Robert Redford’s Gray Suit in The Sting
Yesterday was the 77th birthday of BAMF Style favorite Robert Redford. With a resume including the Sundance Kid, Jay Gatsby, Three Days of the Condor, Havana, and – of course – The Sting, Redford provides plenty of material for sartorial BAMFery.
Robert Redford as Johnny Hooker, small-time Depression-era grifter
Chicago, September 1936
Film: The Sting
Release Date: December 25, 1973
Director: George Roy Hill
Costume Designer: Edith Head
The Sting has always been one of my favorite films and was one of the first to convince me to wear suits more often. Of course, I was in sixth grade at the time so this didn’t go over too well with my friends and it took a few years before I would be invited to many parties. But this is beside the point.
Costume is very much part of the narrative of The Sting. When Hooker is a down-on-his-luck grifter, he looks it, patching together brown rags for a complete suit. After he first makes it big, he goes out and buys a loud reddish-brown pinstripe suit that was tacky even by Great Depression standards (but still looks cool, likely due to Redford). Once he goes to Chicago to learn “the big con” under master confidence man Henry Gondorff, Hooker is taken to a tailor and outfitted with a sharp new suit that will help him earn the trust of rich marks and gangsters.
Edith Head’s Academy Award for costume design in The Sting was certainly well-deserved. Head was one of the most prolific Hollywood costume designers, with eight total Oscars out of thirty five nominations from a career that spanned more than fifty years from the early days of talkies in 1927 up through her death in 1981.
What’d He Wear?
Gondorff’s first order of business after taking Hooker under his wing is to get him a new suit, which Hooker wears for the rest of the film when black tie isn’t needed. While it would’ve been a nice suit at the time, Hooker wears it with disdain and ignores convention in favor of his own comfort. This is a wise bit of characterization; despite the pomaded hair and shiny shoes of a big Chicago operator, he’s still a small-time hustler from Joliet.
The suit itself is a blue gray plain weave three-piece with a large pinhead pattern. It is well-fitted throughout, as was fashionable in the ’20s and ’30s and, luckily enough for the filmmakers, again in the ’70s when it was produced. The suit’s lining is dark gray silk, as seen on the inside of the jacket and the back of the vest.
The jacket is single-breasted with peak lapels, a trend that emerges every forty years or so. It was popular in the ’30s, again in the ’70s, and is again finding favor today with GQ magazine singling the style out for its recent issue featuring Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston in a series of single-breasted suits with peak lapels.
Hooker’s suit coat fastens with 2 buttons in the front, though he never chooses to wear it closed due to the waistcoat underneath. The coat also has a breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, and double rear vents. During his walks on cold, lonely nights, he turns up the lapels to reveal dark blue felt under the collar. The shoulders are well-padded with roped sleeveheads.
The jacket also has 3-button cuffs which, interestingly, make no attempt to look functional. Unlike many jackets, which have stitching to make non-surgeon’s cuffs appear functional, these buttons are just sewn on.
The waistcoat has a notch bottom and two lower hip pockets. Again, in keeping with the suit’s general fitted look, there is no adjustable strap in the back.
Hooker’s high rise trousers match the rest of his throughout the film with double reverse pleats, cuffed bottoms, suspender buttons inside the waistband, and a 2-button extended waist tab. There are side pockets, but the only rear pocket is a non-buttoning jetted pocket on the right. His suspenders are light gray with brown leather hooks.
Hooker wears a variety of shirts with this suit, mostly in various shades of blue. Each shirt is styled the same way, with a large spread collar (as was common in 1973), white buttons down a wide front placket, a breast pocket, and buttoned barrel cuffs. The shirt was supposedly made by Nat Wise of London, who often made custom shirts for film stars, although Anto also reportedly made the majority of shirts worn by Redford and Newman in The Sting.
During the train ride and his initial fitting, Hooker wears a pale light blue shirt paired with a very wide and short dark blue necktie.
Hooker meets with Gondorff and his guys, including Eddie Niles, Kid Twist, and J.J. Singleton, in the back room of Billie’s bordello. For this, he just sports a white shirt, the suit vest, and his old dark brown newsboy cap. The shirt was later auctioned off in December 2011 from icollector.com. The site offers little information about the shirt other than the maker and date of manufacture (January 1973), but it appears to have yellowed with age in the forty years since the film was made.
When he goes to visit Lonnegan’s hotel, Hooker wears another pale blue shirt with subtle blue stripes. He wears a large striped tie that with wide dark blue stripes, very thin white stripes, and medium width red stripes. It’s a very American-looking tie with colors evoking the American flag and, naturally, following the American right shoulder-down-to-left hip stripe pattern introduced by Brooks Brothers in the early 20th century.
The last of Hooker’s dress shirts seen is the most ’70s looking of them all, with thick blue stripes on a white ground. Upon closer look, the stripes are actually a mix of dark and light blue thin stripes, bookended by reddish stripes. The reddish stripes are further accentuated by Hooker’s choice of a dark red silk tie.
After his crazy night running in and out of bathrooms, sewers, and alleyways, he ditches the tie when Lt. Snyder hauls him in for questioning.The next morning, after leaving his one night stand, Hooker wears the shirt buttoned to the collar, as he’s prone to do.
Hooker’s footwear with this suit is a nice pair of black leather plain-toe bluchers with black dress socks.
As before, both of Hooker’s accessories are Redford’s usual trademarks, the plain silver ring on his right ring finger and the silver chain necklace with a large round pendant.
His hat of choice with this suit is a dark gray felt fedora with a thick black band, usually pushed forward or worn further back on his head, depending on his attitude.
Also, Hooker keeps wearing his same white sleeveless ribbed undershirts.
Go Big or Go Home
One smart lesson we can take away from Hooker is to get to know your favorite waitress. Maybe you’ll charm her enough to sleep with her before she tries to murder you the next morning.
What to Imbibe
Always keeping true to himself, Hooker still enjoys a bottle of Schlitz. However, his drinking has graduated to primarily whiskey, most notably Old Bushmills (now just known as “Bushmills”) Irish whisky.
How to Get the Look
I can’t guarantee that you’ll look like Robert Redford, but a suit like this would make you fashionable in both 1936 and 2013.
- Blue-gray pinhead plain weave fitted three-piece suit, consisting of:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with wide peak lapels, breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, and double rear vents
- Single-breasted 5-button vest with two lower pockets, notched bottom, and fitted rear
- Double-pleated trousers with a 2-button extended waist tab, cuffed bottoms, side pockets, and a jetted right rear pocket
- Pale light blue dress shirt with long-pointed collar, front placket, breast pocket, and barrel cuffs
- Several wide, short silk neckties in various shades of blue and red:
- Dark blue solid necktie
- Dark blue, red, and white striped necktie
- Dark red solid necktie
- Dark gray felt fedora with thick black band
- Light gray suspenders with brown leather hooks
- Black leather plain-toe bluchers/derby shoes
- Black dress socks
- White sleeveless cotton undershirt
- Plain silver ring (on right ring finger)
- Silver necklace with round pendant
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
You know me. I’m the same as you. It’s two in the morning and I don’t know nobody.
Part of the fun of this blog is screencapping movies and finding actors making split-second unfortunate faces. This one was a gem.
That is indeed a sharp suit. Redford’s seventy-seven? Looks good for his age, considering he’s a few years off 80! I bet George Roy Hill had to hold a gun to Redford’s head to get him to Brylcreem/California Poppy that 1970s mop of blonde locks. With all the trouble they went to in recreating 1930s Chicago, you would think that RR could’ve trimmed his hair a little. But he probably thought it was career suicide. And yet, I do like him. Thanks to “Three Days of The Condor” and “Barefoot in the Park”.
Well done, LS.
He sure does! I’m wondering about revisiting Spy Game soon to think about getting some older Redford style in here too. I bet Redford was bummed that just as his hair had grown back longer after The Sting, they made him chop it all off for The Great Gatsby.
Thanks for the support, as always!
How about “Indecent Proposal” where he does his Cary Grant schtick? Anything but “The Electric Horseman”!
That movie is a goldmine. I’m very much looking forward to Spy Game. Redford edges Eastwood (just) on my all-time list. Which is also a way of saying I’m just not ready for Redford to be 77 and Eastwood to be 83. Or Connery to be 83. Or me to be rushing up on 40.
Once he’s out of Vegas, the Electric Horseman merits a nod — at least from a man who gets outside and works. I know the Lee Storm Rider is cooler than I’ll ever be. Ask Steve McQueen.