What color is Hawkeye's bathrobe on M*A*S*H?
Wait… is it red or purple?
When you think of Hawkeye Pierce from the TV show M*A*S*H, you probably think of his fashion. That Hawaiian shirt he hoped would never go out of style. His bright red kimono with colorful embroidery. And, of course, his bathrobe, with MD, USA embossed on the pocket.
Hawkeye wears this bathrobe throughout the entire series. It's an item fans are very familiar with, and onscreen, its color appears to be some form of red. Maybe you think of it as maroon, or mahogany, or the color of cranberries or a bold wine. Either way, most people would agree — the robe looks rather red.
That’s why in the show’s 10th season, it was a little strange when the robe’s color was suddenly called into question during the episode "Where There's a Will, There's a War."
This episode finds Hawkeye writing his last will and testament while serving as a surgeon on the frontlines. From a quaking bunker, Hawkeye decides he wants to leave all of his worldly possessions to his father – except for a few choice items in camp that he wants to leave for his 4077th family, including his robe, which he decides to leave to Winchester.
As Hawkeye writes his will, Alda narrates what he's penning, explaining this decision to gift Winchester his bathrobe as thus:
"You’ve been the victim of a ceaseless stream of dumb jokes. Though we may have wounded your pride, you’ve never lost your dignity. I therefore bequeath to you the most dignified thing I own — my bathrobe. Purple is the color of royalty."
Here’s where M*A*S*H fans may have heard brakes screeching in their heads for a moment. Hawkeye's robe is purple? In this very same episode, Hawkeye appears in his robe during a delightfully silly flashback scene with Margaret (where he decides to leave her his Groucho glasses and nose), and the robe does seem in this scene to appear more like a violet red than a true red.
But if you look at how the robe's color appears in other episodes, it can sometimes look like a bright red. So what gives, why did the writers decide to go with purple in this poignant scene?
It seems that when you look at Hawkeye’s robe in person, it is undeniably purple, which you can kind of see a little more clearly in this photo posted by the National Museum of American History, which houses the robe now that Hawkeye’s done donning it. So likely when writers were referencing the robe for this scene, they described what they saw in person, and not how the robe typically appeared onscreen.
Through the rest of the episode, Hawkeye finishes his will, weaving through memories with Potter, Mulcahy, and Klinger, too, and saving the most emotional tribute for last.
The episode’s most heart-wrenching moment comes at the very end when Hawkeye returns to camp unscathed and decides he still wants to figure out how he should honor his friendship with B.J. The conclusion left not a dry eye in the house, making it easier to overlook the odd reference to Hawkeye's purple robe that upon rewatching many fans have counted as a minor error in M*A*S*H history.
What color do you see when you look at Hawkeye's robe: red or purple?