Paul Newman’s Black Tie in The Sting
Paul Newman as Henry Gondorff, Chicago con artist posing as a betting parlor operator
Chicago, September 1936
Film: The Sting
Release Date: December 25, 1973
Director: George Roy Hill
Costume Designer: Edith Head
It’s been almost a year since I’ve covered the classy Henry Gondorff, played by Paul Newman in 1973’s The Sting, so what would be more appropriate for New Year’s Eve than to break down Gondorff in black tie.
As the spiritual successor to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Newman and Redford found themselves paired up again as a set of bickering partners who are most comfortable just outside the law. Despite their crimes, you just can’t help but to love and root for ’em. The film even teased audiences with a potential Butch and Sundance-style ending and… well, if you haven’t seen it, I’ll just stop there.
But, also like the previous film, Newman and Redford gussied themselves up when they needed to. In Butch, this meant they each had an Edwardian-era three-piece suit, whereas The Sting called for tuxedoes.
WARNING! Spoilers can’t really be avoided, but I’ll do my best. If you haven’t seen the film, I must ask that you go watch it ASAP. It is hilarious, classic, and worth every second of your time. Then come back and read about Paul’s tux.
What’d He Wear?
For the betting parlor scenes, including the hilarious and classic final scene, Gondorff outfits himself in sharp period-appropriate black tie. Although a tuxedo is a traditionally timeless look, Gondorff’s take on it would have been very fashionable in 1936 and very fitting for his cover as a successful, if slightly obnoxious, Chicago bookie.
Gondorff’s black dinner jacket is single-breasted and has large shawl lapels black satin silk facings. These lapels are more like the ones seen on Sean Connery’s Dr. No tux rather than his Thunderball tux. In Thunderball, made in 1965, Connery wore very slim shawl lapels that rolled down the torso to the button. Three years earlier, the Dr. No dinner jacket had wider lapels with less of a roll down the chest. Gondorff’s wider lapels are more traditional (Dr. No) than the more fashion-forward slim lapels seen in the ’60s (Mad Men, Thunderball, Sinatra).
The dinner jacket, as it should, has a single button closure in the front. While some jackets have buttons covered in the same satin silk as on the lapel facings, Gondorff’s buttons are simply uncovered black horn. The three buttons on each cuff are similarly uncovered. Other details of the jacket include a breast pocket and jetted hip pockets. It has a ventless rear, which is the most formal vent option for a dinner jacket. It has slightly padded shoulders and roped sleeveheads. The sleeves (which I’ll discuss more below) are pretty long and mostly cover Newman’s cuffs.
Lucky for us, and especially lucky for one well-to-do auction buyer, The Golden Closet featured the very tux jacket worn by Newman on its site. It described the jacket accurately:
This black tuxedo jacket was worn by the character “Henry Gondorff,” portrayed by legendary actor Paul Newman, in the 1973 motion picture, “The Sting.” The single button period tuxedo has two welt pockets at the waist, a single breast pocket on the left front, and a black silk satin shawl collar. The 1930’s style tuxedo jacket was custom made for Mr. Newman’s use on the production and the interior is complete with the original Western Costume Company label sewn inside with the name “Paul Newman #6,” made to order # “214C-1,” and sizing information clearly typed in black ink.
In case you’re curious, the jacket’s listed measurements were 40½ chest and “16½ sleeves”. Either this is a mistype, or it is a costumer’s code for something. My sleeve length is somewhere between 33-34, so I assume that “16½” is a half measure and Newman was actually measured to wear 33-length sleeves. Can anyone shed any more light on this?
The accompany trousers are black single-pleated formal trousers with a black satin silk stripe down each leg, matching the lapel facings. They have plain-hemmed bottoms and a straight fly, but the waist is covered by a broad black pleated cummerbund. The trousers also have slanted side pockets.
In addition to the cummerbund, Gondorff wears a set of white suspenders with silver hardware (strap adjusters, clips, etc.) and white leather attachments that button to the inside of the trouser waistband. These braces appear to have a tonal stripe that shows in certain light.
Gondorff’s shirt is a very appropriate white collarless formal shirt with square cuffs that are either heavyweight single cuffs or thin double cuffs. Including this one, all shirts worn by both Paul Newman and Robert Redford in The Sting were made by Anto.
Gondorff wears a waffled bib with his shirt, fastened with three black square studs and brass collar buttons in the front and rear. The studs match the cufflinks, which are larger versions of the silver-trimmed black squares.
Gondorff wears a detachable white wingtip collar with his shirt, which looks very formal but reveals the fact that the bow tie is pre-tied. Although it is very appropriate-looking in black satin silk with a large “butterfly” bow, Gondorff’s tie is indeed a self-tied version with the hook visible under the right collar wing. Let’s give Gondorff a pass here, since:
- He’s in a betting parlor, not at a fancy dress ball. Think of the guys you see at the track nowadays. With some of them, you’re lucky if they’ve washed their pants in the last four years.
- Bow ties are pretty tricky to tie correctly.
- It’s Paul Newman.
On his feet, Gondorff wears black patent leather shoes. We don’t see much of them, but they appear to be plain-toe laced shoes. He wears them with a pair of thin black dress socks.
When venturing outside – or tending bar – Gondorff wears a very stylish pearl gray fedora on his head. While this is a very fashionable and good-looking hat, something about Gondorff makes it look rogue-ish and even more charming. Most people look like a doofus when they try to pull off a fedora these days, but Paul Newman was a master.
Gondorff’s overcoat is the same as he wore with his Glen Plaid suit, a soft light brown herringbone topcoat with a single-breasted 3-button front, large notch lapels, and tab cuffs that fasten with a single button.
Go Big or Go Home
Thanks to Newman, Gondorff will remain one of the coolest characters to ever grace the screen. The charming rascal dishes out wise advice with a cigar cooling resting in his mouth before taking his next drink. And drink he does, keeping a well-stocked bar in the betting parlor for his, and Hooker’s, use. If you’re looking to build an identical bar, Gondorff has all the essentials for a modest but respectable man’s bar:
- Ezra Brooks Bourbon whiskey
- “Old” Bushmills Irish whiskey
- Ballantine’s blended Scotch whisky
- Gordon’s gin
- HINE cognac
Since this was 1936, rum, tequila, and vodka weren’t the ubiquitous party drinks we know them as today and were rather the domain of the regions from whence they came. Plus, there is no spirit manlier than whiskey – or a stiff belt of cognac – and everyone knows that a real Martini is made with gin instead of vodka. With brands still readily available today, Gondorff’s bar is a good example for what a modern man’s bar can – and should – look like. (Unless, of course, your bar is even bigger.)
To be safe, and to drink like the guys in The Sting, keep it well-stocked with Schlitz beer as well. If you can actually find it anywhere.
What to Imbibe
In this scene, Gondorff pours out a shot of HINE cognac for Hooker after the latter’s run-in with corrupt cop Snyder. Feeling the pressure of Hooker’s ineptitude, Gondorff naturally does a shot for himself.
HINE is a product of Thomas Hine & Company, named for its proprietor, the Englishman who married the daughter of a Jarnac cognac house owner. Hine, who had spent time in prison during the French Revolution, developed his own cognac and renamed the company after himself in 1817. The Hine House was granted a royal warrant by Queen Elizabeth II as cognac supplier in 1962 and, more than fifty years later, it is still the only cognac house to hold this honor.
As a tribute to the cigar-smoking Gondorff, enjoy a bottle of Hine Cigar Reserve as you bring in the new year. This blend of more than 25 cognacs is rich, powerful, deep, and spicy and, as you might imagine, it pairs perfectly with your favorite hand-rolled cigar.
How to Get the Look
Newman looks great in his traditional black tie. Other than the bow tie, he sticks to a classic look and doesn’t go over the top to make it look good. Gondorff’s tux is proof that there’s nothing wrong with a timeless look that hasn’t changed over the better part of a century.
- Black single-breasted 3-button dinner jacket with wide satin silk-faced shawl lapels, welted breast pocket, jetted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Black single-pleated formal plain-hemmed trousers with a black satin stripe down each leg
- White formal collarless dress shirt with single cuffs, black square studs, waffle-front bib, and detachable wingtip collar
- Black silver-trimmed square cuff links (to match the shirt studs)
- Black satin silk pre-tied adjustable “butterfly” bow tie
- White suspenders with silver hardware
- Black pleated cummerbund
- Black patent leather plain-toe oxfords
- Thin black dress socks
- White ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt
- Pearl gray fedora with black band
- Light brown herringbone soft flannel single-breasted 3-button overcoat with notch lapels, long single vent, and buttoned sleeve tabs
Before the final day of the con, Gondorff preps for any unexpected FBI raids, like you do, with a 2″-barreled Smith & Wesson Model 10 Snubnose. This is a shorter-barreled version of the venerable “Military and Police” Model 10 that was first developed in 1899. Although Gondorff’s is loaded with blank ammunition, the Model 10 popularized the .38 Special cartridge and paved the way for its use in the Colt police revolvers of the early 20th century, cementing the .38 Special’s place as one of the most popular revolver cartridges in the world.
As we learned last week, the use of blank ammunition is revolvers is not only possible, it’s very easy for filmmakers!
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
Hell, you come in here, I teach you stuff maybe five guys in this world know, stuff most grifters couldn’t do even if they knew it, and all you wanna do is run down a bullet.
Bow ties aren’t really that hard to get right if you practice — it’s just like tying a four in hand after a while.
You’re very right; I was invited to my first black tie function when I was 19. Up to that point, I’d only worn pre-tied (prom, etc.), but I decided to start my more matured sartorial practices on the right foot. After about two hours, I became pretty comfortable with it. Others I know still struggle after constant battles.
I recently watched The Sting again when it was on TV. It’s a great movie and the clothes are excellent too – a beautiful blend of 30s and 70s excess. I was reminded strongly of American Hustle watching it – both movies with similar themes, milieu and both set about 40 years before they were made and reveling in the costumes and styles of the times.
I’m not sure I’d ever noticed that Newman and Redford are wearing clip on bow ties before. Once pointed out, it is pretty obvious. It does seem odd – I’m not even if sure clip ons existed in the 30s.
I wonder if Gondorff shouldn’t be wearing a waistcoat rather than a cummerbund? In the 30s I think that cummerbunds were regarded as summertime resort wear, rather than commonplace for dinner jackets. Your Scarface post shows the prevailing fashions of the day. That said, both he and Hooker wear their evening wear whenever they are at the club/gambling den, regardless of time of day. A mistake or a reflection of the fact that gambling dens wanted to project a certain image, the way that casinos want to stop you from noticing the passing of time and that waiters, staff and those working in bars are often dressed in evening clothes regardless of the time of day?
Thanks for writing. I really like your comparison between American Hustle and The Sting. I hadn’t thought of the 40-year span, but it makes sense. It gives people just enough time to look back and comment on the era. I first saw The Sting when I was 11 or 12, and it was one of the things that really got me paying attention to sartorial details. To this day, I try to never miss it on TV and pop my DVD in every so often.
That said, I didn’t notice until now either that the bow ties were pre-tied. I’d need to watch a few more vintage films from the era to see if any of the actors are wearing pre-tied bow ties to confirm if they were around back then. Perhaps the informal setting of a betting parlor allows for such “faux pas” of black tie. Like you point out, these guys are wearing black tie during the morning/afternoon, likely just to create the image of class. I’m sure they were still better dressed than the denizens of real Depression-era gambling dens!
Pre-tied bows existed at least back into the 1950s but they were considered rather low class, only worn by soda jerks or stage performers. Their existence here in a 1930s period piece is rather out of place, especially when they went to the detail of having detachable shirt collars when attached wing collars were already prevalent in the 1970s. Anyways, there’s nothing that can replace impefectly knotted silk around a man’s neck. It’s basically like the uncanny valley effect of anthropomorphic robots or CGI characters. ALMOST right, but too perfect in some ways which to the human eye looks “weird”. Besides, at the end of the night do you want to be the guy with his bow tie ends hanging loose or the one who unclips it and hides in a pocket out of shame?
Otherwise decent black tie ensembles were brought down by obvious pre-tied bows at the Academy Awards this year, most notably Ellen DeGeneres’ well fitting women’s tuxedo made by Yves Saint Laurent.
One more thing, it’s a “wing collar”, not wingtip. Don’t confuse collars with shoes. 😉
Terrible habit of mine, Jovan. I think that was the first term I heard for it when I was a lad, and it stuck. With your help and Hal’s (he pointed it out on my ’32 Scarface post), I’ll eradicate it for good. Always appreciate hearing from you – thanks!
Ӏ could not esist commenting. Very well written!