Michael Caine’s Beige Suede Reefer Coat in The Italian Job
Michael Caine as Charlie Croker, cheeky and charming mob thief
Turin, Italy, Spring 1969
Film: The Italian Job
Release Date: June 2, 1969
Director: Peter Collinson
Wardrobe Supervisor: Dulcie Midwinter
Although modern American audiences may be more familiar with the 2003 Mark Wahlberg film The Italian Job, most Brits and film buffs recognize the classic 1969 version as the truer of the two.
Now considered one of the greatest British films of all time (Total Film called it the 27th greatest in 2004), The Italian Job is a fun time capsule that doesn’t let typical film conventions, i.e. emotions or a clear ending, get in the way of a good story. Also, unlike the remake, it is actually about an “Italian job”.
Michael Caine was already a star by the late 1960s thanks to films like Zulu, Alfie, and the Harry Palmer series. However, it was his performance as Charlie Croker in 1969’s The Italian Job that would cement him as a hip and talented superstar over the next decade.
What’d He Wear?
Thanks to legendary English tailor Douglas Hayward, Caine’s look for the film is just as iconic as the cars, the one-liners, the ending, and all other elements that make the film stand out in people’s minds. All of his attire is lean and well-fitting, with just enough of a flamboyant edge to remind us that this is 1969.
Croker wears a distinctive beige split suede hip-length reefer coat while planning the heist in England and during his arrival in Italy for its actual execution. Appropriate for Caine, it is a very fashion-forward garment that would have only been seen on the moddest men in 1969.
The jacket was likely custom made for Caine, as it hangs well on his athletic 6’2″ frame. A long single vent extends about halfway up the rear, but it is reenforced so that his back isn’t exposed each time he turns.
In addition to the large vent, additional bits of fashion-forwardness are seen in the extremely large collars and the curved seams, which extend out from each armpit, curve downward, then continue straight down to the bottom of the jacket. The open hip pockets are found on these seams.
On women’s garments, this type of seam is typically known as a “princess” seam, but this isn’t Camp Freddie’s jacket, so we’ll need to come up with a new name for it.
Croker’s suede coat is double-breasted with a 6×3 button front. He wears the coat open while in England, but when he closes it with the jumper in Italy, he fastens the two lower buttons. The jacket also has plain cuffs, devoid of buttons, straps, or tabs.
Croker’s look in these scenes maintains consistency with earth tones throughout. His cotton twill trousers are mink-colored flat front slacks with a slim fit through the legs to the plain-hemmed bottoms. The trousers have a modern rise, fitting just below the natural waist and worn with a brown leather belt that fastens in the front through a brass rounded one-eyelet clasp.
When he arrives in Italy, Croker is wearing a cream-colored turtleneck jumper. This sweater looks soft and clings nicely, likely lambswool.
In England, he wore the same jacket and trousers with a shirt and tie. While surveying the work of his engineers, he wears a white long-sleeve button-down poplin shirt and a very wide and tightly-tied tie with a white ground and very thin stripes crossing diagonally from the right shoulder down to the right hip. It is interesting that the tie stripes are the traditionally American style in a movie that is so extremely British.
The extremely wide tie was a very era-specific garment known as a “kipper tie”, common in England especially and known for its width up to nearly half a foot. Croker’s tie is understated when compared to some of the more garish kipper ties of the era.
When Croker berates his associate for blowing off more than just the “bloody doors”, he wears a burgundy and brown striped shirt with a tie that is an exact match (with British left-down-to-right stripes, if you’re curious). This can be considered a tacky look, but 1969 Michael Caine gets a pass.
Croker completes the look with a pair of light brown suede pointed-toe boots which extend over his ankles. The very short break of the trousers makes the boots even more visible. They look like a variation of Chelsea boots made popular by the Beatles, fastening with a zip on one side rather than elastic gussets.
Since he is working and driving, Croker also wears a pair of burgundy nappa leather pin-tucked gloves throughout the heist and its planning.
Only briefly seen when the gang takes the cross-channel ferry, Croker wears a more traditional khaki trench coat for an extra layer of protection against the seaside elements. It has rain flaps, epaulettes on the shoulders, and adjustable straps on each cuff.
Croker wears it casually, draped over his back like a cape without bothering with the sleeves. Due to this, we can see a tattersall “Club Check” on the lining inside of coat that may indicate manufacture by Aquascutum. For another pairing of an Aquascutum trench coat and Douglas Hayward’s tailoring, check out Steve McQueen’s suit or shooting jacket in Bullitt.
Go Big or Go Home
The Italian Job is a great relic from the era when filmmakers would make car chases (and crashes) using actual cars in actual places. This is an unapologetically fun caper film that revels in certain levels of ’60s camp, made all the greater by the appearance of Noël Coward, bringing his urbane wit and style to his role as a powerful gangster running his empire from prison.
For your next jaunt to Italy – whether for a crime or just on holiday – take a lesson from Croker and blend in by looking stylish in one of the most fashionable countries in the world. If you need help, pick up a beautiful silver Aston Martin convertible and have Quincy Jones playing coolly on the radio as you cruise through the mountains.
How to Get the Look
A flappy suede double-breasted jacket, cashmere turtleneck sweater, and tight pants is a ballsy look to pull off. It’d be hard for most men who aren’t Michael Caine (which is about 99.9% of the world’s male population), but if you can make it work, more power to you.
- Beige split suede double-breasted (6×3) reefer coat with large collars, open side pockets on seams, and a large rear single vent
- Cream lambswool turtleneck jumper/sweater
- Mink cotton twill flat front trousers with a low waist, slim legs, and plain-hemmed short break bottoms
- Brown leather belt with a rounded brass clasp
- Light brown suede pointed-toe ankle boots with a single-side zip fastening
- Burgundy nappa leather pin-tucked gloves
- Khaki trench coat with a double-breasted front, epaulettes, and adjustable-strap cuffs
- Caine’s coat is possibly from Aquascutum of London.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!
Although The Italian Job is undoubtedly entertaining, it is Get Carter from 1971 that ranks as one of my favorite British crime films of all time. Stay tuned for that post!
Great movie! Saw it when I was a boy and fell in love with the Mini Cooper. I even remember using a tape recorder to catch
the song that played during the closing credits. Yeah, tape recorder. I’m old.
And Benny Hill was in that movie as well.
The soundtrack is a blast to listen to! Definitely takes one back to a fun era. The main song, with Caine joining “The Self Preservation Society” has a lot of fun with cockney slang. I never knew what they were saying, so when I finally saw the lyrics on a site a few years ago I was baffled by how they put some of those words together. Glad you’re a fan as well!
Clothes on Film just finished up a nice two-part on this. The only thing missing from the movie was Faye Dunaway.