case you thought John Shaft might have had timeless style, I should remind you that he did wear skin-tight polyester pants, and they were usually plaid. This is perhaps his greatest fashion blunder, although it was quite popular at the time. You can buy polyester pants at some costume stores or perhaps at Salvation Army or stores that cater to certain "adult" needs. 

Shaft boots

Shaft's boots are rather rare today as well. They were zip up boots with a great big heel (the better to stomp you with, my dear). If you can find them, along with the other apparel I've mentioned, then congratulations, you've got yourself the perfect John Shaft Halloween costume. 


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