Billy Zane as Caledon “Cal” Hockley, pompous heir to a Pittsburgh steel fortune
North Atlantic Ocean, April 1912
Release Date: December 19, 1997
Director: James Cameron
Costume Designer: Deborah Lynn Scott
Exactly 102 years today, the RMS Titanic saw land for the last time when it departed Queenstown, Ireland (now Cobh) at 1:30 PM (GMT) on April 11, 1912. The destination was New York City, but the ship foundered in the North Atlantic Ocean, taking with it more than 1,500 passengers and crew and leaving only a scattered 700 in the ship’s relatively few lifeboats.
Oh, you’ve heard of Titanic before? Okay, then, I doubt I need to say much more.
In 1997, James Cameron’s Titanic was released with a shitload of fanfare and awards just begging to be thrown at it. It won 11 mostly well-deserved Academy Awards and became the first film to earn over $1 billion worldwide, making Cameron both very rich and very arrogant. Evidently he forgot that the reason Titanic sank was majorly due to the hubris of its owners.
It’s disappointing to me that Cameron – who honestly managed to recreate the disaster as masterfully as anyone will – felt the need to include both a romantic centerpiece and a villain to the film. Nothing against Leo and Kate, both of whom I enjoy, but they weren’t needed to make this story an identifiable tragedy! If you watch A Night to Remember, the 1958 retelling of the tragedy, you’ll feel honest emotion for the plight of the 2,200 people who weren’t planning on having to abandon ship and watch more than half of their fellow travelers die. A Night to Remember doesn’t tell us who to be bad for; the characters’ anonymity makes every story relatable and brings the Titanic disaster home.
Cameron’s film, on the other hand, tells us who we should feel bad for. Naturally, there are the obligatory shots of doomed third class passengers, but they didn’t just have sex with Kate Winslet so why should we care, right?
According to Wikipedia…
Cameron felt the Titanic sinking was “like a great novel that really happened”, yet the event had become a mere morality tale; the film would give audiences the experience of living the history. The treasure hunter Brock Lovett represented those who never connected with the human element of the tragedy, while the blossoming romance of Jack and Rose, he believed, would be the most engaging part of the story: when their love is finally destroyed, the audience would mourn the loss.
Oh, really? Two made up people is the most engaging part of the story? The audience should be mourning the loss of the OTHER 1,500 people! The story of the RMS Titanic is one of real people who were forced to deal with a horrible situation, not some poor wiseacre who got lucky.
(Sorry, Leo. I really am a fan!)
In case you can’t tell, I’m a passionate historian when it comes to Titanic and other maritime disasters of the era (SS Valencia, Empress of Ireland, Lusitania, etc.) Thus, I’m certainly not going to let the anniversary of Titanic‘s sinking go by without a post. Since I already covered A Night to Remember last year with a post about Kenneth More’s portrayal of Second Officer Lightoller, I’m left with few choices but to discuss Cameron’s film… and the closest thing we have to a well-dressed BAMF in Titanic is the aforementioned “villain”, Caledon Hockley.
There are plenty of arguments one could make (“Aw, but he’s the bad guy!” “He’s such a dick!” “What about Jack? He was the main character!”) and I don’t care about any of them. To be honest, I’d much rather be Cal than Leo in the flick. Not only would it mean I’d get to survive – and in a BAMFy way like in the swamped Collapsible A – but I’d get to do it all wearing white tie. Cal is shrewd, cunning, and calculating even when others were showing their more selfless side; to get off of the sinking ship, he picks up a lost, crying child and uses her to barter his way onto a lifeboat. It may seem like kidnapping (because it by definition is), but let’s face it – that kid was not gonna be finding her mum. Cal probably saved her life, even if he did it for the most selfish of reasons.
In casting the villainous Cal, Cameron originally offered the role to Matthew McConaughey, who had also been considered for the role of Jack. McConaughey, who still had EDTv, The Wedding Planner, and Failure to Launch ahead of him before actually achieving greatness in Dallas Buyers Club and True Detective, evidently passed and the role went to Billy Zane.
If you’re disappointed to see the guy who essentially killed Jack Dawson as the subject, you can toss out a few suggestions for my inevitable Titanic-related post in April 2015. Also, you probably are or were once a teenage girl.
What’d He Wear?
The Black Tie Guide is the perfect site for anyone even remotely interested in men’s formalwear. The site, in addition to detailing correct practices today, breaks down – in fascinating and intricately-researched detail – the history of formalwear from Beau Brummell in the early 1800s to today. Given that the Titanic disaster is often cited as the climax of the Edwardian era – even though Edward VII had been dead for two years – the Black Tie Guide’s section on Edwardian era formalwear tells us where Cal’s white tie was right on the money and where he faltered.
The site’s white tie section also details how little the “uniform” of white tie has changed since the days of the Titanic. Sadly, full evening dress is now relegated only to the most formal events like presidential inaugurations, conducting a symphony, and probably some stuff in Europe. About 96% of men (I made this statistic up but it sounds realistic) will go through life without ever donning white tie.
Of course, 102 years ago, white tie was de rigueur for the well-to-do gentleman, and Cal was certainly well-to-do… if not exactly a gentleman. Each night for dinner, he would join his fellow “masters of the universe” in white tie before retiring to the smoking room on A-Deck for cigars, brandy, and cards.
The centerpiece of full evening dress for a 1912 gentleman was the tailcoat. Since the 1850s, black was the color of choice for an evening tailcoat, and this still would have been the most popular option in the pre-war era. Perhaps as a forward-thinking American, Cal wears a “blacker than black” midnight blue evening tailcoat in worsted wool, predating the color’s popularity by about ten years.
The evening tailcoat – which was also known as a “dress coat”, “swallow-tail coat”, or “claw-hammer coat” – has a double-breasted front with three buttons on each side, as was fashionable by this time. Despite the buttons, the evening tailcoat has been designed to not button since the 1820s and should be worn open. It fits snugly around the torso, further indicating Cal’s status among the upper class as a tailcoat can only truly look correct when it has been custom made for a gentleman’s physique.
Black Tie Guide recalls the statement from a 1913 issue of Vanity Fair:
The front effect of the coat is best when well opened, exposing considerable shirt, the lapels rolling to a little below the top button of the waistcoat from where the line slants away to the edge which inclines slightly upward and rounds into the skirt.
… and this has been the rule for evening tailcoats ever since.
In addition to the correct faux-double-breasted layout of six covered buttons, Cal’s evening tailcoat also appropriately has black silk-faced peak lapels. Shawl lapels were also in and out of vogue on evening tailcoats, but they were more of a fad and aren’t associated with the timelessness of peak lapels. Notch lapels on an evening tailcoat were unheard of and still only serve to indicate a rental.
In the rear, Cal’s two curved knee-length tails are separated by a long single vent and embellished with two ceremonial buttons on the waistline. These rear buttons, now purely ornamental, recall the tailcoat’s origins when men would fold up their tails and button them to their waistline before riding a horse.
Cal’s jacket has a welted breast pocket, which was introduced on the evening tailcoat during the Edwardian era. Despite the presence of the pocket, it was still correct to leave the pocket empty, and Cal is no exception. He wears no pocket square and prefers to keep his possessions in his inner tailcoat pockets or his trouser pockets. White pocket squares have become more acceptable with evening dress as the years have progressed.
Considering fit, Cal’s tailcoat was clearly designed to fit Billy Zane perfectly. Jack is lucky that the film’s costumers likely fitted his borrowed tailcoat to fit Leonardo DiCaprio rather than Molly Brown’s absent son. The rear of Cal’s coat rises above the bow tie, allowing just enough of the white wing collar to show itself around the neckline.
The sleeves also are cut to reveal a minimal account of Cal’s white shirt cuffs. Cal has two decorative buttons on each cuff; two buttons may have been correct in 1912, but modern evening tailcoats typically have four.
Underneath the tailcoat, the waistcoat is another element of white tie that has gone through many evolutions of style fads. During the early days of full evening dress, waistcoats were typically black with a low-fastening V-shaped front and shawl lapels. Around 1890, the V-shaped front gave way to a softer U-shaped front and the previously standard single-breasted front now faced competition from the increasingly popular double-breasted layout, as seen on Sidney Reilly’s white tie ensemble in 1910. The English also began wearing white piqué waistcoats instead of the traditional black. During the Edwardian era, the white piqué waistcoat for full dress caught on in America as well, and black waistcoats became the strict domain of the burgeoning informal dinner jacket while white piqué waistcoats were in vogue for formalwear on both sides of the Atlantic.
Cal’s ivory piqué waistcoat is a more traditional item with its single-breasted front and V-shaped opening, perhaps due to his attachment to Titanic‘s “old money” set. It has shawl revers (lapels), jetted hip pockets, and a correct 3-button front with covered buttons. It has a notched bottom to follow the newly-angled lines of his tailcoat. Although men had previously worn their watches on a chain across the waistcoat – again seen with Reilly’s 1910 full dress – this fell out of style by the pre-war years as men began carrying watches in their trouser pockets or hidden on their hip on a fob or key chain. Cal’s fashionably wears his watch accordingly hidden.
Now, the white piqué waistcoat has remained the standard for white tie. They are typically single-breasted, but double-breasted waistcoats are also popular. The V-shaped opening has regained popularity; Cal was smart to stick with that variation. However, full dress waistcoats are now typically manufactured backless; since the tailcoat is supposed to never be removed, there’s no reason why it would need to add additional discomfort to the wearer. The backless waistcoat was popularized by the Duke of Windsor in the 1920s, making the Edwardian era the last period of popularity for the waistcoat as a functional garment rather than a ceremonial one.
The shirt can make or break the look for evening dress, and Cal correctly wears a white lightweight voile shirt with a stiffly-starched piqué bib, detachable wing collar, squared single cuffs, and two visible studs down the front.
The studs are mother-of-pearl with gold trim, unfortunately not matching the diamond cuff links as they should, but at least they both have gold trim. The actual shirt fabric – likely voile here, although broadcloth is also an option – is never supposed to be seen, with the bib, cuffs, and collar the only parts visible in full dress. By this time, each of these elements typically matched the piqué material of the waistcoat and tie.
The rule for matching piqué waistcoat, shirt bib, and tie were just becoming popular around the time Titanic sank, and Cal’s white cotton piqué bow tie was a fashionable nod to this emerging trend. The tie has pointed ends, and the pointed end on the right wing gives the tie just the right amount of irregularity to mark that this is, indeed, a self-tied bespoke tie made to fit Cal’s neck, exactly as a full dress bow tie should.
Cal wears a pair of black flat front formal trousers with his full evening dress, in the same worsted wool as the tailcoat. They have a single black silk side braid down each leg, although double stripes were also common at the time when side braids were present. Cal often places his hands in his pockets, which are placed just along the side braids. Flat front trousers like his were most common during this era as men aspired to display a lean silhouette, but pleated trousers became popular with the “baggy” look of the 1920s and have remained popular to this day.
The trousers are cut high to his waist, sitting just above the bottom of the cutaway front of the coat. Although barely seen, white silk suspenders would be the correct accompaniment for full dress trousers, and it appears that Cal is wearing them – seen only when he stumbles down the grand staircase in his desperate gun-brandishing pursuit of Jack and Rose during the ship’s final moments. The trousers break with plain-hemmed bottoms over his shoes.
Black leather footwear always has and always will be necessary with full evening dress, but the type of shoe has changed since its origins. In the early days, pumps set the standard as the evening dress shoe, but leather dress boots began to emerge in popularity as the 20th century dawned. By the height of the Edwardian era, patent leather lace-ups became the most popular option, even displacing the most formal pumps. Although he is aristocratic, Cal’s sense of practicality resulted in his choice of the more popular plain-toe lace-ups over the more effete pumps. He does wear black silk dress socks, although they don’t extend far up his shins and his bare leg can be seen when he is lounging in his stateroom before the ship founders.
Once the passengers are given notice to go up to the boat deck on the night of the sinking, Cal grabs his overcoat but ignores any other sort of outerwear. Indeed, being loaded into a lifeboat is not the occasion for a black silk top hat or white buckskin gloves, although some gloves may have been useful against the bitter cold. A white silk scarf with tasseled ends is also the correct option for white tie, but Cal forgoes a scarf as well.
The overcoat, which Cal gives to Rose in his sole – and later regretted – moment of chivalry, is a charcoal wool Chesterfield with a single-breasted 4-button fly front, a welted breast pocket, flapped side pockets, and 2-button cuffs with black horn buttons to match the front. The overcoat correctly is knee-length with the fly front and a black velvet collar.
Cal’s arisocratic touch further manifests itself with his jewelry, a gold pinky ring with a ruby stone, worn on his left hand. We don’t see his watch, but based on the gold ring and the gold trim of his studs and cuff links, we can assume that he wears a gold watch hidden away in a trouser pocket.
The morning after the disaster, aboard Carpathia, a dazed Cal searches for Rose among the passengers. He is still wearing his tailcoat, waistcoat, and trousers, but he looks much worse for wear with a tear in the arm of the coat. His detachable wing collar and tie are both gone.
Go Big or Go Home
As a first class gentleman, Cal’s lifestyle would be one still envied by the upper class set today. His personal life may have been slowly crumbling to shambles, but he still enjoyed the finest that the ship had to offer.
The film has Cal, Rose, and Rose’s mother occupying one of the two promenade suites on the ship, which were the ultimate in luxury. Think penthouse suite; that’s the modern day equivalent of these rooms. In real life, the B52-54-56 suite was occupied by White Star Line president J. Bruce Ismay, while the starboard suite, B51-53-55, was occupied by Charlotte Drake Cardeza, a nomadic widowed millionaire who was traveling with her son. Cal and Co. are shown occupying Ismay’s suite in the film.
The parlour suites were decorated in a mock-Tudor style and consisted of two bedrooms, one sitting room, and a fifty-foot long private enclosed promenade; each bedroom had two beds. Since someone traveling in these cabins would obviously have their own servants, the occupants were given the three-berth stateroom B102 for servants.
The total cost of the promenade suite was about $4,350, equivalent to more than $100,000 today. If you had that kind of money, would you buy a new Aston Martin or a seven day boat trip? To give you an idea of how luxurious the suite was, J.P. Morgan was to originally occupy B52-54-56 before his health prevented him from making the trip and Ismay went in his stead.
The incredible accommodations would be enough to keep one in their room the whole time, especially when traveling with a fiancee, but the rest of the “floating palace” would beckon anyone to explore. There were many places for first class passengers to lounge about, just being rich, from the sun-lit Cafe Parisien covered in French trellises and ivy to the Louis XV-style first class lounge on A-Deck. The ship had a full gymnasium available to first class passengers on the boat deck as well as a squash court and a swimming pool for the more athletic aristocrats belowdecks.
The centerpiece was naturally the grand staircase, which extended from the boat deck down to E-Deck and was lit through an ornate large glass dome. It was one of the ship’s most luxurious appointments with detailed oak paneling and carvings, bronze cherub lamp supports, and Louis XIV-inspired iron banister grillwork. The highlight of the forward grand staircase was a clock surrounded by an intricate carving of “Honour and Glory crowning time”; it is at this clock where Jack will ask Rose to meet him to “make it count”.
There was a smaller grand staircase further aft, going only from A-Deck to C-Deck, and it was through this space that the ship broke in two during the final stage of the sinking.
For dinner, Cal escorted Rose and Ruth down from B-Deck to the white Jacobean-style reception room on D-Deck before proceeding into the dining room for a grand dinner.
Dinner was quite a to-do for all of these status-obsessed patricians on board. It was a grand honor to dine at the captain’s table, and, on the night of the 14th, a grand dinner held in Captain Smith’s honor was held for him by the Wideners in the exclusive A La Carte Restaurant on B-Deck.
In the regular dining room on D-Deck, first class passengers enjoyed a delicious final meal including filet mignons, lamb in mint sauce, roast duckling, and beef sirloin. You’ll notice I said “and”; it’s no wonder these people didn’t feel like swimming after such a meal.
(On the 100th anniversary of the sinking, we excellently recreated the meal from scratch. I was almost full after the delicious salmon with mousseline saucer and cucumbers, but I powered through and wolfed down the exquisite meats and vegetables, finishing everything through the pâté de foie gras and French ice cream. An abundance of wine and champagne throughout helped.)
Naturally, wine was served throughout dinner. The film accurately portrays Moët & Chandon champagne as a sparkling wine of choice for the first class passengers at dinner, served with caviar. It doesn’t get much more luxurious than that.
After dinner, the men retreated to the first class smoking room on aft A-Deck for “cigars and brandy” as Col. Gracie announces in the film. Indeed, a number of spirits were available from whiskies and liqueurs to beer and cocktails. Cigars and cigarettes were plentiful. The style of the room was meant to emulate the gentleman’s clubs in London and New York with an early Georgian style of rich mahogany and stained glass windows. Many men, including a few professional cardsharps, spent the night playing cards until the room was closed at midnight.
On the night of the sinking, it was kept open for the men to stay warm while their wives were sent away in lifeboats. It was the last known location of Thomas Andrews, the ship’s designer, who likely remained in the smoking room until the ship foundered.
As part of this luxurious upper crust, Cal feels no sympathy for steerage passenger Jack, who lives among the rats down below. It naturally comes as a great blow to Cal that, despite his immense wealth and the promises of an elegant lifestyle, Rose opts for the starving artist. Cuckolded by Rose, Cal even passes up his chance to be in a comfortable lifeboat – one that doesn’t swamp – out of his remaining love for her, even if it is misogynistic and misguided. Of course, Cal is still so vindictively ruthless that he even has Jack – who, as a third class male passenger, has the least likely rate of survival anyway – chained belowdecks to ensure his death. That’s such a dick move you almost have to respect it. Of course, Jack is freed by Rose, but… you know, he still dies.
As Cal says with a smirk, a lot of people will die, but…
Not the better half.
How to Get the Look
Cal’s full evening dress is a fine execution of white tie, combining both traditional and then-modern elements. Unlike black tie, there are now very few variations on correct white tie, but during the look’s formative years, it wasn’t uncommon for eveningwear to differ from man to man.
- Midnight blue evening tailcoat with black silk-faced peak lapels, 6-button double-breasted front, 2-button cuffs, welted breast pocket, 2 decorative buttons over the rear tails
- Black formal trousers with side pockets, plain-hemmed bottoms, and a single satin stripe down each leg
- White piqué single-breasted waistcoat with self-faced shawl lapels, 3-button front, 2 jetted hip pockets, and notched bottom
- White formal dress shirt with a stiff piqué bib, detachable wing collars, and single cuffs
- Mother-of-pearl shirt studs with gold trim
- Diamond cuff links with gold trim
- White piqué pointed-end bow tie
- Black patent leather plain-toe lace-up shoes
- Black silk dress socks
- Charcoal wool single-breasted Chesterfield coat with black velvet collars, notch lapels, 4-button front, 2-button cuffs, welted breast pocket, flapped hip pockets, and a single rear vent
Cal doesn’t carry a gun of his own, but his bodyguard, ex-Pinkerton detective and current dickhead Spicer Lovejoy, carries a beautifully ornate nickel-plated Colt M1911 in a brown leather shoulder holster. Cal indeed grabs Lovejoy’s M1911 in a moment of passion, chasing down Jack and Rose while emptying each round from the magazine, but he misses with each shot and just manages to further destroy the ship.
As a strikingly attractive firearm, the ornate M1911 was probably irresistible for Cameron to include in the hands of his villains. It was rented from Stembridge Gun Rentals of Hollywood, an old firm dating back to the early 1920s that still provides excellent weaponry for productions today.
Unfortunately, the use of Lovejoy’s M1911 is an anachronism easily spotted by firearm enthusiasts.
“Wait, now… that’s an M1911? Doesn’t that mean it was made in 1911?”
Well, sort of. The M1911 was a John Browning design that was the result of nearly a decade of trying to develop the perfect .45-caliber handgun for the U.S. Army. Finally, in January 1912, the first M1911 was produced by Colt’s Manufacturing Company.
“Ah, ha!” you say, although your voice quivers a little. “That’s still months before the Titanic sank! He could’ve had one of those.”
The first run of 1911 pistols was delivered to the military in mid-February 1912. For Lovejoy to have his weapon, he would’ve needed to illegally obtain one from the U.S. Army, have it completely refinished in ornate nickel-plating, and have the foresight to replace the hammer with the 1911A1-style hammer and curved mainspring housing, which wasn’t developed until the M1911A1 variant in 1926.
What gun would have been a more likely option for Lovejoy to carry?
The Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless was one of the most popular guns at the time for concealed carry among civilians. It was offered with either .32 ACP or .380 ACP ammunition – Lovejoy probably would have opted for the latter – and had a total capacity of 8 or 9 rounds, depending on the caliber. If he truly wanted a .45-caliber weapon, he could have carried a Colt New Service revolver, although this would be a less sleek-looking weapon, and it is obvious that the filmmakers wanted Lovejoy’s gun to be impressive.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie. The Blu-Ray version currently available is much better quality than the two-tape bootleg VHS set my cousin had, which included such great side characters as Gets-Up-For-Popcorn-Three-Times Guy and Guy-Who-Shouts-Out-“Oof”-When-A-Man-Hits-The-Propeller.
A real man makes his own luck.
In addition to the spectacular Black Tie Guide, this article on Démodé also addresses specifically dressing for dinner on Titanic with month-by-month breakdowns of popular womens’ styles in early 1912. Men are also addressed in the article, but men’s fashion was more of an annual cyclical change; what was popular in January 1912 was still popular in April.
Despite what was seen in the film, many of the first class male passengers had already changed out of their dinner attire and were dressed either for bed or for evacuation by the time the ship sank. The film places John Jacob Astor IV, notorious as the richest man on board, in the grand staircase moments before the ship sinks, clinging to a wooden column and wearing the white foam lifejacket over his white tie ensemble. This is doubly incorrect, as not only was Astor crushed by the forward funnel (shown happening just before we see him in the staircase), but he had already changed out of his formalwear into a much more casual suit.
When Astor’s corpse was recovered by the cable-ship Mackay-Bennett a week after the sinking, he was found to be wearing a blue suit and brown shirt and carrying the equivalent of $58,000 in American currency and £19,000 in British currency. The full discovery notes are listed below:
NO. 124 - MALE - ESTIMATED AGE 50 - LIGHT HAIR & MOUSTACHE
CLOTHING - Blue serge suit; blue handkerchief with "A.V."; belt with gold buckle; brown boots with red rubber soles; brown flannel shirt; "J.J.A." on back of collar.
EFFECTS - Gold watch; cuff links, gold with diamond; diamond ring with three stones; £225 in English notes; $2440 in notes; £5 in gold; 7s. in silver; 5 ten franc pieces; gold pencil; pocketbook.
FIRST CLASS NAME-J.J.ASTOR