Paul Newman’s Brown Glen Plaid Suit in The Sting
January 26 would have been the 88th birthday of award-winning actor, director, race car driver, salad dressing mogul, and all-around great guy Paul Newman. To pay tribute to one of the greatest American entertainers, BAMF Style presents Newman from one of his greatest scenes ever in one of the greatest movies ever.
Paul Newman as Henry Gondorff, alias “Shaw”, ex-grifter getting back into the “big con”
Chicago, September 1936
Film: The Sting
Release Date: December 25, 1973
Director: George Roy Hill
Costume Designer: Edith Head
The Sting, directed by George Roy Hill, has long been one of my favorite films and likely began my interest in the sartorial arts, as discussed in an earlier post focusing on Robert Redford’s character, Johnny Hooker. The characters run the gamut of 1930s fashion, from skid row to black tie, assisted with the expert eye and hands of costumer Edith Head, who won an Academy Award for her work on the film.
This sequence contains one of my favorite scenes in movie history, greatly due to Newman’s performance as con man Henry Gondorff showing up “drunk” at a poker game where he meets and subsequently out-cheats his mark. The mark, Doyle Lonnegan (as played by the excellent Robert Shaw), has a reputation for brutality and here some bookie is telling him that he’s getting his just due for “playing with your head up your ass,” all while laughing hysterically and raking in his winnings.
What’d He Wear?
Gondorff and Hooker are first seen at the train station in New York, waiting to catch sight of Lonnegan. Both are spiffed out in sharp three-piece suits. For the duration of the train ride, Gondorff wears a very well-fitting three-piece suit in brown glen plaid with a light blue-gray overcheck and a subtle red check.
The jacket is a 1930s style that saw a revival in the 1970s with peak lapels on a single-breasted front. The suit is a little more stylish than other suits at the time, closing with only one button instead of two or three. Like most of the other main characters’ suits in The Sting, the back is ventless. There are three exterior pockets: an welted breast pocket and two straight flapped hip pockets. Each sleeve ends with 3-button cuffs. The shoulders are well-padded with roping at the sleeveheads.
The vest is also fitted with no adjustable rear strap across the dark brown rear lining. It has four welt pockets: two upper and two lower. It also has a 6-button front, but Gondorff wears it open as often as possible. Like most other American men’s suits of the 1930s, the vest is single-breasted with no lapels.
The single pleated trousers have four pockets: two open on each side and two jetted rear pockets. They have a 2-button extended tab on the waist and, rather than belt loops, buttons on the inside for Gondorff’s suspenders. The bottom hemming is never seen in the film and, unless I haven’t scoured enough, isn’t visible in any production photos. However, they are probably cuffed at the bottom like Gondorff’s other non-formal trousers in the film. This leads us to…
…footwear. I have no idea what sort of shoes or socks Gondorff wears in these scenes. Hopefully, most of you will be able to survive without this knowledge. If not, play it safe with a pair of black socks in black leather laced dress shoes.
All shirts worn by both Paul Newman and Robert Redford in The Sting were made by Anto.
Gondorff’s primary shirt for the train ride has a reddish burlap ground and white stripes of alternating thickness. Additional shirt details are a spread collar and white-buttoned barrel cuffs. His necktie is short and wide – just short and wide enough to be considered a 1930s style without getting too 1970s about it. The tie has a dark burgundy ground and a spread of ornate ecru and olive colored squared diamonds throughout.
When he goes to the card game, Gondorff ditches the stripes and wears a basic plain white shirt with barrel cuffs and a breast pocket, where he keeps his thin cigars. He shows up at the game tie-less as part of his “drunken bookie” persona, but he is soon lent yet another wide tie, this one tied comically short. It is very similar to the other, with a dark red ground and a red overcheck to capsule the gold spots.
The suspenders, fastened to the inside of the trousers via buttons, are thick and white with white straps and silver-colored hardware. His undershirt, seen throughout the film as well, is a standard white sleeveless ribbed A-shirt.
Gondorff also wears a gray fedora with a black band, which he wears inside even after removing his jacket and loosening his tie. Briefly seen (and thus to be discussed later), Gondorff’s overcoat is a soft light brown herringbone single-breasted topcoat.
Go Big or Go Home
Gondorff, like his portrayer Paul Newman, is effective as a con man because of his acting skills. His poker scene as Mr. Shaw, the bookie from Chicago, is one of Newman’s finest cinematic moments and provides a shining example of this.
So if you do decide to out-cheat a big time Irish mobster form New York, you have to be good at poker and you have to be good at acting.
How you do it is up to you, but if you get caught, you never read this blog, okay?
What to Imbibe
You can drink what you want on your own time, but “always drink gin with a mark, kid. He can’t tell if you cut it.” Gondorff’s particular gin here is a bottle of Gordon’s London Dry, mentioned specifically by James Bond in both the novel and film Casino Royale. He cuts it with water and uses it to get properly lubricated – or at least appear so – for the famous poker game.
To complete the image, buy those little cigars like Clint Eastwood smoked in his Westerns. Newman keeps a few in his shirt pocket.
How to Get the Look
Want to look sharp for your next train trip? See what you can do to emulate Newman:
- Brown Glen plaid (with light blue-gray & subtle red overcheck) wool three-piece suit, consisting of:
- Single-breasted 1-button suit jacket with peak lapels, welted breast pocket, flapped straight hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Single-breasted 6-button vest with four welt pockets, dark brown back lining, and no adjustable strap
- Single-pleated trousers with 2-button extended waist tab and hidden suspender buttons, side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Burlap white-striped shirt with spread collar and button cuffs
- Dark burgundy ground silk tie with repeating ecru and olive ornate squared diamond pattern
- White thick suspenders with silver-colored hardware and white straps
- White sleeveless ribbed cotton undershirt
- Gray felt fedora with black grosgrain band
- Light brown herringbone soft flannel single-breasted 3-button overcoat with notch lapels, long single vent, and buttoned sleeve tabs
Of course, if there’s a card game on board, swap out that nice shirt for a plain white one with buttoned cuffs. Don’t forget the little cigars in your breast pocket.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
Sorry I’m late, guys. I was taking a crap.
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