A guide to Gord Downie's Canadian tuxedo

The Tragically Hip frontman has made double denim his own through a number of personal adornments.

The Tragically Hip frontman has made double denim his own through a number of personal adornments.

Gord Downie receives the Order of Canada from Governor General David Johnston in Ottawa. Downie, who announced last year that he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, has become a strong advocate for Indigenous people and issues. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Note: This article was originally published in June of 2017, four months before Gord Downie passed away.

No one has done more for the denim-on-denim look than Gord Downie, the Tragically Hip frontman who has accepted accolade after accolade in his monochromatic attire. Whether it was the Assembly of First Nations blanket ceremony, where he was given the name, "Man who walks among the stars," or his recent appointment to the Order of Canada, Downie has adopted a look so beloved that it's affectionately referred to as the Canadian tuxedo. 

The musician has rarely, if at all, been seen in anything else.

It's pretty clear that this is an intentional act on Downie's part. Perhaps it's an extension of his Secret Path performances, in which he specifically referenced the jean jacket at a moment when Chanie Wenjacka 12-year-old Ojibwa boy who ran away from a residential school in an attempt to reunite with his family, is depicted walking down the rail tracks in the freezing rain in nothing but a thin windbreaker: "Its not my jacket/ it's a windbreaker. It's not my jean jacket/ it's just a windbreaker," Downie sang.

Or perhaps it's just a way for someone who is dealing with memory loss, a side effect of his cancer treatment, to simplify one aspect of his life in order to focus on things of more importance. Either way, as simple and utilitarian as it is, Downie has also made his Canadian tuxedo a personal statement, whether it's by adding hats or by adorning his jacket with a collection of pins and patches, each one with a larger meaning.

Below, we take a closer look at them. Click on the different images to get more information on each individual item.

Can you really call it a tuxedo if you don't have a top hat? Downie's use of hats has been well-documented — most notably the array of brightly coloured ones he wore on the Man Machine Poem tour, which were made by Toronto designer Karyn Gingras of Lilliput Hats. For his Secret Path concerts, Gingras was asked to design something in contrast to those bright, exuberant hats, so she opted for a more sombre, neutral tone. One hat in black, one in white, both also meant to work with denim. Downie even gifted a similar hat to Chief Perry Bellegarde during the AFN ceremony.  

For less ceremonial affairs, Downie has been spotted in a hat from First Avenue, the Minneapolis nightclub closely affiliated with Prince, who is a common theme with Downie's choice of adornments (his purple Man Machine Poem suit was nicknamed "Prince").

​Downie has a large array of pins and patches on his jacket, including, of course, the most important pin a Canadian civilian can receive: the Order of Canada. But there are also a large number of pins that have a personal significance to him.

Design: Tim Kindrachuk; Photos: Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press

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About the Author

Jesse Kinos-Goodin

Producer, CBC Music

Jesse Kinos-Goodin is a Toronto-based journalist and producer at CBC Music. He can be found on Twitter @JesseKG or email


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