From the Archive: Style in the Movies

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After doing a search for the next movie (criteria: high on style, bonus points for substance) to help me pleasantly kill hour and a half or more of my life I realized that there are many finely written suggestions to be found here in the archives of MensFlair.com. If I have managed to forget about some of these posts, I’m sure many of readers have too.

So here’s what I have dug up:

First, in the summer of 2007 Fok-Yan Leung has written about coolness factor in the movies.

Then Simon Crompton talked about his troubles in concentrating on anything but the clothes when watching a movie: The Cincinnati Kid in this particular case.

Andrew Hodges has written eloquently about few of his favorites too: To Catch A Thief, American Gigolo, Bonnie and Clyde and Diner.

Another Andrew, Watson this time, talked about how he was immensely impressed by the style in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley. I personally am more a fan of the French original from 1960: Plein Soleil.

Last in the trio of Andrews, Andrew Williams, shared his thoughts on relatively newer releases: The Greatest Game Ever Played and Wall Street II.

Every list of style movies would be incomplete without mentioning James Bond. Matt Spaiser shared his expertise for an in-depth look at the five decades of James Bond’s style.

Winston Chesterfield, being a connoisseur of all things aesthetic, has unsurprisingly written the most about the subject: Easter Parade, The Great Gatsby, Brideshead Revisited, Thomas Crown, The Darjeeling Limited, Marcello Mastroianni, Unmistakable Style of Matinee Idol, Coco Avant Chanel, A Room With A View, The Brothers Bloom and The King’s Speech.

Last but certainly not least Dean Balsamo offered his inspired praise of the style in Le Cercle Rouge.

Le Cercle Rouge, a Visual Reminder of the Essence of Men’s Style

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French Director Jean Pierre Melville’s 1970 film Le Cercle Rouge, is among the most highly regarded, little seen stealth influences on some of the most well known directors of the last 30 years. The starkly costumed looks of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction read like homage to what must be considered the crown jewel of Melville’s multi-picture exploration of American style gangster flicks, with Le Cercle Rouge being likened by some to the idea of westerns shot with a Paris backdrop.

This is a movie you can settle down with a drink, scotch would be perfect, and study. After a while maybe you find yourself thinking heady thoughts. Maybe it’s time you think, to give the pendulum a push, maybe things have gotten just a little too precious when it comes to the opinions, lessons and injunctions you get about what you should be wearing. It’s all this moralistic relativity and lack of standards in general that’s eating away at you. All of sudden all the colors, combinations and volumes you’re seeing from Pitti or New York are suggesting surrealistic or circus clown inspired movements. “Outfits” not “clothing” anymore you’re thinking. Mixed in the dark or under the influence or both. Not inventions or expressions of true style growing from one’s personality and being  but pea cocking, surface but no content, no direction,  throwing things – anything – against the wall. Me Me Me. And the sunny, unstructured, yet codified modes of display, brown, Italian. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. You’re quick to add.

By contrast Le Cercle Rouge stands as an apotheosis to the stream of inspiration that resulted in the  bench-mark looks of classical clothing seen through the lenses of the 1960’s. It’s got a stellar cast, no pretty boys or prima donnas. No posers.  This is Alain Delon and Yves Montand and every person in the film personifying their character’s role to the tee. This isn’t a period piece; it’s a Document of its times where the height of the decade’s stylistic invention is showcased. This film’s a reference library for the viewer’s stylistic vocabulary. There‘s little here that couldn’t be incorporated by any man today. Cuff links, 3 piece suits, rich navy suits and top coats, white shirts, narrow ties, charcoal gray – and because it’s France, a naked woman and some dancing girls.

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Some might view this film as an “antidote” to fashion waywardness and poseurs in general. In Le Cercle Rouge men are men. They wear suits, not costumes. Everyone looks impeccable, but the hue, cut, and forms never dictate what the men do nor how they do things even though what we see are uniforms both figuratively and literal. No one is constrained from acting in the way the fundamentals of character and circumstance evoke.  Men are running, rolling, shooting, fording streams, smoking, stealing, fighting, sleeping in and working-living in their clothes with utilitarian gusto. And this association with work should be stressed because unlike most of the stylistic mentors and films normally mentioned online, the figures depicted here are not those of the upper strata, the elites of the society normally associated in our investigations or imitation-worthy style but figures from the gray underbelly with its own codes and standards of behavior but with everyone adhering to an almost mannerist depiction of stylistic mores.

The film’s title is derived from a teaching by Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, who used a chalk-drawn circle in red to suggest that those men whom fate has decided should come together, will invariably do so regardless of the diverse paths and individual personalities. And so we see in this film a mélange of different personalities yet though there’s a “good and bad guys” theme, there’s a moralistic, ethical backbone and an anti-hero bias that permeates the story. They struggle and question life – the life they’ve been dealt. They do it with a sense of personal honor.  No matter which side of the line they occupy, they carry on with a dignity and sense of regard for both themselves and those whom fate has brought into their individual lives.

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There are no black hats to clearly identify the villains. The principals are ultra chic in a somber way. No self-consciousness. No parody. None of our simplistic irony. Yet all involved understand the lines separating the different sides are constantly moving and yet their choice of attire clearly demonstrates they are all operating on a similar level. The lines might be shifting on constantly moving sands but the uniform-like exactness of their clothing indicates they’re ready and willing to deal with the fates that are dealt to them. Watch it and learn.

Dean Balsamo is in the magazine industry and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

He Lives Like a Pharaoh

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I am not much of a fan of television. Most of it is weak, immature entertainment inspired by the very worst elements in society. However, sometimes the formula works exceedingly well and the effect is powerful and enduring.

I approached Boardwalk Empire with caution, as it had been much hyped and ballyhooed; whenever I buy into hype, I am invariably disappointed. However, even allowing for a dash of hype, I have been thoroughly impressed with the series. American readers may glance at their calendars and wonder why it has taken so long for me to say this, as the series first hit screens stateside two years ago, but little old England is well behind with HBO releases.

The most remarkable thing about the costumes is not just how accurate they are to the period – people who think Prohibition gangsters wore shiny white ties and black shirts, take note – but also how vivid and beautiful they are. The most delicious ensembles belong to Steve Buscemi’s character, Nucky Thompson who epitomises the sort of mythical powermonger who dines at the same table as politicians and hoodlums, who lives in luxury hotels and exudes an air of isolation and quiet sadness; the life, as described by a federal agent, of “…a pharaoh. The entire eighth floor of the Ritz, all at the public’s expense. Grand furniture, oil paintings, tailored suits, drives a Rolls-Royce too. At least his chauffeur does. He’s as corrupt as the day is long.”

Corrupt he might be but he contributes, along with a superb supporting cast, to a gorgeous piece of television. If anything, the cast is too well-dressed; the colour combinations, though certainly feasible for the period, are too perfect. John A. Dunn, who brought slim ties and thin lapels back into fashion through Mad Men, has achieved for 1920s what he achieved for the 1960s; a stunning interpretation of period glamour that turns what were everyday fashions for ordinary men into dandified ensembles of style mavens. Am I disappointed? Not a bit, but it is difficult to admire the glory of the costumes without reserving a thought for the real life characters that inspired it.

As the sartorial highlight, Nucky’s costumes work hard for their screen time; beautiful heavy-weight suits in unusual colours, sometimes with garish colouring – Nucky is certainly a bit of a ‘dude’ in that respect – pin-collar shirts with contrasting collar and cuffs in a surprising array of colours (even yellow and orange make an appearance) and a mixture of subtly patterned and bolder ties in bright blues, greens, reds and yellows. Indeed, I would not be surprised if Mr Dunn credited a vintage candy store for some of the ensembles on display. Nucky’s finishing touch is a ubiquitous red carnation that he wears pinned against his lapel, rather than tucked through his buttonhole; an idiosyncrasy that lends charm to his character.

If there was a tonic against the plain-tie, white-shirt, dark suit monotony that has taken over, I believe we have found it.

Forgotten Style Heroes: E Berry Wall

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First there was the Dandy; then, there was the Dude. First there were trousers and riding jackets; then, there were thigh high boots and Glen Plaid pantaloons. Although they could not be more stylistically opposed, the Dandy and the Dude do share the taste for rebellion; the former against the unwashed, perfumed and bewigged fashions of fops; the latter against the plain, austere façade of Victorian respectability. But though the Dandy is celebrated for his overturning of strange fashions that are anathema to all modern men, the Dude has been largely ignored; his extravagant, carriage-stopping ensembles have faded into the past; the heroes of the movement forgotten.

Even the “King of the Dudes” Evander Berry Wall – a great celebrity in his day – is barely acknowledged in style’s hall of fame. Born in 1860, E. Berry Wall – ‘Evander’ was rarely used – was a fortunate young man. He inherited a large sum of money from both his father and grandfather before reaching the age of 22. A young millionaire, Wall used his fortune to assemble a colossal wardrobe that would eventually include 5,000 neckties and 500 complete changes. In Wall’s great variety of ensembles he is said to have possessed the most colourful and extravagantly patterned suits in New York. Unlike the Dandy Brummell, the Dude Berry Wall sought attention and recognition. You can imagine him paraphrasing the Beau’s famous line: “If Joe Public doesn’t turn around and look at you…you’re not worth looking at.”

It was Wall’s taste for experimentation and his patronage of Henry Poole that led to his most famous achievement; wearing the short dinner jacket in public. The story goes that Poole’s most illustrious customer, the Prince of Wales and later Edward VII, had a short jacket made and had worn it instead of an evening tailcoat on a number of private and public occasions. Poole sent one to Wall and suggested it be worn “for a quiet dinner at home or an evening’s entertainment at a summer resort.” Though a wealthy and socially accepted personage, Wall was not a royal prince or the heir to a vast empire; he may have affected to set the fashion but he could not have set the tone. Thus, his jacket’s first public outing at a ball in Saratoga was met with consternation. The manager of the Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga ordered him from the floor and, apparently, only permitted him to return after he had returned to his room and changed into an evening tailcoat.

Such sartorial squeamishness was widespread. At the time, New York society, as Edith Wharton and others have famously documented, was not a place for pioneers of fashion. After amusing escapades including one involving a reporter’s thirst for a good story, a “Battle of the Dudes” and a pair of black patent leather thigh boots, Wall went bankrupt in 1899 after a foray into investing on Wall Street. The resulting social isolation and embarrassment led to his departure for Paris. Wall’s own reasoning was that New York had “become fit only for businessmen.”

In Paris, he permitted himself the comfort of an apartment at the Hotel Meurice, near Charvet who had long been supplying him with his famous high starched collars. He extended the elegance of Charvet collars to his chow, who strutted with his master through the Place Vendome to the Ritz Hotel, where Wall’s patronage was well noted. Devoted to his wife and his pooch, Wall is often unfairly pilloried as a profligate and self-indulgent poseur. He was extravagant, but it is said that his life brought him great happiness and that he remained a fixture of continental society until he died in the spring of 1940 at the age of 80. Wall often credited his diet of champagne and his avoidance of physicians for his longevity, quipping: “There are more old drunkards than old doctors.”

Dressing Like James Bond

This article is guest post by Matt Spaiser of The Suits of James Bond.

Every man admires James Bond’s clothing, but have you wondered what makes the secret agent’s clothes so special? It’s mostly about the suits, and a well-fitted suit makes all the difference. But what about the style? Bond’s suits have always been on the more traditional side, often with 3-piece suits for the office, though Bond always found some way to bring elements of current fashion into his clothes. This article will step through the past five decades of James Bond’s style, showing how you too can dress like Bond.

Sean Connery’s suits in the 1960s were classic English Savile Row style. The first thing that comes to mind when we think about 1960s suits are the narrow lapels, but Connery’s were far from the extreme. His suits had softly padded shoulders, a full chest but suppressed waist, and trousers with English double forward pleats and tabs to cinch the waist. Whilst the pocket style and rear vents differed from suit to suit, this cut was always the same. Connery wore mostly suits in shades of blue and grey, with a few dark brown, in solids, herringbones, simple pinstripes and glen plaids. Fabrics ranged from lightweight tropical worsteds to heavy winter flannels, with the occasional dupioni silk and mohair. It all sounds very traditional, but the modern touch to Connery’s suits came with the two-button front. By the 1960s in the United States, two button suits had become the norm, but to the English anything other than a 3-button suit was fashion forward.

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When former model George Lazenby took over the roll of James Bond in 1969, he brought a more fashionable style to Bond. His rakish suit jackets were more fitted with a cleaner chest and shorter in length than Connery’s, and he wore flat front trousers instead of pleated. Lazenby wore both 2-button and 3-button suits, with double vents and some with hacking pockets, two now quintessentially English elements. This overall style has seen a resurgence in popularity over the last few years, though today’s style is missing the strong English flair present in George Lazenby’s suits.

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Sean Connery returned to Bond and brought the character into the 1970s with Diamonds Are Forever, updating his old style with wider lapels and flat front, wide leg trousers. His new suits were double-vented and many had hacking pockets. When Roger Moore took over Bond his suits were the same in overall style, and as the 70s progressed, his lapels, pocket flaps and trousers widened. These are what the average person notices about 1970s suits, but if you look past that you will find that Roger Moore always wears perfectly tailored suit. No matter how you style a suit, a proper fit is always most important. Whilst some of Moore’s suits incorporated the traditional colour palate found in Connery’s suits, he also wore many more suits in earth tones, plus a large number of silk suits as well. In addition to his 2-button suits, Roger Moore occasionally wore double-breasted suits, mostly in the classic 6-button style with 2 rows to button.

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Roger Moore entered the 1980s with a new tailor and more conservative style. The lapels and trousers narrowed and the hacking pockets were gone. His suits were now in more traditional English fabrics with blue and grey chalkstripes for London and tan and brown gabardine for warmer climates. His one consolation to the 1980s was a lower button stance, which happens to suit his figure very well. Timothy Dalton’s clothing is hardly worth mentioning. His suits in The Living Daylights hark back to Connery’s, but have a more relaxed fit. Dalton’s suits in Licence to Kill introduced Italian style to the Bond series, something Pierce Brosnan would continue with in the 1990s.

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Pierce Brosnan was known for his Brioni suits, updated for the 1990s with 3-button fronts and reverse-pleat trousers. Whilst many of his suits were anglicized with hacking pockets and double vents, they did not escape Brioni’s strong Roman silhouette. The Brioni silhouette is defined by it’s square shoulders and clean chest, the ultimate power suit. Even though Brosnan’s suits weren’t made in England, they were made from in classic blue and grey solid, pinstripe, windowpane and birdseye English fabrics.

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Daniel Craig started off in Casino Royale with 2-button and 3-button Brioni suits, but switched to more fashionable Tom Ford suits in Quantum of Solace. Tom Ford is the most fashionable suit brand Bond has ever worn, but its English-influenced style is rather appropriate for Bond. The Tom Ford suits are cut with strong shoulders, a clean chest and a 3-button front that rolls to the middle button, essentially giving the jackets a 2-button silhouette. The jackets all have double vents and ticket pockets. Though Tom Ford suits have a striking silhouette, they are firmly rooted in classic style. The trousers have a flat front with a lower rise, Daniel Craig’s only concession to current fashions as far as his suits are concerned.

Equally important to the suit are the shirt, tie and shoes.

Most of Bond’s shirts throughout the series are cotton poplin in solid white, light blue or cream. These three shirts go with everything and are all the well-dressed man needs. Connery and Moore were known for their fancy 2-button turnback cuffs (also known as cocktail cuffs, a popular 60s style that rose to prominence from Dr. No), but Bond has worn barrel cuffs and french cuffs throughout the series as well. The key element to the English shirts that Bond always wears is a large spread collar, and English shirts never have a breast pocket. Shirts should be somewhat fitted but never tight.

Connery started the series with only one tie, a navy blue grenadine. Grenadine ties look similar to knit ties (the ones that have square bottoms)  but are not related in the least. Grenadine silk is woven, not knit, and the ties are constructed likes any other normal tie. Later, Connery expanded to wearing black, navy and brown knit ties and black and brown grenadine ties. Connery’s Bond showed how it’s possible to dress with with such a limited tie collection, which is often the case for travelling businessmen. George Lazenby introduced the red knit tie to Bond, and it wasn’t until Roger Moore became Bond that Bond wore non-solid ties. Roger Moore wore striped and patterned ties, but he still wore many solid ties like his predecessors. Dalton wore mostly solid ties as well. Perhaps the best argument for solid ties is that they never go out of style. Avoid loud, busy ties like many worn by Pierce Brosnan, as those all look dated now. Daniel Craig opts for simple woven macclesfield ties, understated and formal.

Aside from suits, Bond occasionally wears sports coats, though we haven’t seen those in a number of years. We have seen country tweed and cotton safari jackets, but Bond’s favourite is the navy blazer, coming from a naval background himself. Bond’s navy blazers are either single-breasted with two buttons or double-breasted with six buttons. And of course the buttons are metal, often in silver instead of brass. Navy blazers always have double vents. Bond wears his blazers with or without a tie, and with grey, beige or white trousers.

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Bond’s footwear is always professional, just as everything else is. With a suit, the shoes are always black leather with a leather sole. Throughout the series Bond has worn all the classics, including cap-toe oxfords, 2-eyelet derbies, plain-toe monk shoes, elastic-sided ankle boots and horse-bit slip-ons. The last two are harder to pull off in a business setting. For more casual suits and sports coats, Bond also has worn essentials such as brown suede chukka boots and brown wing-tip full brogues.

Bond sticks to the classics. He ties four-in-hand knot, not a windsor. He doesn’t wear a solid black suit unless it’s to a funeral. And he doesn’t wear rubber-soled shoes with a suit. He sets an excellent example for how to look professional and command respect, in or out of the office.

Matt Spaiser is New York based graphic designer. He blogs at bondclothes.blogspot.com.