‘Bonanza’: Here’s Why the Characters Don’t Change Clothes From Episode to Episode

by Charles Craighill

In the classic television series, ‘Bonanza’, several small details might slip right under your nose. Or if they didn’t, you might be left wondering why those little details happened. In these early television shows, directors had to get really creative to make their shows believable and use the illusion of cinema. Let us help fill you in on some of these cool nuances to one of our favorite classic shows.

For instance, let’s take a closer look at the ‘Bonanza’ outfit choices. From the fourth season onwards (the show carried on for 14 seasons) the Cartwrights keep their same outfits between episodes. While small details like this seem like they might just be oversights or laziness, each aspect of the show has certain intentionality to it.

‘Bonanza’ Outfit Uniformity

Well, in this case, it might have something to do with laziness, but intentional laziness none-the-less. From the fourth season onwards in ‘Bonanza’, the directors intentionally chose to keep each character in their own specific attire. This helped in several areas of production that just made things more convenient.

For starters, the show ‘Bonanza’ went on for fourteen seasons and 431 episodes. The writers packed in a whole lot of action to each of those episodes, meaning the editors needed a whole lot of footage. With this standardization of wardrobe, editors could reuse stock footage from action sequences throughout the series.

This also made it way easier for the styling team to duplicate the wardrobe for stunt doubles. With all of these intense action scenes in ‘Bonanza’, they needed stunt doubles often. So, perhaps laziness isn’t the word for this choice, more efficiency, and guaranteed believability. However, some might find it unbelievable that the Cartwright boys could go fourteen years without ever washing their clothes.

Another less-lazy and more-practical reasoning behind the consistent wardrobe choices in ‘Bonanza’ falls on branding. For example, when you see someone in all khakis, a leather jacket, and a Stetson hat, your mind immediately jumps to Indiana Jones. When you see a maroon three-piece suit and face paint, you immediately think The Joker. In the same vein, when you see a cowboy in all black with a flat brim black hat, you think Adam Cartwright.