The Tailor of Panama: Harry Pendel’s Light Gray Suit
Geoffrey Rush as Harry Pendel, tailor to Panama’s finest and ex-con
Panama City, Fall 1999
Film: The Tailor of Panama
Release Date: March 30, 2001
Director: John Boorman
Costume Designer: Maeve Paterson
For once, someone in a film is better dressed than Pierce Brosnan!
The Tailor of Panama is a 2001 film directed by John Boorman (Point Blank, Deliverance, The General) from a novel by John le Carré. As one would expect from le Carré, it is a complex, tightly-wound, and realistic espionage tale with much dark humor deriving from the realistically grounded characters. Both the film and the novel were wisely recommended to me by Roman, an astute and frequent commenter of this blog.
The film’s titular character is Harry Pendel, Panama City’s urbane tailor to the elite who is able to tailor stories and lies as well as his bespoke suits, played with the usual magnificence by Geoffrey Rush. Opposite Rush is Pierce Brosnan as Andy Osnard, an MI6 agent.
While the whole Pierce Brosnan-as-a-suited-up-MI6-agent may sound familiar, his portrayal of Osnard is the anti-Bond in both behavior and dress. While Bond certainly had no problem with promiscuity, Osnard’s methods make Bond look like a monk.
Pendel and Osnard continue their game throughout the film, eventually enveloping everyone around them in deception and double-crosses.
What’d He Wear?
When Pendel is first visited by Osnard, Pendel looks far more like Bond than the boorish Osnard in his ratty and ill-fitting jacket (which you’ll see later on this blog). Later that night, perhaps in a slight dig at Osnard, Pendel even complains: “Blazers! They all want blazers.”
Pendel’s suit in this sequence reminds me of a dandy, ’90s variation of the classic Goldfinger three-piece suit.
The suit has a much different fit than Connery’s 1964 suit, but many style elements – particularly the waistcoat – carry over. Rather than a Glen Plaid pattern, Pendel’s suit is a lightweight gray semi-solid in what is likely a wool and silk blend based on the way it shines under the South American sun. When Osnard visits Pendel’s shop, ostensibly for a suit, Pendel accompanies his samples with: “They’re all the right weight for this diabolical climate. Seven or eight ounces of nicely breathing, finest worsted… about all a man could or should put up with.”
The jacket is single-breasted with light gray horn buttons adorning both the high-fastening 3-button front and the 4-button cuffs. While the sleeves likely have surgeon’s cuffs, this is unconfirmed as Pendel keeps all four buttons fastened as opposed to the rakish gesture of leaving a button or two undone to signify to the world that the suit is bespoke. Since Pendel is a tailor, it would be assumed his suit is bespoke, and he wouldn’t need to show it off by employing his cuff buttons.
At 6’0″, Geoffrey Rush is not a short man, but the dramatically padded shoulders of the suit jacket add breadth and would add a more powerful image to the timid character of Harry Pendel. The notch lapels have slightly rounded corners, softening the edges of the suit and keeping the shoulders from making the appearance too boxy.
Additional details of the jacket include a welted breast pocket, flapped straight hip pockets, and a single rear vent, the most appropriate and traditional choice for a business suit. Of the four suits that Pendel wears in the film, this is the only one without a ticket pocket on the right side.
Pendel’s vest is single-breasted with lapels that match the jacket with its large notches and rounded corners. It fastens high on the 6-button front, with the bottom button left undone on the cutaway notched bottom. There are four welted pockets on the vest – two upper and two lower.
The dark gray silk rear lining matches the lining on the inside of the suit jacket. There is no adjustable strap and buckle, as Harry later informs the President: “I try to dispense with the rear buckle as a rule with your handmade waistcoat… Too many of my gentlemen report serious discomfort to the lower vertebrae when leaning backward relishing a postprandial cigar.”
Pendel keeps the vest on and fastened at all times, preventing us from seeing much trouser detail, but they definitely have a high rise and are likely worn with suspenders, or braces. They have a generous fit and flow down to plain-hemmed bottoms with a full break over the shoes. There are open side pockets and a jetted button-through rear pocket on the right. All of Pendel’s suit trousers are pleated, and these are no exception with single forward pleats.
Rush always appropriately pulls up his trousers before sitting to give them some slack over his thighs.
Pendel typically wears white shirts with his suits. This shirt has a spread collar, a front placket, and double/French cuffs, fastened with flat silver cuff links.
His primary necktie with this suit is silk with a light blue ground and a pattern of small green and white squares, tied in a Windsor knot under his spread collar.
Later in the film, when making a drop at the cemetery, he wears another silk tie with a red ground and small dark blue squares. Both of Pendel’s ties show that it is possible to complement a suit and shirt without necessarily using the same colors.
Pendel’s shoes are dark brown plain-toe leather dress shoes. The trousers’ long break and the film’s camera angles prevent us from knowing for certain what socks Pendel wears with this outfit, but it can be assumed that a professional tailor like he would properly wear a pair of gray socks to continue the leg line from trouser into shoe.
Pendel’s wristwatch is an elegantly simple timepiece with a round gold case, plain white face, and a brown leather strap on his left wrist. His only other accessory is a plain gold wedding band on his left ring finger.
When tailoring, Pendel wears a pair of slim light brown tortoiseshell-framed eyeglasses with silver-rimmed ovular lenses.
Pendel does not appear to wear an undershirt, but he does reveal a pair of rust brown silk boxer shorts with an elastic waistband before hopping into be with his wife.
Go Big or Go Home
The character of Harry Pendel, espionage aside, was inspired by legendary London tailor Doug Hayward. Hayward had opened his first tailoring shop in 1967 when he was in his early 30s. By that time, he had already inspired his friend Michael Caine’s characterization of Alfie in the 1966 film. In addition to Caine, Hayward tailored many celebrities throughout the years from Steve McQueen to Roger Moore.
Harry himself is a fascinating character. His shadowy background known only to few, he is able to mingle in and out of Panama’s political ranks due to his longstanding position as tailor to their elite. This groundless political stance makes him more of a match for the morally-ambiguous Osnard than he thinks, although Osnard is more blatantly sleazy than the charming Pendel. Even Osnard realizes this during one of the film’s many witty exchanges of banter:
Osnard: Don’t be a cunt, Harry. We’re made for each other. You’ve got the debts; I’ve got the money. Where’s your patriotism?
Pendel: I had it out in prison… without an anaesthetic.
As the story unfolds, everyone becomes more willing to believe Pendel’s easily-spun yarns to embrace the opportunity of battle. Only Pendel himself seems to realize the potential human cost as his spy games grow from rumors to a basis for war.
What to Imbibe
On their first night in cahoots, Pendel takes Osnard to a club for cocktails. Osnard gets a whisky, straight, while Pendel enjoys his tropical surroundings with a Margarita. Now considered a novelty drink, the Margarita is an appropriate choice for Harry Pendel; it’s aesthetically-pleasing and a little bit cheesy, but it can kick your ass if you don’t have both eyes open.
The origins of the Margarita are questionable, with the first tequila-based cocktail appearing in G.F. Steele’s My New Cocktail Book in 1930. Six years later, the Syracuse Herald mentioned a drink called the “Tequila Daisy”, a possible early appearance of the margarita as “Margarita” is Spanish for Daisy… a nickname for Margaret.
One of the earliest stories of the Margarita itself originates in 1938 at Danny Herrera’s Rancho La Gloria restaurant in Mexico, halfway between Tijuana and Rosarito. One of the customers, former Ziegfeld dancer Majorie King, was allergic to most spirits except tequila; thus, Herrera and his bartender, Albert Hernandez, created the Margarita for Miss King’s enjoyment. Another frequent guest of the restaurant was restaurant owner Morris Locke, who brought the drink to San Diego in 1947. Over the next decade, the Margarita was well-established in the U.S., with the recipe (tequila, triple sec, and lime or lemon juice) showing up in the December 1953 issue of Esquire.
These days, any Tom, Dick, Harry, or Paco can enjoy a discount Margarita during happy hour at the local Mexican restaurant of your choosing. No party is considered complete without tossing some cheap tequila and Margarita mix into the blender for a round of cocktails. But how does one make a real Margarita? Step 1 is to ignore the blender; a real Margarita is served on the rocks.
You’ll need tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice, preferably the juice of a real lime. Rub the rim of a margarita glass (pictured) with the lime slice to make it sticky, then salt the rim. Once the rim is properly salted, pour 7 parts tequila, 4 parts Cointreau, and 3 parts lime juice into a tumbler and shake with ice. Add a few extra ice cubes to the margarita glass and pour in the concoction, using caution not to disrupt the salted rim. Still have a lime slice? Use it as a garnish, and serve.
How to Get the Look
Harry Pendel is a tailor, so you’d better damn well get to a tailor and have your suit custom-made if you want to resemble the look at all!
- Gray wool-silk blend lightweight three-piece suit, consisting of:
- Single-breasted jacket with notch lapels, 3-button front, welted breast pocket, flapped hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, padded shoulders, and single rear vent
- Single-breasted vest with notch lapels, 6-button front, 2 welted chest pockets, 2 welted hip pockets, dark gray silk rear lining
- Single forward-pleated trousers with high rise, side pockets, button-through jetted rear right pocket, generous fit, plain-hemmed bottoms, and full break
- White button-down dress shirt with spread collar, front placket, and double/French cuffs
- Light blue silk necktie with green and white square patterns
- Silver flat cuff links
- Dark brown plain-toe leather laced dress shoes
- Light gray dress socks
- Gold wristwatch with white face and brown leather strap
- Plain gold wedding band
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie and be sure to read le Carré’s book.
If you want to look good in my suit, lose some fucking weight and grow a foot.
Speaking of sharply dressed Geoffrey Rush – I’ve just finished watching La Migliore Offerta, an Italian movie relatively unknown to you English speakers. In case you haven’t seen it, you definitely should. DEFINITELY. Seriously, watch it. It’s marvelous, and, while GR’s main character is as far from a BAMF as you can get, his outfits is something to desire. Also, the movie is fantastic, did I mention this?
Thanks for the tip! I did a few searches and it looks like you’re right on the money about the film’s attire (http://stanzedicinema.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/big_06-la-migliore-offerta-di-giuseppe-tornatore.jpg).
When will we see another post about the clothes from this great film ?
Next Tailor of Panama post is scheduled for May 30th 😉